There are a great many things that the 1983 Rugby League season is remembered for, but there is one incident which surprisingly has gone greatly unnoticed in the annals of the games history.
In 1983 the game made wholesale changes to extirpate issues surrounding scrums. The ‘hand-over’ rule on the sixth tackle was introduced to encourage kicking on the last play, thus reducing the number of scrums per game.
Halfbacks had to now begin rolling the ball into the scrum to ensure a fair contest and minimise the number of scrum penalties.
The try had also been increased in value from three points to four to further promote open attacking games.
All these rule changes saw to an end the blight that scrums had imparted on the game.
But this was not all.
The “Night Of The Long Knives” saw Newtown axed from the competition at seasons end, along with Western Suburbs. However, Wests managed to regain admission into the competition for 1984.
The biggest headline of all was to do with then NSWRL Chairman Kevin Humphreys and his resignation after a story on the ABC’s “Four Corners” program which implicated him with criminal activities and underworld figures.
But one story which was overshadowed by all these but still none the less intriguing and beguiling has gone relatively unnoticed.
It involved a New Zealand man who was desperate to play first grade rugby league in Australia.
Keith Arthur Wilkinson, a self-proclaimed rugby league player from Wellington.
Keith made a decision to fly to Australia with intent to play some trial games in hope that he would be offered a contract with a first grade team in Sydney. However upon his arrival in Australia he was apprehend by the constabulary after his criminal record revealed he had been previously convicted for robbery. He was issued an ultimatum; either he returns to New Zealand at his own expense, or he can stay in an Australian prison cell and then eventually be deported.
Understandably, Wilkinson flew back home, back to square one.
Wilkinson decided to go to the local cemetery, an odd decision at the time some would conclude. However, he had a plan.
He spent hours reading gravestones looking for a male who’s age was not too dissimilar to his. Finally he found his man, so to speak. He then successfully applied for a birth certificate of the deceased man, and upon obtaining it, he then got himself a new passport under the new identity and he was back in business!
Wilkinson again returned to Australia and this time passed through the security without a hitch. He was back on target of achieving his dream.
He is alleged to have played five games in Sydney. It hasn’t been confirmed as to whether he managed to play first grade, or whether he was even offered a contract, and because the name of the fake identity has never been revealed, no one can ascertain who he actually was in the country. One fact is for certain, he didn’t play first grade under his actual name.
Once he left the airport, he burnt the fake passport, believing he was now free and the rugby league world would be his oyster.
But with all great crimes, there’s always a great mistake. After all, a crime can only be considered such once the criminal has been caught.
Wilkinson had decided to separate from his wife. She was somewhat confused by the name on the separation certificate, so she provided a deed of who her actual husband was.
Wilkinson was eventually found and deported back to New Zealand where he faced charges at Hastings District Court. Judge Tucker fined Wilkinson, a then whopping, $350. The Judge explained that such a large fine was imposed upon Wilkinson so as to deter him from attempting the same actions again.
The club he allegedly played for and the name he assumed while in Australia were not revealed at the hearing. His claims that he played for Wellington were quashed when club secretary Bernie Wood stated unabatedly that he had never heard of or seen Wilkinson in all his years with the club.
This comment alone raised massive doubts about whether Wilkinson managed to play at any level in Sydney at all.
But one thing is certain, we will never know.