A Rebel for life
In a game of last man standing, South Grafton's rugged forward Ron Hambly would be favourite. He had a presence on the rugby league field and for many years was the cornerstone of the Rebels pack. GARY NICHOLS spoke with Ron about his playing days.
Meeting Ron Hambly for the first time is an experience in itself.
He is a man with a laidback attitude who enjoys the simple things in life - family, mates and fishing.
Ron resides in the idyllic coastal setting of Minnie Water, where relaxation is a prerequisite.
My timing for the interview is not great as I interrupt Ron and his close mates winding down after a gruelling morning deep sea fishing expedition.
However, they make me feel welcome and Ron opens up as the interview progresses.
The word 'journeyman' is not in Ron's vocabulary.
He was a South Grafton Rebel through and through and played an impressive 300-plus games for the club in the 1970s and early '80s.
“I loved playing for South Grafton. McKittrick Park was the place I wanted to be and Rebel supporters were bloody brilliant,” Ron says with a proud and passionate tone in his voice.
Ron's introduction into first grade was at the tender age of 17, a task which most young men would balk at.
After all, it was an era when forwards were described as being so tough they'd rust in the rain.
“I didn't find it daunting at all,” he recalls.
“I was never that worried ... I knew I could handle it.”
Ron modelled his style of play on South Sydney great Ron Coote.
Like Coote, Ron relished playing in the number eight jumper.
“For me, Ron Coote goes down as number one ... he's the best I've seen and I tried to emulate him - the way he covered a game of football,” Ron says.
When it comes to local hard men of the game, Ron says there were plenty, but the one that sticks out in his mind is Robert 'Mable' McKee.
“He was tough ... a champion defender. As good as they come,” Ron says.
“When you ran into him he'd just drop you.”
As far as the best players he had the pleasure of playing alongside, Ron cannot split John 'Chicka' Ferguson and Steve Farrell.
“Johnny Ferguson was just brilliant and Steve Farrell was one of the best I've played with ... he could read a game of football,” Ron declares after much deliberation.
“Terry Stevens must get a mention, he was a hundred per cent unique ... he was the perfect footballer.”
For a player who rates highly on the intimidation scale, Ron only recalls being sent off once in his career.
“Ghosts' Steve Coleman came off his wing and upset me a bit ... next thing she was on, then 'Dicko' (Tony Dickson) came over so I said 'You can wear it too' and we both got sent off,” Ron says with a laugh.
In rugby league the toughest players are the ones that make a habit of getting on with business. They overcome constraints that would have others looking for a way out.
Ron Hambly was one of those players.
Ron outlines what he thinks makes a tough footballer.
“You have to ask yourself, what do you want to get out of it? If you're going to do it, do it properly; don't go in half-baked,” he says.
Ron represented both Group One and North Coast in a stellar career and was regarded as an outstanding defender and an 80-minute footballer.
In the current game players look to the sideline when they become fatigued and the ruck area is like watching WWE wrestling without the 'budgie smugglers' and fanfare.
“The game has become too fast these days and I am not a fan of the two referee system,” Ron says.
“I think we trained harder in my day. Players today are very professional, they have to watch what they eat and drink.
“When I finished training I'd have lemonade with a bit of port-wine in it, then go out and drink to three in the morning.
“They (players) can't do that now, understandably.”
Ron was lucky enough to play under several high-quality coaches, some who he played with and against.
“I had really good tutoring during my career,” he recalls.
“Viv Hodge, Johnny Brown, Harry Reed, Gary Chapman and Terry Stevens were all terrific coaches.”
When I ask Ron what was the highlight of his league career it was not selection in representative sides, playing in grand finals or being named player of the year.
His answer is refreshing to hear, and it tells me a lot about his character.
“Just being able to walk off the field and see the supporters meant a lot to me ... I'd still be in my gear and have a stubby with them,” he says.
“I had a great time on the field playing with my mates. No matter what, we'd always play for one another.”
Ron has two grandkids playing for the Ghosts under-13s and according two his best friends and wife Carol, sign-up day was an ordeal.
“It was one of those moments,” Carol says.
“Ron had to hold his breath and was a bit mortified when he took the two boys to sign-up for the Ghosts.”
Ron Hambly - always a Rebel.
“Just being able to walk off the field and see the supporters meant a lot to me ... I'd still be in my gear and have a stubby with them”