Col Weiss – Rugby League Legend Series

Col Weiss - Rugby League

Colin Weiss was born on September 15th, 1943 in Bundaberg in the Wide Bay region, about 400 km north of Brisbane and grew up in nearby Sharon. Sharon is a farming district on the other side of the Burnett River from Bundaberg West. His family had around 50 acres and ran a few cows and horses. Col’s father, August, was a timber and cane cutter. As a boy who loved being outdoors and active, growing up on a farm was the ideal environment for young Col. When he reached primary school age he went to North Bundaberg State School. Col was pretty good at his studies, often near the top of his class, but he certainly liked sports more – and willing to have a go at anything.

Throughout primary school and in his time at Bundaberg High School, Col excelled in several sports. He was a naturally gifted athlete, who built up his strength and conditioning by sometimes cutting sugar cane on weekends and by practising gymnastic routines on the horizontal bars. Luckily for Col, his father had a great passion for sport and it was never a burden for him to take his sons to wherever they needed to go to play or compete. In rugby league, his position in the school team was originally hooker. By the age of 12 he had changed to half-back and was nominated by his school to attend the State schoolboy trials in Brisbane. This gave him the first opportunity to wear football boots during a game. He had to borrow some because he didn’t have any of his own. He also represented his primary school in swimming at the State level. Arthur Parkin was the high school principal at the Welcome Creek School, about 16 km north of Bundaberg, and he took Australia’s first R and R (rescue and resuscitation) team to Hawaii – to teach the Hawaiians about surf rescue. He became Col’s swimming coach and oversaw his training sessions. As a result of Parkin’s guidance, Col was chosen to go to the Queensland State Swimming Championships when he was 13.

Col’s father was a competitive woodchopper, and Col gained an interest in the sport when he used to go along to watch him at various shows. After a while Col wanted to give it a try and asked for and received some coaching from his father. Then Col started to enter some junior competitions. His major achievement was winning the under-14 underhand woodchop at the Gladstone Show. He never really went on with it after that because he found a new love – surf lifesaving. There were two lifesaving clubs in the area – Bundaberg and Moore Park. Col decided on Moore Park because his brother-in-law was a founding member, and it was much closer to his home. He signed up as a cadet at age 14.

One of his fellow members was Bill Proctor, and he and Col trained together regularly. Bill would go on to be Australian surf-ski champion and became an Australian representative a few months before Col did when, in January 1969, Bill participated in a four ‘Test’ series against provincial surf lifesaving teams in South Africa. Competing on the surf-ski, he never lost a race. Col became proficient on a surfboard and also as a surfboat rower. He won several South Barrier Branch (now the Wide Bay Capricorn Branch) titles for the Moore Park club. The Wide Bay Capricorn Branch includes eight surf lifesaving clubs – from Hervey Bay in the south to Yeppoon in the north. Surf lifesaving became his number one sport – to the point where he played football in the winter to keep fit for lifesaving in the summer.

When he started playing A Grade for his club Wharfies, he re-evaluated his sporting priorities. He had started playing for Wharfies at 15 and progressed through the grades reasonably easily, but now found the going pretty tough. He was not as fit as he should have been and he knew that this was affecting his on-field performance in a negative way. He remembered who his childhood sporting heroes were – rugby league players. They were not famous Australian internationals. There was no TV coverage of games and what you knew about Test players was what you heard on the radio or read in the newspaper. He enjoyed watching local Bundaberg players like Don Nixon and Roy Eggmolesse. Nixon was the captain of Bundaberg Brothers first A Grade premiership winning team in 1953. He played for Wide Bay against several international touring teams, including New Zealand in 1959 alongside Johnny Wittenberg (six Tests for Australia) and Norm Meninga (Mal Meninga’s father).  He was still a great second-rower when he was a member of the Bundaberg Wanderers 1968 premiership winning team with Col as captain. Col always believed Don Nixon was one of the best footballers Bundaberg ever produced. Roy Eggmolesse also played for Wide Bay, including a game against the visiting French in 1960. Col thought he was one of the finest players he had seen because of his raw ability. He had size, speed, a great fend, and an excellent tackling technique.

Col also remembered going as a boy to watch rugby league representative games at Salter Oval in Bundaberg. A band always led Bundaberg or Wide Bay out on to the field and he thought that was just terrific. His ambition then was to play a game where his team was led out on to the field by a band. To do that, he would have to be picked to play for Bundaberg, but knew that would never happen if he did not make some changes. He then made a decision. If he trained as hard for football as he did for lifesaving, then he would certainly put himself in a much better position to play representative football. So, he effectively gave up lifesaving and he took up football – seriously – at the age of 19.

After Col left school at the age of 15 he started off his apprenticeship as a blacksmith in the blacksmith shop at the Millaquin Sugar Mill and worked there until he joined Brisbane Brothers in 1972. In the early part of his trade as a blacksmith the chief engineer at the sugar mill would not as a rule employ footballers because they were always missing on Mondays. Because Col started at 15, he of course wasn’t a recognised A grade player at the time. By the time he did get to A grade and was playing for the State, he was foreman of the blacksmith shop and they were reluctant to sack him because a lot of the workers there were rugby league supporters.

When Col went Brisbane to play as captain-coach of Brisbane Brothers, he got a job at the railway workshops – for 12 months. Then he got a job selling car tyres. Two local businessmen were Brothers supporters and owned Colmslie Tyre Service. When Col came back to Bundaberg in 1974 his blacksmith trade was finished. So he became a boilermaker and a prefabricator. He worked at Tofts Engineering making cane harvesters and sheds for 18 months. He then went to GEI (General Engineering and Irrigation) in Childers. Later on, he decided that he would like to become a farmer. He started off in dairy farming and then changed to sugar cane.

After Col made a decision to dedicate himself to rugby league, he made major changes to his training program. He found a clear, open paddock that was up the road from where he was then living in Bundaberg. He would do individual workouts a lot more and with more intensity than most players during the week. He did sprints up hills, although he always had to be wary of snakes. He used part of a broken wattle tree to put on his shoulders to do squats and that was his weight training. For Col, optimising physical fitness was a slow progression of incorporating ideas – and it never stopped. He did this until he retired.

The training started paying dividends when he was chosen to play for Bundaberg and achieved his boyhood dream of being led out on to the field at Salter Oval by a band when Bundaberg played in the 1963 Caltex £250 final. He was very proud to represent what was essentially his home town. Bundaberg has a long and distinguished rugby league history and has produced many players that went on to representative football at the highest level. The two most famous football family names in the district were Bolewski and Heidke. Bill Heidke and Mick Bolewski have the distinction of being the first Bundaberg locals to represent Australia, both playing four Tests and both being members of the 1908-09 Kangaroos. Bill’s brother, Harry, played with him on the Queensland team and his son Les played nine Tests and was a Kangaroo twice – in 1933-34 and 1937-38. Mick’s brother, Harry, played a Test in 1914 against Great Britain.

The 1920s saw locally born Bill Richards, who spent his career playing for Brisbane Wests, play four Tests and being chosen as a member of the 1921-22 Kangaroos. Bill ‘Snowy’ Spencer also played four Tests in the 1920s and was a 1929-30 Kangaroo. Then, in the 1950s, Noel Hazzard played 13 Tests and went on the 1952-53 Kangaroo Tour. Noel Gallagher played two Tests for Australia in the late 1960s. Two notable players who represented Australia while playing in the Bundaberg competition, but who started their careers elsewhere, were Bernie Drew and Elton Rasmussen. Bernie Drew played for the Newtown Jets in the Sydney competition before moving to Bundaberg in 1951 to captain/coach Bundaberg Brothers. Elton Rasmussen moved from Toowoomba All Whites to Bundaberg Brothers a decade later to take up the same position.

The standard of football in Bundaberg received a boost in 1963 when Bert Holcroft came to the city and coached both Brothers and Bundaberg’s representative team. He had played for the English rugby league team Leigh during the 1950s. Holcroft had radical new ideas about training and game preparation, particularly in the areas of using weights and improving diet. In 1965 he moved to Sydney and coached Sydney Easts, with Frank Drake as his captain. Apart from revolutionising coaching techniques, he was also instrumental in arranging for Sydney Easts to come to Bundaberg and play against a Bundaberg representative side in the 1960s. This set a precedent and other Sydney clubs such as South Sydney, Parramatta and Manly-Warringah also came for exhibition games. This gave the Bundaberg players a tremendous opportunity to play against high-quality opposition. For example, South Sydney brought up players like Ron Coote, Bob McCarthy and Jimmy Lisle.

Col played for Bundaberg in two finals in 1963. One of them was for the Wide Bay and Burnett District Premiership Cup, held in Gympie. Instituted in 1960, the Cup was awarded to the Wide Bay and Burnett Rugby League’s inter-city champions. Bundaberg went through the 1963 campaign undefeated, triumphing over Gympie with a comprehensive victory, 78-2. The other inter-city competition held in the area was for the Caltex Trophy. Originally called the Caltex £150 Final, the 1963 decider’s prize money had increased to £250 and was played between Bundaberg and Maryborough. Although they lost the scrum count badly, Bundaberg’s superior backline speed helped them to prevail 21-10. Col was playing lock for his club Wharfies at the time, but played in the second-row in the first match and in the front-row in the second.

1964 was the year Col first represented Wide Bay, but still could not get a representative game at lock and was chosen in the second-row. Incumbent Ivan Dent had a lock on the lock position. He had come across to Bundaberg Brothers with Elton Rasmussen from Toowoomba All Whites in 1961. He and Rasmussen won two consecutive premierships with All Whites in 1959 and 1960. When All Whites lost arguably their two best forwards, they went from a record of 15-1-1 in 1960 to 8-0-9 in 1961. Col was at a considerable weight disadvantage – many believed he was too small to play lock, let alone in the second-row or front-row. It is a sign of his ability that the selectors felt the need to include him in the team.

It had gotten to the point where every serious follower of Wide Bay rugby league believed Col was the best cover defender in the region. He was never taught to tackle – he taught himself. When he was young, he always played with bigger kids and he found the only way to tackle them was around the legs. He believed that the best way to tackle was to go in low because it was the safest way to do it. If he tried to tackle high he knew he could get his teeth knocked out or a broken nose or jaw. He usually aimed below the knees. Timing was critical when an opposition player was running at speed, and the key for Col was to hit the player when his legs crossed over as he was running.

He had decent speed for a forward and also developed a good sidestep, particularly off the left foot a basic skill he didn’t learn on a football field. When he was a child, Col loved riding horses. He would go to the family paddock to catch his horse, which he would have to run down on foot, chasing it in and around trees. Finally, he would corner the horse and he would get his ride. This early ‘training’, along with the rest of his fitness regime that he developed over time, meant that he now had an extraordinary level of endurance. He could easily play the full 80 minutes of a match and never slow down.

The amount of work he did on the field, in every game, was tremendous. When he played at lock, his role was to patch up any abnormalities in the attacking or defensive line, but particularly in defence. He took it upon himself to fill in wherever he was needed. He could be in the middle of the ruck, or behind the centres, or tackling wingers. Col played as the team ‘sweeper’ – wherever someone went ‘missing’, or someone didn’t make a tackle – he was there to shut down attacking raids. He saved countless tries for every team he played for. His teammates developed a great respect for his work ethic, while opposition teams were always looking for ways to avoid Col.

Col’s club team in the Bundaberg competition had been Wharfies, but it disbanded and reformed as Wanderers for the 1964 season. Wanderers was previously a proud member of the Bundaberg competition, being the second club to win a premiership – in 1920 – but had been defunct for some time. The Tigers were now a going concern again, and although they did not have a great deal of success in their initial season, the 1965 campaign was looking much more promising. Apart from Col, Wanderers’ standout players in 1965 included Don Nixon, Kevin Weedon and Mike Bailey. Centre Don Nixon was the best Bundaberg player never to represent Queensland. Kevin Weedon was a goal-kicking full-back and Mike Bailey a penetrating five-eighth. All of these players represented Wide Bay multiple times.

The watershed moment of the 1965 season was an August game against Bundaberg Brothers. Led by captain/coach Bill Pearson, Brothers was undefeated so far that season and was picked by many to win the competition. Pearson had captained Brisbane Norths to four premierships and played eight consecutive seasons in the Bulimba Cup – three for Ipswich and five for Brisbane, winning the championship in his final two years. He had come to join Brothers the previous year. Very few expected Wanderers to win this game, as they had never beaten Brothers since the team had reformed. In a major upset, Wanderers completely outclassed their more fancied opponents, jumping out to an 18-nil lead and never being headed, despite losing the scrum count and having less possession.

Col had an outstanding match in both attack and defence and was the best on field. His ability to find gaps in the ruck in attack led to several tries, and his tackling was considered by observers as being the best seen all year. Then when the two teams met in the Grand Final a few weeks later, the early season expectations had been completely turned around. Wanderers were now the team to beat. Bill Pearson, who had been the best Brothers player in the August loss, valiantly led his troops, but was controversially sent off. Without their inspirational captain on the field, Brothers lost momentum and Wanderers became premiers with a final score of 17-7. Col had another excellent match, and as he had now put together a string of polished performances on the field, it was only a matter of time before he would be given serious consideration for a Maroon jersey.

For a Queensland Country player to try to make the Queensland team in the 1960s, he needed to play a large number of games in a very short period of time. In 1966, Col’s first step was to go to the Bundaberg city representative trials.  Once he made the Bundaberg team, he went with them to the Wide Bay trials, where Bundaberg played against other city teams from the region. As a member of the Wide Bay side, he went to the State trials in Brisbane and played three matches in three days. The districts involved in the State trials were Brisbane, Ipswich, Toowoomba, Wide Bay, Central Queensland and North Queensland. From those three matches in three days, the selectors would pick a Combined Country side to play South Queensland. The secretary of the Bundaberg Rugby League contacted Col and told him he was wanted in Brisbane for a match on Wednesday night. They needed a reserve for the Combined Country side. Unfortunately that night, he didn’t get any playing time.

Then the selectors picked the Queensland vs The Rest sides, which was the final trial before they picked the State side. Sid Clark was originally picked to play in the game, but had hurt his shoulder, so a replacement was required. Col went into the second-row with Angelo Creamer, playing behind Jim Paterson and put everything he had into the match. When Col got back home after the trials on the Sunday an official came around to inform him that he had been selected in the Queensland team to play lock. He was surprised when he was picked for the Maroons, as he expected Noel Cavanagh to play. But Noel Cavanagh had injured his knee, which gave Col an opportunity. Ripper Doyle told Col years later that the first time the State selectors really looked closely at him was at a training session at Neumann Oval, Brisbane Valleys’ home ground. Col was playing in a game of touch football and his ball-handling skills drew favourable comments – which led to him being chosen for Queensland for the next seven years.

Although NSW won the first match of the 1966 interstate series at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Queensland acquitted themselves quite well. The Sydney public got their first glimpse of Col and observers felt that he was the best defender on the field. Queensland lost every game that year, but there were still some positive outcomes. One of these was Col’s consistent high level of performance. Playing in every match, he impressed everyone with his polished displays, despite his lack of experience at this level. At the end of the season, Mr G McLeod from the Australian Board of Control travelled to Bundaberg to present Col with the J G Stephenson Trophy for the most serviceable Queensland player – a significant achievement as this was his debut year.

Playing for Queensland did have its negative side. One time Col was playing for Queensland against NSW in Newcastle on a Saturday. Col flew back with the team to Brisbane on Saturday night. Wanderers had a car waiting for him in Brisbane on Sunday morning, and he returned to Bundaberg to play on Sunday afternoon. Wanderers drew the game so he got paid $8. Because he had been away for two nights, and had missed training, the club deducted $4 – and then the government took $2 income tax out. So he got $2 in total.

In the first round of the 1966 Rugby League State Championships, Wide Bay played Central Queensland in Rockhampton. With a dominating forward pack and a faster backline, Wide Bay overpowered their opponents 34-11. The final of the district championships was against North Queensland in Townsville. North Queensland had won the State Championship each of the previous three years and was very intent on making it four-in-a-row. With just a couple of minutes to go, it looked like this was what was going to happen. Then the referee awarded the visitors a penalty about 40 metres out. Queensland centre Jimmy Lingard, playing at full-back in this game, wanted the kick, although he was not the regular kicker. He came up to Bill Pearson – the captain of Wide Bay – and said, ‘Here, give me the ball, I’ll kick this one’.  He put the ball down, lined it up and put it straight between the posts for the win. The game finished with an all-in brawl and Wide Bay had to fight their way off the field.

The final was between Wide Bay and the current Bulimba Cup champions, Ipswich, at Salter Oval in Bundaberg   (See Special Feature). The price of admission was 60 cents for adults and 10 cents for children. If you wanted a seat, it was $1. In arguably the greatest moment in the history of Wide Bay rugby league, the home team came away with the most comprehensive of victories, scoring 10 tries in a 50-8 triumph. Col scored two tries, as did Ivan Dent, Col Reynolds and Mike Bailey. Ray Brosnan kicked 10 goals. Col had one of his best-ever games. His positional play, both in attack and defence, was of the highest quality. The consistency of his uncompromising tackling was a major factor in the win.

By 1967, the interstate series for Queensland supporters had become a yearly disappointment, but not because of the players that wore the Maroon. The vicious cycle of defeat was caused by two major factors. One was that the bias towards NSW in the Australian team selection process (two selectors from each State, and an arbiter from NSW) meant that many worthy Queensland players were denied the opportunity to represent their country. This resulted in a lowering in the standard of play in Queensland, as the NSW players had greater opportunities to hone their skills against world opposition. The other factor was that rich Sydney clubs had no hesitation in enticing Queensland’s best players south of the border – and often succeeded. This all made Queenslanders rather cynical about the fairness of the situation. Since the tied series of 1961, Queensland had gone 23 games without a win – up until the last game of the 1967 series.

On June 24th, Queensland played NSW at Lang Park. Col and the rest of the Queenslanders had to combat a NSW team where all 13 players were internationals, including the cream of NSW at the time: Langlands, Irvine, Gasnier, Smith and Raper. Both sides scored a try each – centre John McDonald for Queensland and winger Les Hanigan for NSW. Each side also kicked four goals. The hero was Queensland half-back Abe Weimers, who kicked a field goal that was the difference in points. Finally Queensland had a win, and the crowd of 25,181 erupted at the final hooter. Captain John Gleeson was chaired off the field. This was not the first time Weimers had played the key role in an important match. A Kilcoy player in the Ipswich competition, he had been a member of Ipswich’s Bulimba Cup winning team the year before. In a play-off for the Cup, Ipswich outlasted Brisbane 7-2 in a rough and hard-fought game. After only one minute of the second half, Weimers, through a smart piece of backing up, scored the only try of the match. He was slippery in attack and always in position to defend, and was judged best player on ground.

Three days later, Bundaberg was given the unusual honour of playing against the Australian team at full strength, comprising the same players that would represent the green and gold in the second Test against New Zealand on July 1st, except Geoff Connell played instead of Ron Lynch. Salter Oval had never before been witness to such a galaxy of star Australian players. Prominent players for Bundaberg included Col, Bill Pearson, Noel Gallagher (who would be chosen to go on the Kangaroo tour later that year) and the Reynolds brothers. Col, a half-back, played for Queensland seven times, while Ralph was a winger and represented the Maroons three times. Both had played on Wide Bay’s State Championship team the year before. In this warm-up match for the Australian team, Bundaberg did creditably to score 12 points.

Col’s club team, Wanderers, asked Col to be captain-coach for the 1968 season. He took over the coaching position from Rex McGlynn and the captaincy from Donnie Nixon. ‘Sexy Rex’ had played in Bundaberg, for Brisbane Valleys and in Tully, and was a Queensland centre in the early 1950s. Col immediately made it clear that he would have a ‘get tough’ policy. Players that didn’t train would not play. Club officials went public in supporting Col’s stand. Col’s other priorities were practising a lot of set moves (running on angles, changing direction), conditioning, and passing drills with a focus on quick hands. If someone went after a teammate in a game he instructed his players to never retaliate on the spot in the heat of the moment. Otherwise you would get sent off because referees targeted the second bloke that started fighting. ‘Don’t let them put you off your game – to single one player out – because that’s why they do it’. But you could remember and if you wanted to, put a bit extra in a tackle later on.

Col’s leadership had an immediate positive effect as Wanderers made the Grand Final in 1968 against Natives. Natives won their first Bundaberg premiership in 1934, and been premiers a total of 12 times up until that year. Arguably Natives’ most famous ever player was Noel Hazzard, who first represented Australia while at the club. With Hazzard captaining the team, Natives won the Bundaberg premiership four times in six years between 1947 and 1952. One of the years they didn’t win was when he was out with a broken collarbone. Then between 1962 and 1964, they won three consecutive competitions, beating Brothers 17-13, Wharfies 16-0, and winning outright in 1964. To win outright, a team needed to win the minor premiership (part-way through the season) and be at the head of the competition ladder at the end of the season.

After 80 minutes, the game was tied. According to the rules of the Bundaberg competition, 20 minutes of extra time was added on. With about 10 seconds to go, Col called for the ball. After receiving the pass, he ran about 50 metres to score. None of the exhausted Natives players could get anywhere near him. Col’s personal philosophy of maintaining peak physical fitness had made the difference and Wanderers were the victors. After losing the 1969 Grand Final to Railways, Wanderers again met Natives in the 1970 decider. This time, the match was not close, with Wanderers running away with the game, 33-7. Col had proved his merit as a leader both on the field and off.

1969 did not start well for Col. He contracted meningitis and had to go to hospital. There, he was ordered not to play rugby league for an extended period. Yet, three weeks after leaving hospital, he was running 70 miles a week. When he went to the State trials in Brisbane, he ran four miles every morning at a practice field at Victoria Park Golf Course before breakfast in addition to normal team training. One day he met three Toowoomba members of the Combined Country team going the other way – Ron Beauchamp, John Cowley and Wayne Bennett. He pushed himself to get back into shape as quickly as possible. By the second game of the interstate series he was close to full fitness – and was voted best player of the game by a Sydney-sponsored panel.

The next day, a nervous Col cut himself with some scissors he was using when his name was called out on the radio as a member of the Australian squad for a six-match tour of New Zealand – which included two Test matches. In the past, there were two factors that had kept him out of Test calculations. One was his perceived lack of size. His playing weight was 80 kg, which many thought was too light for a forward at international level. The other was Johnny Raper – generally considered to be an automatic selection at lock for Australia when fit up until 1968 when he stopped playing representative football. However, with his recent player of the game award and with Raper not on the tour, he might finally have a chance.

His dream of representing his country at Test level finally occurred on June 7th, 1969.  In the second Test at Carlaw Park in Auckland, Ron Coote was chosen at lock, and Col replaced Bob McCarthy who had played second-row in the first Test. In front of a crowd of just under 10,000, Australia lost the only game of the tour, 14-18. Yet Col made an excellent Test debut and was not overawed by the occasion at all. Col was the only Queenslander on the tour to be chosen for a Test and he was also given the responsibility of being vice-captain for two games. On his return, Col was given the captaincy of the Queensland team and finished off the year being awarded the J G Stephenson Trophy for the second time, matching the record of Peter Gallagher as the only two-time recipients.

There was one unfortunate incident involving Col in the last match before the Australians came home. The visitors were playing Auckland in the mud at Carlaw Park. At the time, Col was the marker. After the play the ball, the dummy-half passed to a forward coming on to the ball. Col followed him across and was going to take him side-on. Unfortunately, the referee moved between the opposition player and Col just as he was about to effect his tackle. Col left the ground and tackled the player around the hips, but the back of his shoulder down to his waist ploughed into the referee by accident.

While Col was getting up, the hosts scored in the corner. Everyone was looking around for the referee – but he was still laying in the mud back near the halfway line. The game stopped and the touch judge came on. They had to put the referee on a stretcher and take him to hospital. Graeme Langlands and Col went up to the hospital to see Johnny Wittenburg, who had sustained a fractured cheekbone during the match. While he was there, Col saw a nurse at the nurses’ station and asked her about the referee. In 1972, Col was on tour in New Zealand with the Queensland team. A bloke walked up to Col at a dinner and said, ‘Do you remember me?’ Col knew who it was – Earl Pilcher, the injured referee.

After successfully showing his ability on the international stage in New Zealand, Col was chosen as a reserve for the first Test of the 1970 series against Great Britain at Lang Park. Later known as The Battle of Brisbane III, Col came on after 20 minutes to replace Ron Lynch, who had gotten a broken jaw. Sitting on the sideline watching the game for the first 20 minutes before Lynch got injured, Col was witness to the most impressive forward display he had ever seen. Ron Coote, Artie Beetson, Ron Lynch, Jimmy Morgan, Elwyn Walters and Johnny Wittenberg – they just trampled the Poms in that opening period of play. The noise was electric when Col went on – his entrance just about brought the house down. Playing in front of his home State crowd, with his wife Pat sitting next to referee Don Lancashire’s wife on the sideline, this was Col’s most enjoyable match ever. He was a tackling machine, registering the most tackles of any player on either side, despite the fact he only played for 60 minutes.

Unfortunately, Australia couldn’t repeat the win in Sydney for the second Test. Great Britain changed their game plan for that match. They thought they would steamroll Australia in the first Test, but that didn’t work. In the second Test, Australia was left short because Great Britain’s game plan for this game was to focus on good ball handling between their speedy backs. They played away from Australia’s strength and that left Australia wanting. The same thing happened in the third Test. Col was chosen for the second Test at lock, but was again a reserve for the third. Col always went through a lot of mental preparation for every game, even on the rare occasions he was picked as a reserve. After the third Test, he couldn’t sleep for a week because he was so mentally wound up – this was the first time he had ever been picked for a game that he didn’t play in. Col finished off a stellar representative year by winning the J G Stephenson Trophy for the third time, the only player ever to do so.

By 1971, Ron McAuliffe was starting to make some drastic changes to the Queensland rugby league landscape. Seen in Queensland as a visionary, McAuliffe had become the leader of the QRL the previous year. He started conducting intensive training camps for the Queensland State squad just after Christmas that included PT instructors. Col complained one night to McAuliffe about the second-rate food the Queensland team was being given. From that time on, everything about the diet changed. They got away from the mixed grill, which they had been served at night – a lamb chop and a sausage, cabbage and mashed potato and a glass of water with a spoonful of powdered milk in it.

At a welcome dinner for the NSW team before their first match of 1971 against Queensland at Lang Park, McAuliffe created a furore when he announced the QRL would try to bring Graeme Langlands to Queensland. The NSW officials and press were up in arms, and Len Kelly, the president of St George (Langland’s club), called for McAuliffe to be disciplined. Queenslanders viewed this reaction as laughable. For years Sydney clubs had blatantly approached Queensland players, without any concern about contracts or the clubs they played for. At a time the Sydney press were calling for the abolition of the interstate series, Ron McAuliffe was putting steps in place that aimed to make Queensland much more competitive. One of these steps was to bring Ross Strudwick and John Sattler to play in the Brisbane competition.

Queensland was not just fighting a battle for survival off the field. For the second game of the 1971 interstate series, the referee was former NSW and Australian half-back Keith Holman. Queensland players generally felt that the vast majority of referees were fair-minded when it came to making rulings on the field. However, for a long time several Queensland players had been discussing the refereeing style of Holman, feeling that it left a lot to be desired. Nothing untoward was ever proven or reported; however, he did not enjoy the best of reputations for impartiality north of the border. His reputation was certainly not enhanced when he sent off three Queenslanders in this game: Ray Laird, Russell Hughes and Rod Tolhurst. The angry crowd showered beer cans onto the field. Play was held up while ground staff went and picked them all up. Bobby Bax, the Queensland coach, said to Col at half-time, ‘I need someone on the wing that can tackle’. Col replied, ‘I’m here to play – I’ll play anywhere you put me’. For the whole of the second half Col played on the wing.

In 1972, Col was offered the captain/coach position at Brisbane Brothers and he accepted. He stayed with them for two years. On Col’s first day of training at Corbett Park he was pleased to find that 132 players climbed over the fence with their boots. He was used to coaching in the country where sometimes you never had a full side. Col arranged weight training for his players – he had a gym set up in the dressing sheds and hired a Commonwealth Games weightlifter. He also had PT instructors to do the conditioning. Col’s coaching role was to work on match plans and supervise ballwork. Brothers improved from a record of 8-2-11 in 1971 to 11-1-9 in 1972 under Col’s leadership. They made the preliminary final, but lost to Valleys. In 1973, Brothers had a record of 10-1-10, and just missed the finals, finishing in fifth place.

For some time the QRL had been liaising with their New Zealand counterparts to arrange games between Queensland and New Zealand teams to improve the Maroons’ level of play. They organised a 1972 tour of New Zealand and appointed Col as captain. When the fitness tests for the players were conducted, there was a big controversy. The doctor, Kevin Hobbs, informed forward Des Morris that he had a heart murmur and ruled him unfit. Col, believing that the QRL should get a second opinion, was unhappy with the decision. He felt Des had been hard done by, especially as he had been playing with distinction over a long period of time without any issues. Queensland played four games on the tour and won all of them, although Auckland came close, losing 17-18.

One of Col’s favourite coaches throughout his playing career was Henry Holloway. In Col’s mind, Henry was a rough nut who swore at everyone, including the referees, but did his job well because you always knew where you stood with him. He was specific and straight to the point. For example, he would say things like, ‘Son, there is nothing wrong with you. Get out there and play. And you don’t come off until I tell you’.

One day Col was captaining Brisbane against Toowoomba at Lang Park and Henry was the coach. There was some confusion over how many reserves you could use in the second half. Henry said, ‘Col, shut the door and don’t open it until I tell you’. When Henry told you to do something, you did it. No ifs, ands or buts. So Col shut the door and stood there. Eventually, Henry came back and told Col he could open up now. He had been to see the president and showed him the rule book. He said to Col that they had gotten the reserves he wanted and that he could now take the players out on to the field. Col and Henry developed a cordial relationship, although Henry once told Col he hated playing against Brothers because Col was in the team.

In 1974 Col returned to Bundaberg to play for his old club Wanderers one more season, with his brother Brian as coach. In a fairy-tale end to his playing career with Wanderers, they won the grand final 19-13 against Natives. The following year Col was appointed captain-coach of Isis in the Maryborough competition – and then retired at the end of that season.

After his playing days, Col started a new career as a rugby league referee in his mid-40s, officiating in two Grand Finals. It is typical of the man that when he looks back on his career, he prioritises acknowledging the important role that administrators like Bert Quinn and George McLeod played in supporting rugby league. For example, if Col was playing a representative game for Queensland at Lang Park, Bert would always give him a lift home, instead of Col having to take the bus. This happened after nearly all the representative games. George McLeod once arranged for Wide Bay to go to Brisbane and play a Brisbane No. 2 side on a day that Brisbane was playing North Qld in a State Cup final, just to give them experience. Col, along with these two fine administrators, and thousands like them, never got any financial rewards. They just wanted to be a part of the greatest game of all.