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Eddie Lumsden’s boys did Moree proud 50 years ago – and Eddie still raises a glass to their success

THE Moree under-17s rugby league side – coached by former St George great Eddie Lumsden – utterly dominated the 1968 Group 5 season by generating a series of wins that peaked with a narrow grand-final triumph against Inverell.

They became known across north-western NSW in the late 1960s as ‘Eddie Lumsden’s Boys’ and created a unique slice of Moree’s rich rugby league history when half a century ago they marched through the under-17s competition undefeated.

The team, led by captain and five-eighth Gary Rice, won 17 consecutive matches before registering a hard-fought 7-2 grand-final win over Inverell.

The day of reckoning was played at Armidale and such was hometown pride in the Moree boys, community members banded together and paid for chartered flights, ensuring the team would land in Armidale fighting fit and ready to rewrite Moree rugby league history.

On the wing: St George Dragons wingers Eddie Lumsden (at front) and Johnny King this week reminiscing about the golden days of rugby league over a cold beer at Maitland’s Rutherford Hotel. Lumsden coached Moree’s under-17s side to 18 consecutive wins and grand-final glory in 1968 (Image: Greg Millett Photography).

The win was also the perfect gift for Lumsden, who had celebrated his 38th birthday just the day before.

The team roster included full-back Warwick Bull, wingers Kevin Traynor and Don King, centres Max Farlow and Morris ‘Mo’ Meppem, forwards Phillip Tooth, Gary Jovanovich, Robert Bairstow, Peter Laws, Jim Bassos and Reg Smith, half-back Graham Smith and reserves Glen Riddle and Peter Keogh. Many of Eddie’s boys last got together at the Gold Coast in 2013 and quite a few will reunite again when Moree Boars Rugby League Club celebrates 100 years of local league at Moree Memorial Hall on Saturday, July 21.

Centre Mo Meppem said prior to the 45-year reunion that the Inverell side was always a hard team to beat.

“We beat Inverell five or six times that year but every time we played them the game was close,” Meppem said.

Inverell five-eighth David Fox said Moree was a ‘select team’.

“Moree was a very good team and the grand-final was the closest we got to them all year,” Fox said.

“I had the misfortune of marking Gary Rice, and in my eyes Gary would’ve played for Australia. He was a terrific little player and a handful for me to handle, I can tell you,” he chuckled.

“Moree had a good set of forwards and they also had a pretty slick backline. We were getting better as a team, but they were ‘select’.”

Lumsden, who wore 15 Test caps with pride for Australia between 1959 and 1963, was a St George legend with 158 games for the Dragons under his belt.

He scored 442 points for St George between 1957 and 1966 and was leading try-scorer in the Sydney competition in 1958 (18 tries) and 1962 (21 tries).

During his entire career, which included four games for Manly-Warringah when he first entered the Sydney arena in 1955, Lumsden played 162 games, scoring 137 tries.

Eddie Lumsden’s boys: (Back row) coach Eddie Lumsden, Morris Meppem, Phillip Tooth, Gary Jovanovich, Don King, Robert Bairstow, Warwick Bull and Peter Keogh (middle row) Kevin Traynor, Max Farlow, Jim Bassos, Gary Rice, Peter Laws and Reg Smith with at front Graham Smith and Glen Riddle.

He also represented NSW 19 times and Australia 15 times.

In a fitting milestone that showcases his enduring career, Lumsden scored his 100th try during his 100th game with St George – at the time only the second player to achieve the feat since 1945.

Lumsden, who after retirement from the paddock was a NSW and Country selector for more than 20 years, was 10 years ago named as one of Australian rugby league’s 100 greatest players, a list commissioned by the NRL and ARL to commemorate the code’s centenary year.

He moved to Moree in the mid-1960s as licensee of the Criterion Hotel in Balo Street before leaving in 1969 to coach North Newcastle for three years.

Lumsden, who played winger for St George, is now 81 and retired just out of Maitland.

He still enjoys a cold beer each week with former St George team-mate, winger Johnny King at the Rutherford Hotel, a watering hole Lumsden once owned.

King, now 76, was Lumsden’s opposite winger and played with the Dragons for the last seven years of their eleven consecutive premiership-winning run.

Lumsden said his time in Moree back in the 1960s were ‘golden days’.

“There are plenty of good memories – memories you can’t buy,” he said.

Lumsden, who played in nine of St George’s incredible 11 consecutive grand-final wins, says hard work and dedication as well as discipline and respect were key elements to the Moree under-17s 1968 success.

“They were a good team – undefeated – in a very good year, and they trained pretty hard,” Lumsden said.

“Inverell was a good team, too, but Moree was a bit faster and they did what I told them to do – they were a good team and a good pack of kids.

“I made them train hard, and if anyone dropped the ball during training they would have to do a lap of the oval afterwards. I figured that if they couldn’t give a good pass in training then they wouldn’t be able to give a good pass in a game,” he said.

To help celebrate Moree’s rich rugby league history this month, Moree and District Historical Society will next week open a pop-up museum in the Max Centre on the corner of Balo and Heber Streets.

The museum, featuring photographs and memorabilia stretching back 100 years, will remain open for two weeks after the July 21 centenary ball.

Society president Stephen Ritchie said it is not too late for residents to drop in any type of memorabilia that can be displayed.

“Every piece of memorabilia that is loaned to us will be documented and well looked after, and returned to their owners when the display is closed,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie urges anyone that can assist in any way to contact him on 0427 149500.

Words: Bill Poulos

Image: Greg Millett 

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