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Footy Card heroes of the Interstate Series

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20th August, 2022

State of Origin and Retro Round have come and gone. It’s a time when rugby league days of yore are remembered and for many, that means the 1980s, particularly as that is the origin of Origin.

But before ‘Year Zero’, as Queenslanders may call it, Interstate Series matches were played way back to 1908. These now largely forgotten games featured some of rugby league’s greats in action and offered great entertainment, especially if you were fond of NSW winning… admittedly occasionally with one or two Queenslanders – or former Queenslanders as New South Welshpersons liked to call them.

Sports around the world have for decades celebrated their players in the form of bubble-gum and other cards, and today they also offer a glimpse into a bygone era.

This is a list of players who featured on footy cards in the 1960s and ’70s and competed in the Interstate Series. You won’t find these players on your widescreen HDTVs too often.

Nor are any of them Immortals or Hall of Famers, but you will find them on footy cards. And while there are collectors collecting, their memories will not fade away.

Fullback: Kevin Dann (Penrith 1977-84, NSW 1980)

A stand-out player for the then-‘Chocolate Soldiers’, Dann had all-round talent and could set up tries as well as he could sniff them out for himself. He was Penrith’s leading try-scorer in his debut year at the age of 19 and again a few years later.

He found the try-line on no less than 40 occasions in his eight-year career, amassing 322 points overall in his 121 games for a Panthers team that although were at times entertaining, were yet to establish themselves as a premiership threat.


His attacking flair and strong defence saw him selected for one of the last Interstate Series matches – the last, in fact, before the first Origin game (there were two more the following year).

Unfortunately, although NSW defeated Queensland 17-7 in front of a stellar crowd of 1368 at Leichhardt Oval (who said we needed Origin?), nerves got the better of him.

Rugby League Week‘s front page led with his picture under the headline – ‘You Blew It, Kevin!’, and with fullbacks around that included the likes of Garry Dowling, John Dorahy and Graham Eadie, he never represented again.

Wing: Bill Mullins (Eastern Suburbs 1968-78, NSW 1971)

Big Bill Mullins was a try-scoring machine. It didn’t hurt that he played outside the silky skills of John Brass and the powerful Mark Harris. He was tall, strong, could run a perfect line, and was very fast (a former sprinter).

He was one of the unluckiest players ever, however, when it came to national selection. He played in Game 3 for New South Wales in the 1971 Interstate Series, scoring a try in their 17-15 victory, but serious injuries just before the 1971 and 1973 Kangaroo tours put an end to further representation.

The older brother of Wests and Penrith Winger, Russell and father of Brett, who also had a stellar career.


Wing: John Rhodes (Wests Brisbane 1966-67, Canterbury-Bankstown 1968-72, Wynnum-Manly 1973-76, Fortitude Valley 1977, NSW 1968, QLD 1975-76, Australia 1968, 1975)

His height, speed and ability to wrong-foot the opposition made Rhodes a difficult mark. Aged 20 in 1968 and still awaiting representative honours, he headed south from Brisbane’s Wests to further his career at Canterbury-Bankstown.

The move paid off and he was rewarded with a wing spot for the Blues the same year. He was also a member of Australia’s World Cup squad that year and in the team that defeated France 20-2 in the final at the SCG.

He returned to Brisbane’s Wynnum-Manly in 1973, then on to Fortitude Valley in 1977, and although in that period he experienced more wooden spoons than finals appearances, he did make a remarkable comeback after seven years to state and international football.

Centre: Brian Moore (Newtown 1962-73, NSW 1963, 1965, 1970)

His receding hairline was as well-known as the terrorising runs which were part of the reason Newtown finished second on the ladder in his debut year.

For all his talent, premiership glory or even a grand final appearance was not to come his way. In fact, Newtown only made two more finals appearances during the rest his time there. Still, you didn’t just waltz into the finals from halfway down the ladder back then.


He represented NSW three times and although he was the leading try-scorer on the 1967-8 Kangaroo tour of Great Britain and France, he played only in minor matches, unable to unseat the likes of Langlands, Gasnier and Greaves. His later playing days were spent in the Newcastle competition.

Centre: Russel Gartner (Manly-Warringah 1975-81, Eastern Suburbs 1982-83, Balmain 1985-89, NSW 1977, Australia 1977)

Tall, fast and tenacious, Gartner became known for his swerving runs and wide-eyed look that seemed to almost dare opposition players to catch him. He scored many memorable tries, including two against Cronulla-Sutherland in the 1978 grand final replay.

He partnered Michael Cronin in the centres for NSW in the 1977 Interstate Series, backing up for a place on the bench for the next game behind Steve Rogers. He represented in the green and gold the same year, scoring a spectacular try against Great Britain in a World Cup game, but was a shock omission for the 1978 Kangaroo tour.

After over 100 games for the Sea Eagles, he moved to Easts for two years, before finding a new lease of life on the wing at Balmain.

Five-eighth: Jimmy Lisle (South Sydney 1962-68, NSW 1962-65, Australia 1962-65)

The former Wallaby joined South Sydney along with Michael Cleary after the 1962 tour of South Africa. Possessing great acceleration and a step that could leave defenders floundering, he was chosen to play for NSW, then Australia after just one first grade game – a feat that has never been equalled!


He captained the Rabbitohs in their 12-8 grand final loss to St George in 1965 in front of more than 78,000 at the SCG, with spectators rushing the gates and scaling the roofs of the stands (no spectator could ever do that again, surely!)

Generic vintage rugby league or rugby union ball

(Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

He was able to hold the J.J. Giltinan Shield aloft two years later, with John Sattler now captaining, as Souths defeated Canterbury-Bankstown to win their first premiership since 1955. He retired at the end of the 1968 season, with Dennis Pittard now preferred in his position.

Halfback: Ross Strudwick (St. George 1969-72, Fortitude Valley 1973-81, QLD 1973-76, Australia 1975)

‘Strudders’ was a solid and reliable halfback, but at the Dragons played understudy to the great Billy Smith. Sensing an opportunity, the resourceful Ron McAuliffe, president of the Queensland Rugby League, dangled a contract with Fortitude Valley in Brisbane in front of him, where his star quickly rose, earning back-to-back premierships and representing the Maroons eight times.

In 1975, he was a member of the last Queensland team to win an Interstate Series match before the onset of Origin – a 14-6 victory at Lang Park. The Barry Muir-coached side were outsiders, but their team, including the likes of Lang, Rhodes, Platz and former Eastern Suburbs centre Harry Cameron, were no slouches.

And in the deciding Game 3 at the SCG, they were beaten by a single point. For that series, the players earned the grand sum of $50 per game!


Although strictly speaking, he did not appear on any footy cards, he did appear on the cover of a box of Australian safety matches, and in 1975 that was just as important!

Lock: Ron Raper (Canterbury-Bankstown 1964-72, Redcliffe Dolphins 1973-74, QLD 1973)

Ron Raper was a good lock forward – a very good lock forward. It was just a shame that his older brother was Johnny.

Tough, skilled, and whole-hearted, he was much-loved at the team formerly known as ‘The Berries’, playing 168 games and scoring 333 points in his career there.

He could also kick. In the first-ever live televised grand final in 1967, he scored a two-point field goal (which admittedly was more common back then, but as it was kicked from the halfway line, it would still count today!). Canterbury came close to winning without scoring a try, but eventually went down to South Sydney 12-10.

He was appointed club captain in 1970, but representative honours eluded him in Sydney. He moved to Brisbane in 1973, signing with Redcliffe Dolphins for two years, and represented the Maroons the same year. (You see, Queenslanders – it wasn’t all one-way traffic!).

Second row: Dick Thornett (Parramatta 1963-71, Eastern Suburbs 1972, NSW 1963-66, 1968-69, Australia 1963-68)


John, Ken and Dick Thornett were all outstanding athletes. Dick was one of a select few to represent Australia in three different sports. He played water polo at the 1960 Rome Olympics, was a member of the Wallabies in 1961 and 1962, and made 11 appearances for the Kangaroos.

Whilst older brother John remained a staunch amateur and is regarded as one of the greatest Wallaby captains ever, both Ken, then Dick made successful switches to rugby league with Parramatta, with Ken also regarded as the best fullback of his time.

Dick had amazing ball skills, ran with speed, could hit very hard in defence, and could score a try – 36 in his club career, including four against Canterbury in 1968, which was only bettered by Jamie Lyon in 2003. He was also called upon from time to time to kick goals, and knocked over 19 field goals between 1967 and 1970.

Second row: Ken Maddison (St. George 1965-71, Cronulla Sutherland 1972-75, NSW 1974, Australia 1973)

Originally a centre, Maddison’s power with ball in hand enabled him to dominate rucks and give his team forward momentum. By the late ’60s he was moved to the forwards, where he played as a wide-running back-rower.

With a premiership under his belt from 1966 but his career not taking as much flight as he would’ve liked, he crossed over to the Shire in 1972 to play a vital role in the emerging team’s pack.

1973 was a big year for him. He scored eight tries along the way to the Sharks’ first-ever grand final appearance, starred for the Kangaroos in the Test series against Great Britain, and became the first forward ever to win the Rothman’s Medal.


He was finally selected for NSW in Game 2 of the 1974 Interstate Series, which finished in a 13-all draw.

Prop: Bill Hamilton (Manly-Warringah 1965-74, North Sydney 1975-78, NSW 1971-73)

“Herman” was a giant prop-row forward who looked like he could devour opposition halfbacks, but away from the field was a quiet, gentle giant with a heart of gold (I don’t really know that, but they all are, aren’t they?). He was also a strong ball-runner and had a good offload.

He played four games for New South Wales in the interstate series from 1971-73, during which time he won two premierships with Manly. He also toured with the 1973 Kangaroos, but only played minor tour matches.

He headed to the Bears in 1975 as captain/coach, leading them to their last ever first grade trophy – The Channel 10 Challenge Cup.

Prop: Rod Morris (Easts Brisbane – 1976-78, Balmain 1979-81, Wynnum-Manly 1982, QLD 1976-78, NSW 1979-81, QLD State of Origin 1980-82, Australia 1978-82)

A solid and deceptively strong forward, he represented Queensland in his debut first grade year. He was a member of the Easts Tigers Brisbane grand final team in 1978, flying in for a spectacular opening try in the 14-10 win over Fortitude Valley.


Rod’s journey through state representation was unique. His arrival at Balmain Tigers in 1979 made him eligible to play for NSW and selectors wasted no time picking him to play against his former state, where he found himself lining up against his own brother and former Easts Tigers team-mate, Des.

The next year, he again represented NSW in their Interstate Series victory, before being selected for Queensland a few weeks later in their first-ever State of Origin side.

Steeden football on the tryline

(Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

In 1981 he played two games for the Maroons in the first fully-fledged State of Origin series, taking over from the Intestate Series.

Overall, he played 16 state rep games: six for Queensland, six for NSW, and four for Queensland State of Origin. Perhaps he should be honoured with a violet coloured jersey!

Hooker: Fred Jones (Manly 1961-63, 1965-75, NSW 1968-69, 1973, Australia 1968)

Fred Jones was a whole-hearted hooker in the days when hookers hooked, and a much-loved character on the northern beaches. He looked tough and he was, but outside the game he was known as a true gentleman (that one’s not made up!).


He played in two losing grand finals before captaining the Sea Eagles to their first premiership in 1972, and again in 1973 in a brutal match against Cronulla-Sutherland.

He played four games for NSW between 1968 and 1969, constantly competing with Souths’ Elywn Walters for a spot. Four years later, he was recalled for Game 3 opposite John Lang, scoring a try in their 26-0 victory. After 14 seasons of first grade, he was finally displaced by the up-and-coming Max Krilich in 1974, and retired the following year.

Honourable mentions

Five-eighth: Phil Hawthorne (St. George 1968-71, Eastern Suburbs 1972, NSW 1970, Australia 1970)

After a stellar rugby career, Phil was lured to the Dragons in 1968 with a then record contract of $30,000 a year. He was an instant hit and a field-goal machine, earning a call-up for the Blues and the Roos in 1970.

Injury hampered his form during his last year in the Red V and he made the switch to Easts in 1972, only to once again find himself in reserve grade behind another former Wallaby, John Ballesty, who won Rugby League Week’s prestigious player of the year award.

After a frustrating season with just one first grade appearance, he moved up the coast to take on the captain-coach role at Coffs Harbour.


Second row: Mick Veivers (South Brisbane 1958-63, South Toowoomba 1964, Manly-Warringah 1965-69, QLD 1961-64, NSW 1965-69, Australia 1962-66)

Mick’s dedication and abilities in his chosen sport was typical of his wider family. In 1961 – a time when the Interstate Series attracted large crowds – he was a member of a Queensland team that won two home games in the four-game series.

His outstanding performances led to his selection for the Kangaroos in 1962 – the first of 10 appearances between then and 1966. His controversial non-selection for two Kangaroo tours hit him hard, however, saying ‘missing those tours were the biggest disappointments of my career’.

During this time, in an effort to stem the tide of Queenslanders moving south, an interstate transfer ban was put in place. Veivers and a few other stars, however, sought to further their careers down south, and after various legal to-and-fros, they were eventually allowed to go, representing Queensland and New South Wales in consecutive years.

Though he played a big part in Manly’s 1968 semi-final win against South Sydney, he was sadly injured and missing from the team that lost to them in the decider.

Second row/hooker: Lew Platz (South Brisbane 1974, Wynnum-Manly 1975-77, Parramatta 1978-80, Penrith 1981-83, Queensland 1973-77, Australia 1975)

The versatile Toowoomba-born brother of Queensland lock Greg was a fearsome runner of the ball and Brisbane Premiership winner with Wynnum-Manly in 1975. An eight-time Queensland representative, he was another member of the victorious 1975 Interstate Series side.


In 1978, he joined the Terry Fearnley-coached Parramatta. His start there was troublesome and after suspension, battled for a first grade spot until the following season. He was a member of the 1979 team that finished second on the ladder and made the preliminary final.

In 1981, however, new coach Jack Gibson decided he had to go – a victim of the 13-import rule of the time. He found a lifeline though at the Panthers, playing 59 games over his three years there, but by then, his representative days were behind him.