Twenty-two years ago rugby league legend Ron Coote visited Milton Hospital on the NSW South Coast. He was there to see his daughter, who had just welcomed an offspring into the world. Nothing unusual so far …
“My dad would come home of an afternoon after being at the local for a couple and he’d talk about his own time in rugby league,” Ron shares. “He played for the Roosters in the ‘30s and had a good career there. He also played in the bush. He’d tell all these stories about what happened and how it all went. It gave me insights into it and made me enthusiastic when I got to playing with the local club, which was Kenso United Dragons – Kensington Oval was just down the street from where I lived.
“When I was 18 I was playing with Souths. I played in the second grade grand final in 1963, when St George beat Wests in the grand final in the mud. Yep, I played in the game earlier. It was a bloody quagmire.
“With my first grade debut, I was a bit nervous about it all, obviously. You’ve seen these blokes and they’re great players. We played St George in the early sounds of my first season. They had a phenomenal team of Raper, Gasnier, Langlands, Norm Provan. And here we were playing them; we did alright against them, too. Not in ‘64, but in 1965 we made it through to the grand final; they beat us 12-8.
“I loved rugby league. My thirst for it was helped when, early in my career, I made the South Sydney Jersey Flegg team which went to New Zealand. We played three games over there. This was back in the late ‘50s or early ‘60s. The tour took us through to Mount Cook and places like that. We had a really good look around. It was just such a great experience as a 16-year-old kid; to go over to New Zealand when not even your family had been. In those days the family hadn’t been out of where we lived in Kingsford!
“We lived in a good spot – not far from Souths Juniors, who paid for the trip. It was sensational. My mate Bob McCarthy, who has been a lifelong friend, he was in that Flegg team, too. We would say to each other: ‘Rugby league’s alright when it can do this for ya.’”