FLASHBACK FRIDAY: CANTERBURY V AUSTRALIA 1965
As the rugby league world turns its focus towards next week’s State of Origin series opener, Flashback Friday revisits the only time Canterbury took on the cream of New South Wales and Queensland – its sole match against Australia, when the provincial side hosted the star-studded 1965 tourists in Christchurch.
Previous Australian sides to tour New Zealand had visited Christchurch on three occasions, playing Tests in 1919 and 1953, and squaring off against a National Coaching School line-up in 1961, but had never faced the red-and-black of Canterbury.
The signs were ominous for the 2,654-strong home crowd when genius St George centre and future Immortal Reg Gasnier (pictured) scored in just the third minute. But Canterbury dug in to trail just 6-2 at halftime.
A try in the dying stages gave Australia a 19-4 result over a gallant Canterbury outfit, with Jim Hawthorne scoring the home side’s points via two penalty goals.
Promising 18-year-old Linwood hooker Bill Noonan came in for special praise after matching Newcastle Team of the Century hooker Allan Buman in the scrums – in the days when they were still a contest. Developing into a top-quality prop/second-rower, Noonan went on to play three Tests for the Kiwis before carving out an illustrious 11-season career in the Sydney premiership, making 196 appearances for Canterbury and Newtown.
Halfback Bob Irvine, who debuted for the Kiwis later that year on the tour of Britain and France, fullback Billy Campbell, Test prop Jim Fisher and future Kiwis front-rower Mita Mohi were Canterbury’s other standouts on a landmark day for rugby league in the region.
Australian co-manager Arnold Stehr told Rugby League News the team had been given a ‘taste of really cold New Zealand weather’, with the Christchurch temperature around six degrees on match-day. Centre Paul Quinn even blamed his knee injury on the cool conditions: “The weather was so cold that my leg was numb and I could not feel any soreness in it,” he said. “As a result I kept playing when I would have been off the field in normal conditions.”
The tourists were quartered at the Embassy Hotel, where former Kiwis skipper Canterbury great Pat Smith was the mine host. The Australian players also conveyed their surprise at the extent to which rugby league was handicapped by prejudice against the sport – particularly in schools.
Winger Brian Langton (below) was Canterbury’s sole representative for New Zealand’s two Tests against Australia, both played in Auckland and split one win apiece.
Australia’s touring party, captained by legendary St George hooker Ian Walsh also included ARL Team of the Century members Gasnier, Ken Irvine and Graeme Langlands, and many more greats of the era such as South Sydney’s dual international pivot Jim Lisle, Saints halfback Billy Smith and Canterbury-Bankstown fullback Les Johns.
Subsequent tour matches involving Australia in Christchurch were played against South Island and New Zealand XIII combinations, which gives the Canterbury side of 1965 a unique place in the annals of the province’s rugby league history.
CANTERBURY TEAM V AUSTRALIA, 1965: W. Campbell, P. Tongue, C. Preece, B. Langton, J. Hawthorne, R. Neiman, R. Irvine, J. White, J. Flanagan (captain), D. Condick, J. Fisher, B. Noonan, M. Mohi
Sources: The Hard Yards: Rugby League In Canterbury 1912-2012 by John Coffey, Bruce Montgomerie’s 1966 New Zealand Rugby League Yearbook & Rugby League News (periodical)