The Newtown Jets achieved miraculous success in the 2019 season after winning both the NSW Canterbury Cup and the NRL Interstate Challenge in dramatic circumstances. Scoring tries in the final minute of both games showed the Jets to be a team who dared to entertain.
Forty-three years ago, the Jets also showed their intent to thrill the crowds after signing Oakland Raiders running back Manfred Moore to play in the NSWRL premiership.
In recent years the rugby league community has followed the fortunes of both a New South Welshman and a Queenslander as they chased their dream of playing and achieving success in the NFL. The fortunes and exploits of Jarryd Hayne and Valentine Holmes have been well documented.
In the context of the Hayne/Holmes experiments, Newtown’s bold 1977 move can be better understood.
Moore, who holds a special place in rugby league history as the first American to play rugby league in Australia, died recently at the age of 69. He won a Super Bowl with the Oakland Raiders in 1976, and was persuaded to try his hand at rugby league in 1977 by Newtown boss and media entrepreneur John Singleton and club secretary Frank Farrington.
Moore had immediate success in the Australian game, scoring the Jets first try of the season against the Western Suburbs Magpies at Henson Park. After a brief, four-game, career in the greatest game of all Moore called it a day and returned to the US where he became a punt returner with the Minnesota Vikings. His career in rugby league may have been short but it left a mark on the landscape and Newtown achieved great publicity for the club following the bold move.
The Jets were coached by legendary character and NSWRL life member, Paul Broughton. ‘Coach’ Broughton was always one to explore new ground and when the opportunity came to include a player from the NFL, to provide an edge, he embraced it. He later commented Moore “had a very advanced capacity to recognise pain”, following an incident where a head clash in his final game left him dazed and requiring surgery in the Henson Park dressing room.
“He wanted plastic surgeons, orthopaedic specialists, neurologists,” Broughton said.
“American footballers in those days had intravenous feeds on the sideline. Imagine that at Henson Park! He gave it his all and you couldn't fault him for effort.”
Moore returned to Australia in 2007 as a guest of the Newtown club and to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his rugby league career. He reminisced about the wonderful experience that he enjoyed in 1977 and the warm hospitality of the foundation club.
He lives on in Newtown and rugby league folklore, the only player who managed to score a first-grade rugby league try and an NFL touchdown.
Hayne tried, Holmes copied, neither achieved success.
Moore made it.
Vale, Manfred Moore.