The ghost who works
LUKE Whitton knows all about cross-river rivalry – he’s been a Grafton Ghost since 1978.
Although the South Grafton Rebels name exists no more, Whitton still expects a fiery encounter on Sunday when arch-rivals the Ghosts and Rhinos clash at Frank McGuren Park.
Whitton played 10 seasons of first grade with the Ghosts and says he is a Ghost through and through and always will be.
“I started off playing juniors with the Ghosts in 1978, played 10 years of first grade and have coached the Ghosts under-16s side for the past three years,” Whitton says.
“The Rebels are no longer in the competition but the game this weekend against the Rhinos will still be special.
“There has always been cross the river rivalry, it’s not there as much these days, but it still exists. In the past, games between the Ghosts and the Rebels were always great games.
“I remember a game back in ’88 or ’89 at McKittrick Park which the Ghosts won. The final score was 4-2, there were three goals kicked.”
Whitton said both Rebels and Ghosts supporters were passionate about their football teams and simply taking a wander down the street was an experience in itself.
“If you walked down the street in South Grafton you’d cop it from passers-by and if they came over this side they’d also cop a gobful,” he laughs.
Rugby league teams are usually hard to beat on their home turf, but in recent years it has not been the case with games between the Ghosts and Rhinos. Whitton is well aware the Rhinos will step up a gear this Sunday and he says it’s something Ghosts coach Col Speed should be aware of.
“Col may be at a disadvantage, he’s not born or bred in the town … and this is going on past Rebels sides. I think you have to go into the game expecting a lot of aggression,” Whitton says.
“I think if you go into the game under-prepared in that way you might come off second best. The Rhinos’ grand final will probably be this weekend and the Ghosts have probably got bigger and better things. But if the Ghosts take them lightly the Rhinos could come away with a win.”
Whitton has a mechanical repairs business and above the entrance painted in blue is the sign “The Ghost who Works”.
Whitton explains: “Radio announcer Ron Bell actually named me that. It was when I played under ‘Rip’ Taylor in the ’88 side, which won the final.
“In that side there were only a couple of players that actually worked and I was one of them. The rest of the players used to play golf on Mondays and not do much for the rest of the week.
“I got a man-of-the-match award one day and they broadcast the game. Ron Bell said, ‘We’ll now announce the man of the match…and it goes to Luke Whitton…the Ghost who Works’.”
Past games between the sides have been torrid encounters.
“I’ve seen a few good brawls on and off the field over the years. The Ghosts and the Rebels were pretty much renowned for a few altercations,” Whitton says.