DEADLY IN ATTACK: One of Clarence Valley’s indigenous greats
RUGBY LEAGUE: South Grafton’s Ron Phillips was one of the great rugby league players to emerge from the Clarence Valley during the 1970s, as part of South Grafton Rebels’ historic 1975 success, and later with Grafton Ghosts for the 1977 title.
For the Deadly edition we take a trip down memory lane, with excerpts from sports editor Max Godbee’s biography of Philips in The Achievers series, which profiled Clarence Valley sporting greats, published on October 5, 2005...
RON Phillips started his rugby league career at St Joseph’s Primary School at South Grafton then with the South Grafton Rebels, travelled a lot and played for a variety of clubs and has many moments to be proud of.
Two of those include winning first grade premierships, one with South Grafton and one with Grafton Ghosts.
Another would be representing in the North Coast Combined High Schools 7st 7lbs team against Brisbane Schoolboys in a curtain raiser to an Australian/Great Britain Test at Brisbane’s Lang Park.
“My mate, Graeme Skinner, was also in our team and was my centre partner,” Ron said.
“We trained at a football camp set up at Lismore High School for a few days before going to Brisbane, where we beat our opponents in front of a huge crowd.
“When we had finished the organisers sat us behind the dead ball line at one end of the field and we were thrilled to be so close to the Test action.”
A further highlight was representing as a centre in the State Aboriginal team the NSW All Blacks. From his performances in those games Ron was chosen in the All Australian Aboriginal team, but unfortunately their tour was called off.
Ron is remembered as one of the nicest blokes and best footballers to come out of the Clarence region.
He was born in South Grafton in January 1952, the son of Cecil and Iris (nee Kelly) Phillips. Right from the start rugby league was his main sport although it is believed with good reason that he could have gone a long way in track and field athletics had he chosen that path.
Ron excelled in school sport at South High, was good at his studies and gained the Intermediate Certificate in 1966.
On leaving school Ron joined the NSW Government Railways working as a call boy in the locomotive department.
“I did this till I was 16-1/2 and then did a locomotive course which included cleaning the engines and getting them ready for the drivers and firemen. At 17-1/2 I had passed exams and qualified as an acting fireman, the youngest there.
“I had joined the Rebels Under-18 team and was with them for two years, 1969 and 1970 and we went as far as the preliminary finals each year.
“I recall some of my teammates the first year were Bill Patricks, Tom McKenna, Neville Milligan, Dennis Hardy, Malcolm Meyers, Mick Alvos, Finley Brown, David Law, Barry Braund, John Lawrence and Bob Cotten and in 1970 some of those again along with Cliff Daley, Stumpy Stevens, John Ferguson, Robert Colling and others.
“In 1971, I received my first workaway posting, transferred out west to Werris Creek as a fireman observer.”
Ron played for two seasons for Werris Creek in Group Four coached by former Sydney player Dave Martin. Werris Creek reached the grand final each time only to be beaten by West Tamworth.
In 1974 Ron returned to the Clarence, still with the railways, and re-signed with South Grafton.
It wasn’t long before he joined many other South Grafton footballers such as Dennis Pye, Viv Hodge and Ray Pereira working at the South Grafton Abattoir where former South Grafton player Jack McCooey was boss.
John Brown who had taken over from Viv Hodge was in his first season as captain/coach of the Rebels and took the team to third in the pointscore rounds, but the team was knocked out by the Casino Cougars in the semi-finals.
In 1975 the team scored 106 tries in the 16 rounds in winning the minor premiership.
In the major semi-final Ron Phillips was one of South Grafton’s five try scorers in the victory over defending premiers Lismore Western Suburbs and then beat 1974 runners up, South Lismore, 17-8 in the grand final on McKittrick Park.
Ron switched allegiance to Grafton in 1976 with the Ghosts finishing eighth and the Rebels went on to again win the minor premiership.
South Grafton easily won the major semi-final and in an amazing decision that split the Group into two divided camps, Group One executives took the grand final off McKittrick Park and switched it to Lismore’s Oakes Oval. Casino handed out a 22-7 drubbing to the Red and Whites in the premiership decider.
The following year Ron figured prominently in the Derek Moritz-coached Grafton Ghosts’ run (16 wins in a row) to the grand final where they beat South Grafton 16-14 on the Grafton Showground in a thriller.
Ron again played for the Ghosts, this time coached by Phil Young, in 1978 when they finished fourth in the pointscore, but then were knocked out by the Rebels in the minor semi-final.
He returned to South Grafton for 1979 when the Harry Reed-coached Rebels again made the grand final, but lost out once more to Casino.
After five years working at the abattoir Ron took on the welfare work at a Junior Detention Centre in Sydney and signed up with the Windsor Rugby League Club playing in Second Division for three years
Next it was a year with Cremorne and then two years with the Lane Cove club.
“I then played for Wanderers in the South Sydney Junior League, before deciding that at 34 years old, it was time to retire from football,” Ron said.