The Eastern Suburbs five-eighth enjoyed a stellar season in ‘83, despite the fact not all was rosy at the Bondi Junction club following coach Bob Fulton’s departure to Manly.
“I was at Manly in 1982; I was a non-drinker, but I still went to the Brookvale Rex Hotel for Mad Monday after we lost that year’s grand final to Parramatta,” Eden (pictured far right at the top of this post) recalls for Inside Sport. “I remember ringing the Manly boss Ken Arthurson. His secretary Barbara, who is now his wife, answered the phone. I said, ‘Look, the Roosters have offered me a great deal, but they’ve only given me till four o'clock this afternoon to agree. What can you do?’
“Barbara said, ‘Hold them off; Ken’s over at the Cricket Ground with the Kangaroo team.’ Manly eventually told me they weren’t going to be able to go anywhere near what they were offering over at the Roosters, but that they’d still love me to stay. I just said, ‘Look, you've offered me three grand, the Roosters have offered me 25 … I’m newly married and got a kid on the way … a university wage, help me out here.’ So I signed with the Roosters.
“I think I remember playing my first game for them at fullback, against Wests … went alright. The Roosters’ coach at the time, Laurie Freier, put me in at five-eighth for the next game against Cronulla. I went okay and stayed at five-eighth. It was a struggle, though. Alan Neil and myself were the halves. Kevin Hastings was the incumbent and had to move to lock.
“Coach Bob Fulton had left the Roosters the previous year and took a whole lot of players with him. We didn’t have a great year in ’83, but it was okay … Not everyone was playing for the same reasons, for the coach or for the team, so it was tough. I was driving over from Manly each day for training, and so I wasn’t part of the eastern suburbs culture, if you like, but I really enjoyed my football. There were a lot of new blokes in the team but we were still doing very well.”
Eden, a lethally accurate goalkicker throughout his career, won the game’s ultimate individual prize, the Rothmans Medal, in 1983. (The Rothmans, in existence since 1968, was replaced by the Dally M Medal as the sole individual award from season 1998 upon formation of the National Rugby League.) Eden’s Roosters finished sixth at the end of the ‘83 home and away season, going down to the Dragons in a play-off for fifth 44-16 at the SCG ahead of the semi-finals.
(Top image supplied by Mike Eden)
Eden, who played 119 first grade games between 1981 and ’89 for Manly Warringah, Eastern Suburbs, Parramatta and Gold Coast-Tweed, finished the 1983 season with 12 tries and 103 goals from 24 games in a highly productive campaign.
“I trained very hard and was very fit,” Eden shares. “Towards the end of the half, I would pick out the guys who were bit tired, the bigger players, and would just play what was in front of me and try and make a break. I was an attacking player. I did a lot of chips over the top and regathers, or kicks for my centres. I liked to set up plays. I liked to think I threw the last pass in a lot of movements for people to score tries. That’s how I remember it, anyway … the older I get the better I was.
“I didn't tackle a lot. I played in the second line, where most halfbacks played. I only recently noticed in a newspaper clipping from back in the day that my team-mate Alan Neil made four tackles in a game against St George and I made about six or eight. The top tackler made 25 tackles. I don’t know whether the counts were different back then, but the half and five-eighth didn’t do a lot of tackling. Kevin Hastings used to say he did all mine for me. That was probably right.”
Eden’s achievements across 1983 came despite the fact he carried a horrific injury which required painkillers each week. Nothing different there to many players, even in today’s so-called “softer” era, but the fact Eden today carries around a skeleton missing part of a bone is just incredible.
“What I do remember is playing with a needle most games,” Eden shares. “I dislocated my collarbone early in the ’83 season and ended up playing about 15 games with painkilling needles. That was tough. At the end of the season I had an operation where they cut two inches off my collarbone because it [the bone] had died, from getting bashed each week and from having the needle.
“To this day I’m missing a couple of inches from my left collarbone, which were cut off, leaving a big hole there. In those days you just played. There were no replacements. If you got injured you just stayed on the field.
“In the ’82 grand final, I was on the bench and Michael Blake had 16 stitches in his head, as well as a fractured ankle before half-time. I warmed up for 40 minutes, but coach Ray Ritchie at half-time said, ‘Oh no, we won’t put you on, we’ll leave Blake out there.’ He was very tough, Michael. What they were going to do was move Phil Blake into the centres and put me in at halfback, the way it had been for most of the year. It was a tough sport. It still is a very tough sport. They hit harder and stronger and they run faster now, but the ‘80s was very interesting.”
These days Eden is a solicitor, based in Albury. His latest role as far as rugby league is concerned is drafting an application on behalf of the Albury Thunder to play in the NSW Cup. “Hopefully they'll be playing in the 2020 season,” Eden says enthusiastically.
“I’ve met with NSWRL CEO David Trodden and Brian Canavan from the NRL. We now have to convince the Melbourne Storm that it's a good idea to send their feeder players here, rather than to Queensland, or half to Queensland and half here. So hopefully that'll happen in 2020. That's one dream of mine.
“I'm also the vice-chairman of the professional rugby league match officials body. I'm currently helping to negotiate a new enterprise bargaining agreement with the NRL on behalf of the referees.”
Eden is still very much in love with the game. If you follow him on Twitter you’ll enjoy his memorabilia-based Tweets, where he proudly shares mementos from a tough era – from Manly tracksuits to prized jerseys. It’s his way of sharing his passion for the greatest game of all.
“Those posts aren’t for selfish reasons, I just love the sport,” he beams down the line to us from Albury. ”It IS the greatest game of all and I'm just glad I had a small part to play and was able to play first grade. Anyone who has played even one first grade game … John Rheinberger … unbelievable. Played one run-on first grade match. It happened to be a grand final, where the Roosters won 38-0 against St George. Jack Gibson brought him up from the Under-23s to play one game. And then John Rheinberger retired!
“Look, I love the sport; it’s our game. People criticise players, referees, the administration. But I just love it. People who actually are still involved in our game, whether they’re players, administrators, referees, need to be applauded for doing their best.”