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“Newlo” remembers the Boars’ 1988 grand-final win – a golden year for Moree rugby league

WHEN former Northern Daily Leader sports editor Geoff Newling was approached last week and asked to send through his recollections of Moree Boars’ 1988 grand-final win against Gunnedah, he had several hundred words emailed back to Moree Online NEWS within a few hours – despite pressing freelance commitments and deadlines.

That’s the sort of bloke he is, and when it comes to penning words about rugby league, or any other sport, there is none finer than Geoff Newling.

Newling was a journalist at the Northern Daily Leader in Tamworth from 1986 and sports editor from 1989 until 2016.

He says Australia’s bicentenary year was a big one for Moree Boars.

Apart from an emphatic A-grade grand-final win, the Boars wrapped up the reserve-grade grand-final as well, collecting Club Championships along the way.

“The arrival of goal-kicking prop John Kirkwood in 1988 heralded a golden period for the Moree Boars,” Newling said.

“While they had dominated in Group 5 and then Group 19, John marshalled a brilliant side behind the talents of the McGrady brothers – Laurence (Loppy), Barry, Ewan and Jason – and the Ryan brothers, Mark and Matt.

“Add to them the likes of the late, great Bernie Briggs, outstanding lock Tony Dean and steady fullback Mark Cook and you had the nucleus of a wonderful side.

Geoff Newling says the 1988 grand-final between Moree and Gunnedah was a stand-out during his 30 years as a journalist and sports editor at the Northern Daily Leader (Photo: KN Images).

“Chris McNamara, big Billy Turner, Brett Mather, sneaky halfback Graham O’Connor, leggy winger Peter Annis-Brown and a young Richard Williams rounded out a massive squad for Kirkwood to mould into a premiership-winning side,” Newling said.

It was a team for the ages, with many of the players also committed to rep football.

“I was fortunate enough to work at The Northern Daily Leader and cover that 1988 grand-final, a 32-28 win to Moree over Gunnedah at Burt Jovanovich Oval,” Newling said.

“It was a big year too, with Mark Ryan, Bernie Briggs and Ewan McGrady playing for Northern Division against the touring Great Britain side at Scully Park, Tamworth.”

The Frank Fish-coached Northern Division side caused a major upset too, beating the tourists, 32-18. Northern Division contained the late, great Mick Adams with Ewan McGrady astounding the Englishmen with a match-winning two tries.

“One of the stories to come out of that game was that the Great Britain side couldn’t get their hands on Ewan McGrady,” Newling said.

It was 12 months later that Ewan McGrady and Mark Ryan were part of the Northern Division side that won a Country Championship Final at Dubbo.

“Mark scored four tries in that 42-8 demolition while Ewan scored one of the finest and most brilliant tries I’ve seen in a major final,” Newling said.

“Let’s get back to 1988, though,” he chuckled.

Newling said John Kirkwood was one of the best coaches he’d ever had anything to do with in more than 30 years of journalism and sports.

The 1988 reserve-grade outfit were also grand-final winners during a stellar 1988 season for Moree Boars.

“Nothing was ever a problem, and he gave up high praise for all those who deserved it, without ever ‘blowing his own trumpet’,” Newling said.

In the 1988 grand-final the Moree Boars played a very good Gunnedah side and were down 28-14 after 10 minutes into the second half.

“I cannot remember what sparked the Boars except that Gunnedah started to defend their lead – and that allowed the Ryans and the McGradys to attack in waves,” Newling said.

“Loppy was an outstanding five-eighth, a gifted organiser; Ewan was simply brilliant, able to turn and accelerate in a twinkling; Barry was a committed and quick centre; and Jason was an emerging young star with so much attacking talent.

“Mark Ryan was an outstanding and strong centre while his younger brother Matt had talent, speed and attitude, and Bernie Briggs was one of the best players I’ve seen and played against,” he said.

“He was an “old man” by the time 1988 rolled around.

“I had the pleasure of playing him in 1978 when I was a young student at Armidale’s University of New England and playing for Guyra with the great Ronnie Starr.

Murray Hartin, one of Moree’s favourite sons, sat at the Northern Daily Leader sports desk alongside Geoff Newling back in 1988 and prophetically suggested in April of that year in a NDL country rugby league feature that the Moree Boars were indeed grand-final material. Muz’s lead paragraph read: “Moree Rugby League Club looks set to come out of the Group 4 wilderness and mount a serious premiership challenge in 1988. Club officials had a busy off-season but the time was well spent and resulted in many major signings including captain-coach John Kirkwood”.

“Bernie dumped me on my shoulder on the Taylor Oval cricket pitch . . . and it still aches,” Newling laughed.

Moree won the grand-final that year, beating Glen Innes after the Magpies beat Guyra at Guyra in the final.

“I think the score was 18-1, from memory,” Newling said

“Ronnie Starr kicked a field goal to lead 1-nil but that was all she wrote for the not-so Super Spuds.”

That was in 1978 and yet, here was Briggs still playing hard 10 years later.

“Bernie still made a major contribution in 1988 and again in 1989 when the Boars pipped Narrabri 16-15 in a cliff-hanger,” Newling said.

“They are fond memories of great days, watching great players and some even greater men play for their town and club with such pride and enthusiasm.

“I salute the Moree Boars in their centenary and hope they celebrate all their wins and losses with a wonderful night at the centenary ball,” he said.

League guru Alf Scott, who will soon leave Moree after 94 years, agrees with Newling that the 1988 grand-final was a stand-out for Moree Boars – and he says the win against West Lions 11 years later was just as memorable.

“The day we played Gunnedah in 1988 was a fantastic game,” Scott said.

“Moree had already beaten them at Gunnedah in the major semi-finals and played them again at Burt’s oval in the grand-final.

“Gunnedah had the game wrapped up but, once again, Moree beat them . . . through the McGrady brothers,” he said.

“In 1999 Moree played West Lions and Lions was so short in the betting that bookmakers couldn’t write a ticket – there were people giving Moree odds of 6-4 and better, and plenty of start.”

The Boars forced their way to 1999 grand-final contention after an upset win over Gunnedah in the semi-finals.

“West Tamworth thought they’d be playing Gunnedah in the grand-final but Moree turned up for the semis with the McGrady brothers and ruined it for them,” Scott laughed.

“West Tamworth was leading 14-nil in the first eight minutes of the game but Moree came back and won, 32-20,” he said.

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