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Back to the spirit of 'Turvey': Maguire

By Roy Masters

When the NSW team bus stopped unexpectedly outside the Caxton Street hotel in Brisbane, ahead of the first game of the 1985 State of Origin series at Lang Park, the pendulum of history of this annual three-game feast of bad blood and good football tilted the Blues way for the first time.

It was NSW captain Steve “Turvey” Mortimer who ordered the bus to stop. Maroons supporters, many of whom had been to six-hour long lunchless luncheons, streamed from the hotel, banging on the side of the bus. “Look at them,” said Turvey, surveying the rows of bloated, red faced Queensland fans whose outpouring exit from the pub made them look like a case of upturned freckled mangos.

“Those bastards hate us,” said Turvey.

“They want to see us beaten, embarrassed, humiliated.”

Pointing to the bus driver who had obediently stopped, Turvey said, “Even the bus driver hates us.”

Front row forward, Steve “Blocker” Roach, swelling like a puffer fish, rose from his seat, ready to storm down the aisle and out the door to confront them. Mercifully, he was held back.

As centre Chris Mortimer – Steve’s brother and Canterbury team mate – says, “They were belting on the side of the bus. Even when we were walking out the tunnel at the game, they were throwing things at us.

“But we were ready. We all knew what needed to be done.”

The planning had begun in the lead up to the final Origin game the previous year.

Turvey replaced Ray Price as captain of NSW, after the Maroons had clinched the 1984 series, winning the first two games. Turvey had actually been chosen for the Blues in an earlier match as halfback but withdrew, inventing a hamstring injury.

He’d had a long chat with Canterbury boss Peter “Bullfrog” Moore whose focus was probably more on club football than Origin. In any case, Turvey suspected he wouldn’t have the support of Price in era where Parramatta players dominated selection. Turvey’s best mate, Greg Brentnall, who was selected as wing in the inaugural Origin match in 1980 recalls a state game where, as he says, “I was the fullback and the only non Parramatta player in a NSW backline.”

But with Turvey as Blues captain, Bullfrog began his famed political manouvering, ensuring his brave little halfback was given every chance. It was the moment that Origin football became more important than club football for NSW. (Queensland had accepted this from the beginning when Arthur Beetson led a rested team of Maroons in the 1980 pioneering match, belting his Parramatta ream mate, Mick Cronin, at the first opportunity). I had first hand knowledge, as St George coach, of this radical switch of loyalty. The Dragons supplied winger Steve Morris, centre Brian Johnston, front rower Pat Jarvis and second rower Chris Walsh to the team for the dead rubber of 1984, won 22-12 by NSW. I witnessed the passion of the Blues ratcheted up even more for the first game of 1985 when St George had centre Michael O’Connor chosen, with Jarvis retaining his place. The NSWRL also helped by copying Queensland making it mandatory for players selected for the Blues to be stood down from the previous club match, thereby giving the players and coach time for an optimal preparation.

As Chris Mortimer says, “We were hungry for success. Steve told us to leave our egos at the door. We were all blokes who would listen. He made sure we all got on well. Steve knew the type of player NSW needed.”

The match was played in driving rain and the Blues defence was relentless. O’Connor scored all NSW points with two tries and five goals in their 18-2 win. NSW five eighth Brett Kenny contained the game’s super star, Wally Lewis.

NSW had therefore won two successive games in Brisbane under Mortimer, with the second match of the 1985 series played at the SCG. Again, the heavens erupted to muddy the famous old ground. O’Connor took the Blues ahead 15-14 with a field goal but eight minutes from the end, Lewis set up for a potentially match levelling field goal. Turvey flew from the ruck and charged it down, risking the smack of a heavy leather ball to the face. Kenny scored a try with a minute left for a final 21-14 result.

Turvey dropped to his knees and kissed the ground and was chaired off by his rapturous team mates. Afterwards, he told the dressing room he was retiring from representative football, his long held ambition to beat Queensland achieved.

Rugby league is replete with redemption stories but this was one of the best. Turvey had been humiliated in a NSW versus Queensland match in 1977, played under the old residential rule where Queenslanders playing for Sydney clubs, such as Beetson and Rod Reddy, were eligible only for NSW.

Turvey had replaced Tom Raudonikis as Blues half, with the Western Suburbs No 7 selected on the bench. Rugby League Week, the bible of the game at the time, had run a front page story on Turvey, then 20, titled “A Star is Born.” But with the Maroons well ahead in the Lang Park match, Mortimer was replaced by Raudonikis who led the successful fightback, scoring a try in the 14-13 win. As for the birth of the star story, a kid at the western suburbs school where I was a teacher, scribbled on the library’s copy of RLW’s front page: RIP 22/5/77.

Brentnall says, “I saw what that did to Red,” the nickname he reserves for his best friend. “He played badly. I saw the desire to turn himself around. He was an asthmatic and everyone said he was too small. He kept getting kicks in the arse, yet he persevered. He defines the spirit needed to win Origin. It’s about tough minds which is Red. The NSWRL helped by taking Origin seriously and standing down selected players from club games. But I think that was also part of Red’s plan.”

It is highly fitting that incoming Blues coach Michael “Madge” Maguire has dedicated his focus for the 2024 NSW team to as he says, “the blue Origin jumper being more important than the club jumper."

"We’re going back to the future, back to the spirit of Turvey.”

Acknowledgement of Country

New South Wales Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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