When NSW captain Steve Mortimer said “stop the bus” as the 1985 team entered Caxton Street on their way to State of Origin I at Lang Park, ‘Turvey’ and his combatants stared through the windows at the raucous Queensland fans and planted the seed for the Blues’ historic first series win.
A fortnight later, Mortimer collapsed to the muddy surface of the Sydney Cricket Ground after leading his side to victory in Game Two and was chaired off the field in an image which remains immortalised at the entrance of the NSWRL Centre of Excellence – a moment that “drew a line in the sand” for every player who has pulled on the sky blue jersey from that point forward, according to Sydney Morning Herald chief sports writer Andrew Webster.
That victory by the 1985 Blues is among a collection of unforgettable moments to take place at the hallowed ground which helped shape what the venue means today, in Webster’s newly-released book, If These Walls Could Talk: A Celebration of the Sydney Cricket Ground in Ten Memorable Moments.
Webster told nswrl.com.au the book was eight years in the making, and had been sparked after he was sitting in a crowd at a 2014 Bradman dinner hearing two cricketing greats reflect on their memories at the ground.
“I was listening to Steve Waugh and Sachin Tendulkar talk about their great moments at the ground and I was hearing Steve Waugh talk about his last-ball century in 2003 that saved his career,” Webster said.
He immediately contacted the then-Communications Director of the SCG Trust, Phil Heads, with the concept of recounting the SCG’s most definitive moments of its 140-year history.
“It’s been a long process since 2014 for it to come to fruition, but we finally got there last week,” he added.
There were a number of voices that contributed to the “very difficult” process of narrowing down such moments to a select ten, which also include Waugh’s memorable century, Tony Lockett’s 1300th Australian Rules goal, and ‘The Gladiators’ image of Norm Provan and Arthur Summons embracing after the 1963 NSWRFL Grand Final.
“I had my thoughts, but the publisher Geoff Armstrong – who has written other books himself and has a strong affinity with the ground – came up with what he thought should be included, and we also consulted members of the Trust and SCG Members through the website,” Webster explained.
“In the end I wanted to make sure there was a good variety of different sports and events that have been held at the ground, including rugby union, AFL, the great concerts like Wave Aid, and in particular, the great game of rugby league, because there’s been so many great moments there that it’s almost like the spiritual home of Rugby League and the New South Wales Rugby League.”
Speaking about the NSW team’s 1985 win, it’s importance will never be forgotten as it was the first time the Blues had managed to lift the Shield since the State of Origin concept started five years earlier.
“It was the moment NSW got serious about State of Origin, because Queensland had won every series since its conception in 1980, Steve Mortimer drew a line in the sand from 1984 onwards with the way that he approached Origin, and that iconic moment when he collapsed in tears – it was sheer relief,” Webster said.
As for the man affectionately known as ‘Turvey’, brilliance came to mind for Webster, whose 10-year-old self witnessed Mortimer in his prime.
“He was magnificent,” Webster said.
“I’m a Dragons supporter, so whenever he was wearing a blue and white jumper I hated him with a passion, but whenever he was wearing a sky blue jumper he was the embodiment of everything that NSW should be and what they have been under various coaches and captains and players since 1985.
“As I said ‘Turvey’ was the bloke who drew a line in the sand, he was the ultimate competitor, a real scrapper, but also brilliant and had great control of the game.
“If you watch that series he had great command of those matches, Origins were so hard to win, they always are – it was like every single inch mattered in that type of football and he made sure that NSW won those inches more often than not.”
Click the following links to purchase If These Walls Could Talk: A Celebration of the Sydney Cricket Ground in Ten Memorable Moments