Nick Walshaw Daily Telegraph
PAUL Roberts lost an eye for everything that made them great. “Yeah, pub fight,” the 1989 Rabbitoh shrugs.
“There were two guys, big fellas, laying into my cousin. So, you know, whaddya do?
“I’ve gone running in to help but, as I did, one of them turned and glassed me. Drove it right into my face . . .”
A Sydney bricklayer for 34 years and counting, Roberts is also the anonymous heartbeat for that most revered, recited and recollected Rabbitohs side of the modern era — the Class Of 1989.
And he has to be.
1989 South Sydney team who won the minor premiership.
Same deal Port Macquarie truckie Bruce Longbotton. Or Port Botany wharfie Steve Mavin.
“And if you wanna find Craig Coleman,” Souths historian Brad Ryder says, “I know he collects my garbage bins every Monday morning.”
Yep, while the current Rabbitohs are a humming mix of Hollywood dollars and Queenslander brilliance — of no less than eight men who boast Australian, English or New Zealand Test caps — the last mob of Redfern minor premiers weren’t quite so shiny.
No, success in ’89 was built on the type of fellas who turned cards at the Georges Hotel. Who would miss future reunions serving jail time.
Unshakable types who would tear in to help a mate . . . even when schooner glasses were being broken on tables.
The 1989 front row – Les Davidson, Mario Fenech and Ian Roberts.
“Oh, a complete mob of rascals,” grins skipper Mario Fenech.
“And, sure, every one of us had our failings. But when we linked arms in that circle before games, when we looked each other in the eye . . . in 15 years of first grade I never saw anyone else look back at me like it.”
Which is why, while everyone remembers this mob as the side which dropped the ball — quite literally in the case of Mavin — the real story is how, under the tutelege of coach George Piggins, they got within a whisker of the grand final in the first place.
How 22 years after his last game, Bronko Djura still has folk walk into the Wentforth Falls bowling club he manages and, upon hearing that famed moniker, ask to shout the old fullback a beer.
“Although if my parents had named me, oh, I dunno, Paul Smith,” he grins, “you would’ve forgotten me five minutes after I gave it away.”
George Piggins (R) coached the 1989 side.
Certainly there may be a little truth to that.
For while Les Davidson earned five Test jerseys and Phil Blake a Tooheys commercial, centre Mark Lyons works the Bunnies’ dressing-room door on game days with almost the entire office staff having no idea who he is.
Elsewhere, “Turtle” Rampling is in construction. Ross Harrington runs the Lithgow Driving School. While lock Mark Andrews, well, he was just another face in that English crowd when our Jillaroos won the Women’s World Cup recently.
“I’ve got seven kids and my daughter Emily, she was part of the side,” Andrews says.
“It’s not exactly nice to see your daughter getting bashed around, but to beat New Zealand for the first time ever — incredible. Especially when the Kiwis had already made shirts with ‘Let’s Go, Four In A Row’.”
Les Davidson (R) was the brawn, Craig Coleman was the brains.
Asked about his own team’s achievements in ’89, when after 13 straight wins they would eventually bow out of the finals on consecutive losses, the warehouse boss continues: “That side found ways to win when we had no right to.
“And, yes, when it came to the crunch we came up short. But, geez, I thought we played above ourselves to get there.”
Davidson agrees. Now working a crane at the Port Botany wharves, the ageing enforcer credits “more attitude than skill” for them conceding only 31 tries all year.
“At one stage we even agreed to get off the drink,” Davidson grins. “Back then, that was a huge pact. But just like when we did go out, it was a case of one in, all in.”
Which is why, 24 years on, these footballers still know the whereabouts of every mate. Why they meet more regularly than premierships sides and, as was the case over more than a few beers last Friday night at ANZ Stadium, pick up straight from where the last gag left off.
Like asking a one-eyed brickie how straight he now lays them?
“Funny thing was, I wasn’t even supposed to be at the pub that afternoon,” Roberts recalls. “It was a work day but, because it started to rain, the boss called us off early, took everyone to the pub.
“And, you know, I wasn’t even staying long. But then the trouble started and when it’s family, when it’s a mate . . . well, whaddya do?”
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
1. Bronko Djura – Wentworth Falls Bowling Club Manager
2. Ross Harrington – Lithgow driving instructor
3. Steve O’Dea – Sales representative
4. Steve Mavin – Wharfie
5. Graham Lyons – Construction worker
6. Phil Blake – Manly rugby coach
7. Craig Coleman – Garbo
8. David Boyle – Cronulla strength and conditioning coach
9. Jim Serdaris – Electrician
10. Mario Fenech – NRL ambassador, Channel Nine personality
11. Les Davidson – Wharfie
12. Wayne Chisholm – Gold Coast builder
13. Michael Andrews – Warehouse manager
14. Mark Lyons – Wharfie
15. Tony Rampling – Construction worker
16. Bruce Longbottom – Port Macquarie truck driver
17. Paul Roberts – Bricklayer
Coach: George Piggins – Businessman, nursery owner