Sunday, 7 August 2011

April 16, 1955 (2008)

To the naked untrained eye, the title signifies a date of little importance to anyone, except those who were born on this day of course.

However this is the date of a game of rugby league in Australia where one team was decimated by injury, misfortune and the opposition.

After two rounds, Western Suburbs were one of only three teams undefeated on the top of the ladder, with St.George and Balmain, after they had defeated cellar dwellers Canterbury and the mid-table Eastern Suburbs.

Manly were placed sixth out of the ten competing teams. They had lost their first game by two points against Balmain, but bounced back against the disappointing Parramatta side in a dour 10-4 victory.

Both teams were at full strength leading into the game, one which many pundits believed would be a walkover for the Wests side.

Season 1955 was one packed with surprises and unimaginable performances by the underdogs. Many would be aware of the massive turn-around by Souths, who were languishing on the bottom of the ladder after ten of the eighteen rounds, with just three wins, before winning their next eleven straight games to take out the premiership.

But the Round Three fixture between Wests and Manly provided a result that no one at all expected, at least not up until halftime.

The game was played at the SCG in fine conditions in front of a crowd of 11,181 spectators, most of whom left the game at halftime.

The day was dubbed “Wests Black Saturday” after they were forced to finish the game with just ten players, after being cruelled by a massive injury toll, possible the biggest ever to hit a team in one game.

The first injury happened after eleven minutes when lock Jim McKenzie was carried off the field with severe ligament damage to his knee. Wests Reserve grade forward Barry Perry was called up to sit on the bench.

Four minutes later, young centre Jim Plater tore a muscle in his chest, but played on for the rest of the half in severe pain. Upon seeing this injury, Third Grade back Joe Leslie was called up to sit on the bench, as a precautionary measure.

At halftime Manly led 6-0 after two unconverted tries, but the crowd started leaving the ground when a number of Wests players looked to be carrying injuries as they left the field. The signs were ominous.

In the second half, Manly struck as the Wests players seemingly dropped like flies to injuries. Plater came off the field ten minutes after halftime, exciting young fullback Johnny Brest, who corked his thigh in the first few minutes of the game but played on, eventually came off the field in severe pain 25 minutes after the break. The two reserves called up as injury replacements took the field, however they too fell to the cursed injury woes, Perry with a broken ankle and Leslie with a broken forearm.

The last fifteen minutes of the game Manly ran riot against a depleted Wests forward pack. For the last fifteen minutes of the game Wests could only field three players in the scrum, which was to their advantage and helped secure some possession to stem the flow of points being scored against them.

Their starting props and hooker were the only players able to pack down in the scrums, with second rower Bill Carson pushed out onto the wing.

At the end of the day, Manly won 46-0. Manly backs scored most of the points, with Johnny Tenison scoring three, Eddie Lumsden, John Hobbs and Rees Duncan a try apiece. The Manly forwards also managed to cross the line, with Martin Jackson scoring twice, Bob Grimm and captain Roy Bull both grabbing a try each. Kellock kicked eight goals in the victory.

The possibility of injury is very real each and every week that games are played, however no team expects, nor prepares for, five severe injuries in a game. The toughness displayed by some of the Wests players to stay on the field after obtaining an injury, to try and help the team out as much they could, is practically unheard of nowadays.

If only the sort of camaraderie, passion and loyalty shown by the Wests players in this game towards their team mates and for their club was being shown nowadays, our game would be much stronger and more passionate than what it is now.

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