Australian Rugby League’s Team of the Decade (1970s)
The quality of any ‘greatest team’ can be measured by the quality of the players that missed out on selection – and that’s certainly the case in our Team of the 1970s line-up.
Legendary St George fullback Graeme Langlands, his Dragons partner-in-crime and all-time great halfback Billy Smith, prolific outside-backs Paul Sait, Terry Fahey and Mark Harris, gun halves John Peard and Johnny Mayes, outstanding front-rowers Craig Young and Bob O’Reilly, Manly hooker Max Krilich, and back-row trumps Rod Reddy, Gary Stevens and Malcolm Reilly are just some of the luminaries that we were unable to squeeze into the XIII.
But it’s difficult to begrudge any of the players named their spots in our 1970s dream team – an unforgettable combination from an unforgettable era in rugby league history.
Fullback – Graham Eadie
Leaving out an Immortal in Graeme Langlands will be viewed as rugby league sacrilege by many, particularly as ‘Changa’ – a superstar of the 1960s – enjoyed several glittering highlights in the green-and-gold jumper and led St George to two grand finals during the ’70s before injury forced him to retire early in the 1976 season. But it’s our contention that Manly great Graham Eadie had a bigger impact on the decade as a whole.
Cutting his teeth in first grade as a 17-year-old in 1971, Eadie took over from stalwart Bob Batty as the Sea Eagles’ fullback the following season and featured in the club’s maiden grand final success. A second premiership followed in ’73, which led to a spot on the Kangaroo Tour and a starring role in Australia’s Ashes success with captain-coach Langlands sidelined by injury.
A powerful ball-runner, rock solid defender and brilliant goalkicker, ‘Wombat’ led the premiership’s pointscoring charts from 1974-76 (including a Manly record 242 points in ’75), won the Rothmans Medal in ’74, and held a mortgage on the Australian No.1 jersey from late-1975 onwards.
After kicking five vital goals in Manly’s 13-10 win over Parramatta in the 1976 decider, Eadie was at the peak of his powers as the Sea Eagles’ surged to another title in ’78, dominating the 16-0 grand final replay shutout of Cronulla. Another triumphant Kangaroo Tour that year and a starring role in Australia’s emphatic 3-0 Ashes romp at home in 1979 concluded Eadie’s stellar 20-Test international career.
Eadie retired from premiership football after Manly’s 1983 grand final loss, but later came out of retirement to help Halifax to Championship and Challenge Cup glory in the 1986-87 season.
Wing – Ray Branighan
This was the most difficult position to pick, with no wingers truly dominating the premiership or representative scene during the 1970s. The great Ken Irvine was at the tail-end of his career at the start of the decade, while young champions Kerry Boustead and Larry Corowa only emerged in 1978.
The first spot on the flank goes to the rugged, versatile Ray Branighan, who won grand finals as winger with South Sydney in 1970 and ’71 – scoring a try in each decider – before winning another three premierships with Manly as a centre.
An international regular from 1970-75, Branighan featured in Australia’s 1970 and ’72 World Cup final teams and the 1973 and ’74 Ashes series successes. He played a total of 17 Tests – seven of them on the wing. Branighan retired after the Sea Eagles’ triumph in the 1978 grand final replay.
Centre – Steve Rogers
Steve Rogers would arguably be the only player to challenge Bob Fulton and Arthur Beetson for the mantle of the player of the 1970s.
The Cronulla junior enjoyed a meteoric rise after debuting for the Sharks as an 18-year-old in 1973, playing in the club’s historic grand final loss that year before winning a place in the Kangaroo Tour squad.
His full Test debut came in 1975 after winning the Rothmans Medal and he was an automatic rep selection thereafter, forming one of the great midfield partnerships with Mick Cronin while also being lauded as the best post-Gasnier centre. A beautifully balanced runner with a devastating step, silky skills and outstanding defensive instincts, ‘Sludge’ was also a prolific pointscorer at club level.
Rogers tempered the disappointment of the Sharks’ 1978 grand final replay loss to Manly by dazzling English crowds on a second Kangaroo Tour and playing a similarly prominent role in Australia’s home Ashes whitewash of Great Britain in ’79.
He continued to represent Australia until 1983 and star on the club scene for Cronulla and St George before injuries wrecked the twilight of his career. Rogers, who tragically passed away in 2006, was named a reserve in the NSW Team of the Century in 2008.
Centre – Mick Cronin
Gerringong star Cronin first came to wider attention playing for Country Firsts in 1973, after which he was a shock inclusion in that year’s Kangaroo Tour squad. The goalkicker extraordinaire played both Tests in France and all three Tests of the following season’s home Ashes series win over Great Britain.
Cronin scored 76 points in seven World Championship Series internationals in 1975, but it wasn’t until 1977 that Parramatta was finally able to prise him away from Gerringong – and the robust centre truly started carving out his legend.
‘The Crow’ won the Rothmans Medal in 1977 and ’78 – featuring in the Eels’ agonising grand final replay loss in the former year and setting a host of new pointscoring marks in the latter. He racked up a premiership record 282 points in 1978, as well as a world record 547 points across all club and rep matches, including a second Kangaroo Tour.
Cronin tallied an astonishing 54 points in Australia’s Ashes cleansweep of Great Britain in 1979, but his brilliant centre play was as much of a trademark as his goalkicking exploits. Peerless at setting up his supports with a deft pass or offload, he was a magnificent defender and could find his way to the try-line, crossing 38 times in his first three seasons at Parramatta.
He achieved just as much in the 1980s – including four premierships and six more Tests as he became Australia’s greatest Test pointscorer – but Cronin is a walk-up starter for the Team of the Seventies.
Wing – Bill Mullins
Regarded as one of the unluckiest players of his era to not represent Australia, Bill Mullins claims the other wing berth in a photo finish from Test wingers Terry Fahey, Boustead, Corowa, Chris Anderson and Mark Harris.
Several instances of bad luck stopped Mullins from donning the green-and-gold, but no winger was more consistently effective at club level during the 1970s than the bulldozing Rooster.
From a professional running background, Mullins debuted for Easts in 1968 and earned a World Cup trial during a breakout 1970 season, but a broken jaw stymied a likely Australian call-up. He played for NSW in 1971 and scored his 17th try of 1972 in the Tricolours’ grand final loss to Manly, but his hopes of a Kangaroo Tour spot in 1973 evaporated courtesy of another broken jaw.
Mullins topped the competition’s tryscoring charts in 1974 with 23 as the Roosters stormed to the premiership, while an injury-hampered ’75 campaign finished with a try in another grand final victory – but no Australian jumper. He headed to the country at the end of 1978 with a club record 104 tries to his credit, 97 of those coming in the 1970s.
Five-eighth – Bob Fulton
Bob Fulton was named as a reserve in the Australian Rugby League Team of the Century in 2008, but he could have snared a place at centre or five-eighth and few would have argued.
Already a marquee player when the 1970s rolled around, Fulton became rugby league’s supreme superstar, his attacking brilliance spearheading Manly’s first two premiership wins in 1972-73 – topping the competition’s tryscoring lists both years – and his leadership was crucial to another Sea Eagles grand final win as captain in 1976.
Fulton scored at least 14 tries in each club season from 1971-77 and scored 23 tries in 32 Tests during the 1970s. He was the top tryscorer on the 1973 and ’78 Kangaroo Tours – the latter as skipper in his international swansong.
In 1977 ‘Bozo’ joined Eastern Suburbs, where his glittering playing career ended as captain-coach midway through the ’79 season.
Halfback – Tom Raudonikis
There was only one genuine contender for the No.7 jumper: Western Suburbs icon ‘Tom Terrific’.
The Cowra product made his first grade debut in 1969 and went on to make a club record 201 appearances for the Magpies in the top flight before joining Newtown in 1980.
A tenacious livewire who never let his opposing halfback – or any player, for that matter – get over the top of him, Raudonikis personified the often-brutal blood-and-thunder rugby league of the 1970s.
He played 29 Tests for Australia from 1972-80, with the highlight arguably captaining Australia to Ashes glory at Wilderspool on the 1973 Kangaroo Tour with captain-coach Graeme Langlands sidelined by injury. Raudonikis also starred on the 1978 Kangaroo Tour, the year he came desperately close to leading Wests to a grand final as the ‘Fibros’ v ‘Silvertails’ rivalry with Manly gripped the premiership.
While his fiery temperament and aggression tend to overshadow his legacy, Raudonikis’ brilliance as a linchpin is reflected by individual honours such as the 1972 Rothmans Medal.
Lock – Ron Coote
A superstar of the 1960s with 11 Tests and four grand final appearances, Ron Coote’s legend continued to grow in the ’70s.
Coote captained Australia to World Cup success in 1970 and won further premierships with South Sydney in ’70-71, before joining Eastern Suburbs. He skippered Easts to a grand final loss to Manly in his first season at the club, while he was an integral part of the Roosters’ 1974-75 premierships under Arthur Beetson’s captaincy, racking up double-figure try tallies in each campaign.
After sitting out rep football for three years, Coote made a triumphant return in 1974 in Australia’s home Ashes series win, and played the last of his 23 Tests during the 1975 World Championship Series.
Retiring in 1978 after becoming just the second player to appear in 100 first grade matches for two clubs, the peerless cover defender was named as a second-rower in the Australian Team of the Century in 2008.
Second-row – Bob McCarthy
Bob McCarthy was already well-established as a revolutionary figure for his role as a wide-running second-rower for South Sydney, NSW and Australia during the 1960s, but he remained one of the shining stars of the following decade.
The greatest tryscoring forward since the legendary Frank Burge, McCarthy posted the two highest season tallies of his career – 15 and 17 respectively – as the Rabbitohs stormed to more grand final success in 1970 and ’71.
He starred in Australia’s 1970 World Cup win and on the 1973 Kangaroo Tour, scoring the only try of the match as he captained the green-and-golds to a series-saving victory against Great Britain in Leeds. McCarthy signed off on a memorable international career by scoring another try in an epic Ashes decider win at the SCG in 1974.
McCarthy reluctantly left cash-strapped Souths at the end of 1975 and spent two seasons at Canterbury, but fittingly finished his career in the cardinal-and-myrtle jersey in 1978. He scored 79 of his career total of 119 tries during the 1970s.
Second-row – Terry Randall
Widely regarded as one of the most punishing defenders in the history of the game, ‘Igor’ Randall debuted for Manly in 1970 and was a vital component of the club’s grand final wins in 1972-73, 1976 and 1978.
Randall’s aggression, power and perfect timing and technique added up to a ball-runner’s nightmare, and his ferocious defence is one of the enduring memories of the premiership in the 1970s.
His relentless, industrious performances were rewarded with NSW selection every year from 1972-78, and although a broken thumb restricted his appearances on the 1973 Kangaroo Tour, Randall played 11 matches for Australia during the 1975 and ’77 World Cups.
The enforcer turned down the opportunity to tour with the 1978 Kangaroos after featuring in the Sea Eagles’ arduous drive to the title, but he continued playing for the club until 1982, retiring after that year’s grand final loss to Parramatta.
Prop – John O’Neill
Like Souths teammates Coote and McCarthy, front-row hard-man ‘Lurch’ O’Neill enjoyed plenty of success during the 1960s, but he entrenched his legacy over the ensuing half-decade.
The Gunnedah product won a belated call-up to the Australian side for the 1970 World Cup after playing a leading hand in the Rabbitohs’ brutal grand final win over Manly, before earning his fourth premiership medal in a victory over St George in 1971.
Lured over the bridge by the Sea Eagles in 1972, O’Neill provided the missing grunt up front as the club secured its first titles in 1972-73. The take-no-prisoners prop featured in Australia’s 1972 World Cup campaign and the 1973 Kangaroo tour, though he was hampered by injury on the latter. He was recalled for the deciding third Test of the 1974 Ashes series, a famous 22-18 victory at the SCG.
Returning to Souths at the end of 1974 to see out his career with a two-season stint, O’Neill played the last of his 10 Tests against Wales during the 1975 World Championship Series at the age of 32.
Hooker – Elwyn Walters
Walters narrowly clinches the hooker spot ahead of former Souths clubmate George Piggins and Manly stalwart Max Krilich, but the Tweed Heads product’s credentials are undeniable.
Debuting for the Rabbitohs in 1967, Walters had a charmed start to his career with back-to-back grand final wins, a place on the 1967-68 Kangaroo Tour and a Test debut in 1969. But he well and truly became established as the game’s premier hooker in 1970, featuring in Australia’s Ashes campaign and their World Cup triumph either side of another South Sydney premiership.
He played in a fourth grand final victory for the Rabbitohs in 1971, but after playing all five Tests on the 1973 Kangaroo Tour he switched to Eastern Suburbs, where he played a key role in premiership triumphs in 1974-75.
A tough, hardworking rake, Walters played the last of his 20 Tests during the 1974 Ashes series, eventually retiring after a season at Manly in 1977.
Prop – Arthur Beetson
Despite representing Australia in 1966 and ’68, dynamic Balmain forward Beetson was miles away from realising his enormous potential as the 1970s dawned. The early years of his career were marred by discipline problems and a poor attitude to training, but a move to Eastern Suburbs in 1971 proved a crucial turning point.
Incredibly mobile for a big man with ball skills to rival anyone that had played the game, the burly Queenslander took his game to another level at Easts, helping the club to a drought-breaking grand final appearance in 1972 and captaining a star-studded squad to premiership glory in 1974-75.
Beetson made 24 of his 28 Test appearances during the 1970s, including Tests as captain against France on the 1973 Kangaroo Tour and against Great Britain during the 1974 Ashes series – becoming the first Indigenous sportsperson to captain Australia in a major sport. He later skippered Australia to World Cup success in 1975 and ’77.
After a stint as captain-coach of the Roosters, Beetson’s Sydney career petered out with two seasons at Parramatta, but he famously went on to lead Queensland in the inaugural State of Origin match in 1980.
Universally regarded as the greatest attacking front-row forward rugby league has produced, ‘Big Artie’ was named the seventh Immortal in 2003 and at prop in the Australian Team of the Century in 2008.