Talk about great teams...the Great Britain rugby league side that visited these shores in 1962 rates with the best ever.
They were chock-a-block with some of the most skillful and toughest players ever to don the Great Britain jumper. And one of their best was the halfback, Alex Murphy, who rates with the finest number sevens in the game’s history. It seems inconceivable in an era of Kangaroo dominance at international level, however, the Englishmen ran roughshod over the Australians back then, with Murphy among the stars.
It was also an era when touring teams would take on country divisional sides. Joe White from Gloucester was named halfback for the North Coast team that tackled Great Britain at Lismore. He scored two tries as North Coast – then covering an area from Gloucester to Tweed Heads – went down 33-13. He marked Murphy and the Englishmen later said in a newspaper article that White was the best halfback he played against that year in Australia.
“I didn’t see the write-up, but a few other people did,’’ White, now 78 said.
“It was nice of him to say that.
“They were a great side – Dave Bolton, the centre (Neil) Fox, Mike Sullivan the winger and he (Murphy) was the best halfback in the world at the time.’’
White will be one of four inductees into the Group Three Hall of Fame on Saturday night at a function to be held at the Wingham Services Club. He was a pivotal member of the mighty Gloucester sides that dominated the then Group 18 competition in the 1950s and 60s.
White came into grade in 1956.
“I played a bit of school football at Maitland Boys High and when I came home to Gloucester I started playing reserve grade,’’ he said.
His first grade career started in 1958 and went to 1966. In that period he was a member of seven premiership winning teams under coaches Max Bailey (1958), Toby Wilson (1959/60) and Bandy Adams (1963/66).
“We were pretty well all locals,’’ White said.
“Sometimes we'd get a bank johnny here or a school teacher, but mainly we were all from Gloucester. And we played for the love of the game – there was no money, only the captain-coach was paid a bit – but not much.’’
He recalls some epic battles with Wingham sides.
“Wingham were always our main opposition and there was never much between us,’’ he said.
In 1960 he was selected to play for North Coast against the visiting French side. However, a fractured cheekbone sustained in the rep trials ruled him out.
"I was advised not to play for six weeks and by then all the rep games were over,’’ he said.
“It was disappointing not to play (against the Frenchmen), but I got to play against England in 62.’’
The town was right behind the football team when Gloucester ruled the roost.
“We always had great support,’’ White said.
“And we had a lot of depth. When someone left or retired there was always a local to come in and take their place,’’ he said.
Don ‘Bandy’ Adams bought another dimension to the club when he took over as captain-coach in 63, White maintains.
“Bandy was a huge influence. He made us play hard but fair and he imposed his character into the team,’’ White said.
White retired after winning the 1966 grand final and that coincided with the Magpies decline. Work in the dairying and timber industries that had earlier been plentiful earlier and kept young men in the area started to drop off.
“They young people began to leave the area to look for work,’’ White said.
“Then money started to come into country football – that made it hard for Gloucester to compete.’’
He stayed involved with the Magpies, serving on the committee and having a stint as president. However, when Gloucester dropped out of Group Three in 1981, White’s son, Ken played with Wingham.
“I’d played against Wingham all those years. But when Ken went there I was supporting them with all those blokes I’d played against,’’ he said with a smile.
Other than a ‘few aches and pains’ White said he’s enjoying reasonable health. He’s looking forward to Saturday night, when he’ll become the second Gloucester player to be inducted into the hall of fame, following Kevin Everitt, who was honoured last year.