Recalling the day the grand final blew up
MINUTES from the end of the 1973 Group 2 grand final between Coffs Harbour and Nambucca Heads, Coffs five-eighth Bruce Grant heard one of his forwards make a chilling announcement.
"He said 'this is the get square stakes, boys' ... and with that, the game exploded," Bruce recalled while preparing for his club's golden anniversary reunion this weekend.
"I couldn't fight at all but grabbed hold of opposite number Dennis McPherson who also reckoned he wasn't much of a fighter and we danced around until the crowd came over the fence."
Few like to speak about it but that was the day hundreds of spectators became embroiled with players in the nastiest end to a local rugby league match - ever.
Coffs were about to upset previously unbeaten Nambucca Heads and tensions had simmered all season after a first round incident left one Coffs forward with a broken jaw.
"Adrian Wilson was grand final referee and after the ground was cleared, there was only time for one more scrum," Bruce said.
"Wayne Woods was feeding it for us and Adrian said to both teams 'Woodsy will win it and I'll blow the whistle and we'll all run for our lives' and that's how it finished."
Bruce said while nobody was proud of the blow-up, it has to be considered in context of a totally different era for bush football.
"I'm grateful that one blow up hasn't overshadowed the influence of our coach Phil Hawthorne who remains the best I played under," he said.
"Phil had an extraordinary impact on the careers of a lot of young guys while prolonging those of the greats like Ron Rapley and Ray Reeves who considered retirement but stayed on to take part in that premiership win.
"Unfortunately, I soon had to retire aged 23 as my shoulder was stuffed and have always missed not playing for longer."
A Bowraville junior, Bruce came to the club then known as the Banana Benders through a family friendship with legendary secretary Roy Dunn.
"I was playing in Sydney with Wentworthville and got a transfer to Coffs in early 1970 while working with the Valuer-General.
"That's how I came to play half in the 1970 premiership win and have a lot of fun under coach Peter Contempree.
"We were far from the best side to represent the club but the attitude to the game and the fun we had playing together with all those personalities was something special."
Some tickets for tonight's reunion dinner at Coffs Harbour Racing Club from 6pm remain and may be purchased at the door.
1970 (Peter Contempree)
1971 (Bill Giddey)
1973 (Phil Hawthorne)
1974 (Phil Hawthorne)
1983 (Mal Fittler)
1985 (Jock Moore)
2013 (Colin Speed)