Sunday, 7 August 2011

Big Time 'What-ifs' (2009)

There are numerous stories of players who succeeded at the elite levels of our game which are repeated ad-nauseum, to inspire and give us hope.

In contrast there are the stories of failures which we recall for a laugh or as a benchmark for more recent catastrophes.

But what about the what-if stories? Some are trivial, some are odd and some are just plain unfortunate, yet they are all forgotten amongst the raucous celebrations and cheer surrounding great players and performances.

Alf Blair and Jack Robinson - Out Of Time

Alf Blair began his career with Souths in 1917. He took just two seasons to gain state selection. In 1920 he was selected to play for Australia. His debut would be the First Test against the Northern Union at Brisbane’s Exhibition Ground. But it seemed fate had other plans for him that woeful day.

Blair and Balmain’s incumbent test centre, Jack Robinson were unable to make the venture to Brisbane with the rest of the team due to work commitments, so they opted to leave Sydney the day before their Test debut’s on home soil (Robinson played four tests in New Zealand in 1919). Unfortunately, Northern NSW was inundated with some of its heaviest rainfall ever and despite travelling by ship, car and train, the heavy floodwaters were too much and the two men arrived at the ground too late and were replaced by Queenslanders Harry Fewin and Neville Broadfoot.

It was to be the last time Robinson was selected for Australia and it would take Blair another four years before he would be recalled, albeit for just one test. Fewin and Broadfoot failed to get selected again for Test duties as well. That day seemingly placing a curse on four great footballers.

Bobby Lulham - Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Balmain's dashing winger who blew everyone away in his debut year of 1947. He scored 28 tries and gained selection in the NSW side, playing in all four interstate matches. The next year he was selected in Australia’s 1948-49 Kangaroo squad to tour England and France. He scored a try on his test debut during the Third test against Great Britain on that tour.

He struggled over the next few seasons, before a form reversal found him being considered for NSW and Australian honours again by the end of 1952.

Then in 1953 he was embroiled in the most bizarre incident ever in Australian Rugby League. His mother-in-law accidentally poisoned him by adding rat poison to his cup of hot chocolate. She made two drinks and put the poison in one cup, intending to poison herself, as she felt guilty about her affair with Lulham. However, she forgot which cup was poisoned and Lulham accidentally drank the contaminated concoction. Lulham was hospitalised for a lengthy period, managing to survive. He was never strong enough to play again and announced his retirement.

Those Magical Les Chanticleers - Double Time!

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, France was a rugby league powerhouse. Tough, nuggety forwards, classy speedy, backs and great goal-kickers. People flocked to see them wherever they played.

At the start of their 1960 Australian campaign, the French opted to visit Darwin, however they had a match to play in Perth against Western Australia. It was decided to send half their squad to Perth, the other half to Darwin and they would meet up in South Australia. While in Darwin they agreed to play against a hastily assembled Northern Territory team.

So on May 14, 1960, France is on record as having beaten Northern Territory 42-14 in Darwin as well as defeating Western Australia 29-8 in Perth.

These French sides of the 50’s and 60’s were very passionate about taking the game to the fans. In their three tours to Australia in this period they became the only Test nation to play and beat teams representing Western Australia, Northern Territory, South Australia, Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales. They also played against Monaro Division in Canberra.

Yet still to this day they aren’t given the accolades they deserve for taking the game to these neglected areas of Australia.

So let us rejoice some of the other big time performances. The what-ifs, the what-could-have-beens and the forgotten mavericks from abroad.

All great players who were denied their dues.

All lost to the Big Time.

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