Warrington :: 15
Australia :: 12
date: 11th October 1978
An unbeaten Australian side arrived on a cold October evening to face yet another club side on their tour of Great Britain.
Warrington had a side weakened by an injured Parry Gordon, Ken Kelly on duty with Lancashire and John Bevan controversially ruled out because he was playing for Wales the following weekend. A surprise inclusion for the side was Mike Nicholas, who ruled himself fit at the eleventh hour to take his place in the starting line up.
The Warrington side has major changes to facilitate those missing, Gwilliam took the scrum half- position and Ronnie Clark stepped into the stand off role to face Fulton with the words of Tony Barrow ringing in his ears, “just remember Ronnie, they all bleed. At the end of the day they’re all flesh and blood.” The returning prodigal son in Bobby Fulton, being born in Warrington and having played for a season with his home town, led his team out of the tunnel and was hit by a wall of noise from the massed Warrington crowd.
Hesford and Rodgers swapped penalties, but the Aussie side was to strong in the initial opening quarter, with tries form Bobby Raudonikis and Geoff Gerard. Mike Nicholas remembers his first drive, “Five Aussies came into me like a salvo of bullets. I stood up to one, two, three, four, but the fifth was enough, I keeled over with my head full of floodlights. Dragging myself up from the ground I thought, ‘Ok Nicko, it’s them or you’.”
The Aussie side was well in control as their skill and strength dictated the play. Ron Clarke recounted Tommy Martyn’s comments behind the post, “Come on, if we play like this they’ll run all over us.” As the half progressed, Wire clawed their way back into contention through the boot of Steve Hesford, who added three more penalty goals to Rodgers one, taking the score to 8-12. the crowd rose for a half-time ovation, despite being down by four the first half was an arm wrestle with some tough defence form both sides.
The second-half started where the first had left off, uncompromising defence and superb effort by Nicholas, Martyn and Lester. Warrington’s defence held strong against the silky attacking from the Australians, stopping a certain try from a 40 yard break which would have surely put the game beyond reach. Another Hesford penalty chipped away at the deficit and the tourists became frustrated with only two points. Full back Alan McMahon was sent off by referee Mr Jackson for alleged biting on Billy Benyon 17 minutes from the end. Ron Clark had a similar tale, “I remember being penalised for giving the full back a dig and showing the referee bite marks on my arm in mitigation. The ref said ‘point taken, but I cannot alter the decision’.”
With ten minutes left on the clock the outcome of the game was on knife-edge. The crowd roared Warrington on, willing them to take the scalp against all odds. A piece of inspired play from the stand- in half- backs as Ron Clark made a good break, Alan Gwilliam was on hand to continue in the move, kicking ahead and gaining the controversial touchdown, despite vocal protests from the Australians. Steve Hesford added the conversion, his sixth goal of the match.
The remaining minutes were tense but Warrington held out taking their first victory against a touring Australian side since 1956.
The Aussie coach, Frank Stanton, has more to say in his players than press, locking his team in the dressing room for an hour after the match missing the post match press conference.
The Gwilliam try being a controversial point for years to come but when asked whether he scored his reply was simple and to the point, “yes. The Aussies didn’t like it but I got there first and told them to stuff it.”
A proud Billy Benyon said “on reflection perhaps it was not the best Warrington side, at least on paper but as a club we are going through a good phase when things were coming right. The lads certainly got stuck into the game that night. The Aussies did not take kindly to losing. I can understand that, no-one likes to lose but this was their first defeat of the tour and totally unexpected. I thought their reactions went a bit over the top. For my part I was certainly proud to be the man in charge of a Warrington side which contributed so much.”
Warrington : Derek Finnegan, Mike Kelly, Steve Hesford, Billy Benyon, Joe Walsh, Ronnie Clark, Allan Gwilliam, Roy Lester, Tommy Cunningham, Mike Nicholas, Tommy Martyn, Brian Chase, Ian Potter. Subs: Eddie Hunter, John Whittaker
Subs: Eddie Hunter, John Whittaker
Goals: Hesford 6
Australia : Alan McMahon, Chris Anderson, Steve Rogers, Alan Thompson, Kerry Boustead, Bobby Fulton, Tommy Raudonikis, Ian Thompson, Max Krilich, Craig Young, Geoff Gerard, Steve Kneen, Rod Reddy.
Subs: Ian Schubert, Bruce Walker
Tries: Raudonikis 1, Gerard 1
Goals: Rogers 3
Referee: J.E Jackson (Pudsey)