Big Mal’s jetting back

Mal Meninga
Mal Meninga

Australia’s rugby league squad will soon be jetting to the UK for the forthcoming Four Nations tournament - 32 years after their coach, Mal Meninga, made his much-heralded debut for St Helens against Castleford.

The date: October 7, 1984. The result: Saints 30, Cas 16. The attendance: 7,366.

And what a season it turned out to be as a Meninga-inspired side went on to topple Wigan 26-18 in the Lancashire Cup Final at Central Park and then lift the Premiership after a comprehensive 36-16 triumph over Hull KR at Elland Road - the home of Leeds United.

The Souths (Brisbane) centre only had a short a short stay at Knowsley Road - running from October 1984 to May 1985 - but the fans and journalists, including myself, who were lucky enough to seen him in action still talk about his exploits to this day.

The way he swatted aside an up-and-coming Shaun Edwards in the county cup final like he was a fly on the wall, and his near length-of-the field try to help demolish the Robins.

No doubt Big Mal will find time to renew old acquaintances in a country where he earned legendary status - and even had a double page spread in one of the rugby union dominated ‘posh’ broadsheets .

That wouldn’t happen today as one normally needs a magnifying glass to spot a rugby league story - let alone a match report - in some of our so-called leading newspapers!

But Mal wasn’t the only Aussie in that exciting and adventurous Saints’ side. He had arrived on our shores as part of a deal which also included his club mate, full back Phil Veivers, and brokered by St Helens-born BBC commentator Ray French who was Down Under covering a GB tour.

Unlike his Aussie compatriot, Veivers stayed much longer in this country - in fact he is still a resident and can almost claim to be an adopted son of St Helens.

The former Souths player was first choice full back in that double trophy-winning team which also including the like of Barry Ledger, Chris Arkwright, Neil Holding, Graham Liptrot, Andy Platt, Roy Haggerty and skipper Harry Pinner

He recently parted company with Workington Town where he was head coach due to what the club described as ‘financial constraints’ following the Cumbrians relegation to League 1.

But Veivers, who had a spell as coach at Salford, will not be on the side lines long ... he still has much to offer the sport.

Maybe his old buddie, Big Mal, can point him in the right direction !