BY CURTIS WOODWARD
Craig Bellamy and Wayne Bennett stand head and shoulders above all other modern day coaches. Their records speak for themselves. Unfortunately, one day they will die. And when they do, they will be met at the pearly gates of Coach Heaven by one man that will forever be king of the rugby league jungle – Jack Gibson.
Ask them yourself. If they had to pick one coach, one man, they would pick Jack. The man named coach in Australia’s Team of the Century. A legendary figure. Fur coat, big glasses, mastermind, an innovator. A leader of men who revolutionised the code in this country.
He won premierships as a coach with Eastern Suburbs in 1974 and 1975 before shaping Parramatta as a rugby league heavyweight in the 1980’s. Jack spent three years at the Eels. They won the premiership back-to-back-to-back. Three in a row. Coached tough, done good.
Immortal Bob Fulton one said of Gibson: “He’s done more for coaching than any coach since the inception of the game. He put football coaching on the professional roll of honour.”
He always had his finger on the pulse which may have had something to do with his work as a bouncer or an illegal SP bookie at some of Sydney’s “finest” pubs in the 1950’s.
Taking bets, tossing drunks and leading football clubs to grand final glory was easy.
But there’s one concept Gibson couldn’t get his head around to begin with. It beat him.
Smacked him straight on the jaw.
In 1989, Gibson found out that Origin is a different beast. That the Maroons are less a team and more a swarming haze of fearless warriors. That tactics and brains alone aren’t enough to outlast an opponent that doesn’t stop moving forward.
1988 was a nightmare for the Blues going down in a whitewash. Coach John Peard was sacked. Nine Queenslanders were selected for the opening Ashes Test against Great Britain.
Something had to change in ’89 after back-to-back series defeats and five straight losses. NSWRL turned to Jack. The super coach had spent the last several years watching Origin from the commentary box. Now he was calling the shots for the desperate Blues.
Only four players survived from ’88: Garry Jack, Andrew Ettingshausen, Des Hasler and ‘Chicka’ Ferguson.
Gibson handed Gavin Miller the captaincy despite not representing NSW since 1983. Making their debut at Lang Park in Game I were Laurie Daley, Brad Clyde, Mario Fenech, Paul Sironen, Chris Johns, and Glenn Lazarus. Gibson had experts scratching their heads when he selected second-rower John Cartwright at prop and regular centre Chris Johns on the wing. His other peculiar decision was to pick debutant Fenech ahead of both Benny Elias and Royce Simmons.
Fenech was as passionate a player as they came but lacked the subtle nuances of Elias and Simmons.
NSW also handed Daley the kicking duties and was immediately found out when he missed an early shot at a goal from right in front.
The nightmare continued.
QLD hammered the Blues 36-6. The Maroons ran in 7 tries. It would have been 36-0 if not for a late Ettingshausen try.
Had the mighty Jack Gibson been found out?
NSW had their chance to fight back a few weeks later at the Sydney Football Stadium but not all those from Game I would have their chance to reclaim some pride in the sky blue jersey. The halves, Hasler and Terry Lamb were axed for Greg Alexander (another debutant) and Chris Mortimer. There were also debuts in the starting pack for Peter Kelly and Bruce McGuire. Alan Wilson came off the bench in his first appearance for NSW.
Game II, 1989 is made from the stuff of legend.
The Maroons would be crippled by injury mid-match. They lost Mal Meninga (fractured eye socket), Allan Langer (broken leg), Paul Vautin (elbow) and Michael Hancock (shoulder) by oranges while Bob Lindner played most of the game with a fractured ankle before succumbing a few minutes before full-time. QLD would finish the game with 12 men.
Amazingly, in one of the gutsiest displays of rugby league you will ever see, QLD won 16-12.
NSW had no answers – another series down the drain.
Game III saw Jack bring Hasler back for Mortimer and Fenech was replaced by Rooster David Trewhella. The ‘Maltese Falcon’ would never wear the Blues jumper again.
QLD flogged NSW again in Brisbane – winning this time 36-16. Dale Shearer scored a double and kicked four goals.
The Blues had conceded 72 points in two games in Brisbane.
’89 was a disaster.
NSW did turn it around the following year. Under Gibson, the Blues finally won back the Origin shield.
The ’89 campaign was a shocker but at least they blooded the next generation. It helped them win in ’90.
Let’s hope for NSW’s sake that 2018 isn’t as bad as ’89 because nobody thought to blood some rookies in 2017.
The81stMinute Commentary Team is back this Saturday for Wests Magpies v Blacktown – live on steelesports.com.au – kick-off 12.45pm