The year 1973 was an incredible 12 months in Moree’s rugby league history
THE 1973 rugby league season was an incredible period in Moree’s sporting history.
Blessed with a bottomless pit of raw talent, the town was represented by junior rugby league teams in three grades – and all three marched through the season to grand-final wins with just one loss between them.
While the undefeated open-weight team proudly held the University Shield aloft, Moree High’s under-16s team was also unbeaten.
Moree’s under-18s squad was triumphant in the Group 5 grand-final after suffering just one loss all season – 14-10 to Inverell.
Moree turned that loss around when they soundly defeated Inverell 24-4 in the group 5 grand-final.
To cap an incredible year, Moree also won the Spicer Cup – a combination of the best senior teams from Groups 4, 5 and 21 – while the under-18s won the Brazier Shield.
Bernie Briggs, who kicked the winning goal that sealed the 13-12 University Shield win over Forbes High School, will be among those reminiscing.
“It’s going to be a huge weekend, and it will be good to catch up with a lot of people I haven’t seen for quite a while,” Briggs said.
Briggs was a 1970s sporting prodigy.
He was part of Moree High’s undefeated under-16s outfit and, apart from his pivotal role in the University Shield win, played with that year’s under-18s Group 5 grand-final winners.
Highly skilled at any sport, Briggs was named the NSW combined high schools’ 15-years javelin champion and was an all-rounder with the north-west area open cricket team.
He has the distinction of being awarded two north-west area Blues in 1973 – one for athletics and a special Blue for rugby league and cricket.
Fullback Harry Allen, who also finished fifth in the NSW State diving championships, lived and breathed rugby league – and still does.
Just 24 hours after playing in the University Shield Final at Gosford, he played in the area team at Tamworth against Papua New Guinea then two days later went to Sydney for the 16-years’ elimination games.
He bobbed up later in the week at Port Macquarie, representing NSW against Papua New Guinea before running on with the Moree juniors in the Group 5 competition eight days after Moree High’s historic Shield win – and all this at just 17 years of age.
The University Shield final clashed with a NSW-Papua New Guinea match, a game Allen was selected to play.
He had the choice of representing Moree or NSW – he chose Moree.
His self-imposed absence from the State side allowed a young bloke by the name of Steve Mortimer to get a run with NSW.
“Harry was a freak,” Briggs recalls.
“He kept Steve Mortimer on the bench leading up to the game against PNG but when he decided to play for Moree, Mortimer got a run.”
Many players from that vintage era scaled great heights, both on and off the rugby league paddock.
Team captain Terry Quinn played for Penrith Panthers for 10 years and now sits at the helm of NSW Country Rugby League.
Paul Peachey, along with his brother Peter, played for the Panthers while prop Michael “Buster” Duke played for Murwillumbah.
University Shield five-eighth Tony Dean later made the NSW Country side and played representative football with the Gold Coast while vice-captain Harry Allen ran on with Balmain juniors.
Shield reserve player Peter Butler reached State level in athletics and Stephen Jones ventured interstate to play top-level league in Brisbane.
Prop John Brooks, who crashed through the Forbes defence to bring Moree to within one point of University Shield greatness, later signed with the Newtown Jets.
Mark Wright, centre for the under-16s squad, signed up with Newtown and later represented NSW at State of Origin level.
Almost every player from the 1973 University Shield team was a graduate of the popular Saturday morning football competition, held at Taylor Oval during the 1960s and 1970s.
At its peak, the competition would draw up to 600 young footballers on any given weekend.
Legendary coach Charlie Thompson, as well as blokes like Rodney Skaines, Stuart Holland, Jock King, Ron Harborne, Danny Shearer and Peter McGregor guided thousands of junior players through the ranks.
“Nearly every Shield team member was a product of our Saturday morning football comp,” Thompson said.
“Sometimes we’d have 600 kids weigh in, so no wonder it produced good players – Moree was a real rugby league town in those days.
“Bernie (Briggs) was an exceptional player and he and Stan Jurd had some memorable clashes when they were kids.
“I used to coach the Saints, which included the Peachey twins (Peter and Paul), John Brooks, Peter Butler, Stephen Jones, Harry Allen and Tony Dean – all Shield team players,” he said.
“When they won the Shield, I was especially proud of Stephen, Harry and Tony. I coached them for five years when they were kids and they were a good backline combination, and that showed at Gosford.
“That’s how good rugby league players are made,” Thompson says.
“The more you put them on the field together the better they become, and that’s how it was with all those boys.”