‘9’ will never be forgotten
Mention the number 9 to anyone from Moree remotely interested in rugby league and the name Bernie Briggs immediately springs to mind.
Bernie, known by many simply as ‘9’, was for many years widely regarded as one of Moree’s living treasures.
Bernie passed away in 2017 after a long battle with cancer. He was 58.
He was a champion sportsman – a proud Moree ambassador – and is well-remembered for being the 15-year-old kid who converted a John Brooks try in the dying minutes of the 1973 University Shield grand-final to give Moree High School a 13-12 win over Forbes High School.
Bernie grew up at Yarraman and did what all kids do when growing up in a small community in the 1960s – 90 percent of the time was spent outdoors and 90 percent of the time outdoors was spent playing sport.
And he was good.
Kids played football in winter and cricket in summer and there was very little time for anything else.
And while that crucial two-pointer at Gosford’s Grahame Park in front of 8000 spectators is regarded as one of Bernie’s finest sporting moments, his prowess in other sports is legendary, especially on a cricket pitch.
Bernie played his first game of competition cricket in 1969 when he was just 11 years of age.
The big boys from Yarraman were playing against Berrigal Creek at Yarraman Sports Ground but they were a man short.
One of the players, George Tooth, said he knew a kid that could make up the numbers and off he went.
George returned about half-an-hour later with this young Aboriginal kid who was immaculately dressed.
Robert Jurd, another legend, was there that day.
“Bernie turned up ready to play. It was as if he had been sitting at home just waiting for the call-up. And after he’d sent a couple of balls down, we knew the kid could play,” he said.
Bernie went on to play A-grade cricket for Moree and was a regular with the north-west area open team.
Good judges say the bigger the contest, the better Bernie played – and they are right.
In rugby league, Bernie was part of Moree High School’s undefeated under-16s squad and, apart from his pinnacle role in the 1973 University Shield grand-final he played with that year’s under-18s Group 5 grand-final winners.
Bernie’s natural ability to excel at just about any sport was punctuated in 1973, when he was named NSW 15-years javelin champion – a talent he discovered by sheer accident.
John Brooks, who scored the match-winning try in the Uni Shield grand-final, recalled how it all came about, and all because of a bit of schoolboy horseplay.
“Our coach, John McLean, made all of us University Shield boys go to the school athletics carnivals to set a good example for the rest of the students,” Brooks said.
“Anyway, Buster (Michael Duke) threw a javelin to Bernie and said ‘come on Bernie, show us how that old black magic works’.
“So Bernie just threw the damn thing and John went and measured it out. He figured that in that one throw, Bernie had broken the State record.
“Needless to say, Bernie gets picked for the north-west, goes to Sydney and wins the State athletics title for 15 years javelin,” Brooks laughed.
“People say ‘that can’t be right’, but that is exactly what happened.”
Bernie played for the under-21s Northern NSW Emus cricket team that toured New Zealand and
was also awarded two north-west area Blues in 1973: one for athletics and a special Blue for rugby league and cricket.
He was named North-West Area Education Department’s Sports Boy of the Year in 1973 and
the same year was named North-West Schools’ Sports Association’s Sportsman of the Year.
Remarkably, Bernie stockpiled all these achievements and awards before his 16th birthday.
Bernie also played in seven rugby league grand-finals for The Big M, in juniors as well as seniors when the club became the Moree Boars in the late 1970s.
He helped win six of those grand-finals.
In all, Bernie played in 142 A-grade matches for Moree and was a long-standing life member of the club.
He collected the coveted Moree Champion A-Grade Best and Fairest Award in 1980 and again in 1984.
‘9’ will be watching closely when his old team-mates get together on August 18-19-20 – and he’ll be smiling quietly in his modest, unassuming way.
Former Moree residents wishing to return home for the three-day reunion can contact Mike Hadfield on 0417 482359 or emailing email@example.com.
Words: Copyright Bill Poulos 2023