Rebels with a cause in 1975 grand final
IN 1975 many might remember it was the great Jack Gibson who mentored Eastern Suburbs to a record 38-0 grand final win over the St George Dragons.
It was the first NSWRL grand final beamed across the airwaves on colour television, and at lock for the Roosters was South Grafton's Kevin "Stumpy" Stevens.
But back on the southern banks of the Clarence River another "supercoach" was forging his own historic trail with a new generation of homegrown superstars.
The South Grafton Rebels of 1975 were a formidable lot. Coach John Brown's side boasted the likes of John "Chika" Ferguson, lock Mark Eggins, Frank "Jumbo" White, Dennis Pye and Garry Chapman - all of whom this week have been named in the South Grafton Team of the Century.
"We won a grand final and I was very fortunate to have great players like Fergo, Chapo and Dennis Pye," Brown said.
"Fergo went on to play for Australia. He was just brilliant. An electrifying young player back then. People came just to watch him.
"I was blessed to have such a good side. We had everywhere on the field covered and a lot of depth."
Is it any wonder, then, that Brown himself has been adjudged the club's best coach in its 100-year history?
He was selected ahead of the likes of his predecessor Viv Hodge, his successor Harry Reed, 1959 premiership-winning coach Athol Halpin, the great Jerry Brien of the 1930s and 1940s as well as Charlie McPherson, Adie Lawrence, Ed Purkiss and others.
"Great players make good coaches and I fluked the right time I feel," Brown said.
"It is an honour, bloody oath. Old Hodgy definitely taught me a lot and I thought he would get it. I feel pretty lucky. It's a great honour."
Instead Hodge, also a natural-born leader, is named in the front row as the side's captain. While he sadly passed away in 2007 and Rebels now play in his memory for the Viv Hodge Memorial Shield in reserve grade local derbies with Grafton Ghosts, many named in the Team of the Century are still alive and will be in South Grafton for
this weekend's reunion.
South Grafton residents Dennis Pye, Michael Jones, Mark McIntyre and Peter Sullivan have all indicated their attendance, as well as others from afar.
"Garry Chapman lives in Brisbane but he's coming home for it," Brown assured. "I dare say "Stumpy" (Kevin Stevens) could be here."
There is no doubt the recent selection process for the Rebels Team of the Century has been an emotional trip down memory lane for those involved. Local historian Gary Nichols has laboured through the archives to present a selection of the best players in each of the positions each week in The Daily Examiner. From there Brown, Pye, Steve Danvers, Col Mitchell and Terry Frazer took over the unenviable task of picking the Team of the Century.
"Geez, that side of '75 - I could've picked all of them," Brown said.
"It was hard leaving some out, especially (five-eighth) Ronny Phillips - great player."
A sentimental man, the centenary journey has been quite the tonic for Brown, who says he now relies on other people to show him photos. These days the 67-year-old retired painter's precious keepsakes are the ones tightly packed away in the crevices of his mind.
Several years ago Brown had quite a comprehensive collection of his own. Business was slow and work lured him to Sydney from Maclean.
"Things were quiet at home so I went to Sydney to do a job with a building crew for a few weeks and ended up staying there for three years," Brown said.
"I was renting out the house in Maclean and had the stuff locked in a cupboard. That part of the house burnt down and I lost everything. I had some really good stuff and lost the bloody lot."
Brown, who now lives in Yamba, is understandably looking forward to the 100-Year anniversary dinner at South Grafton Ex-Services Club tonight, where a banquet of photographic memorabilia is on the menu.
"Gary (Nichols) was saying he's got about 500 old slides to show on the night," he said. "Whenever you're shown old photos, they're good to look at."
It won't just be the faces on film, but also the handshakes. Today, as old mates across several eras gather to celebrate the club's rich history, it is all about the memories.
REBELS TEAM OF THE CENTURY
At McKittrick Park, South Grafton
1 Brian Graham
2 John Ferguson
3 Fred Felsch
4 Paul Pyers
5 Ron Gill
6 Terry Stevens
7 Kevin Stevens
13 Mark Eggins
12 Noel Butters
11 Frank White
10 Viv Hodge (c)
9 Peter Sullivan
8 Mark McIntyre
14 Dennis Pye
15 Garry Chapman
16 Ken Gray
17 Eric Lawrence
Coach: John Brown