Heroes of Yesterday – Trevor Ryan
Where did you grow up?
Nambucca Heads, on the north coast of NSW
What was your childhood like?
Very easy going, country style, a lot of surfing. Really in those days you had surfing, cricket and played Rugby League in the winter.
Everyone knew everyone, there was about 2,500 people in the town.
I have an older brother who is down here at Wetherill Park and a younger sister who is still up at Nambucca Heads. My Mother lives with my sister, Mum is 84 and unfortunately Dad’s passed away.
Did you collect footy cards as a kid?
I loved St George as a kid and I got to meet a lot of them through my uncle, George Smith, he played for NSW a couple of times and played for Australia once as a lock forward. He was a legend around the country areas, just unfortunately for him he had a bloke by the name of John Raper in front of him.
What was your first football experience?
In Nambucca during those years, there wasn’t a junior league. You had to play Under 18’s then Reserve Grade and First Grade. You could also play for your school.
My first real experience was when I was about 13 and I played in the Under 18’s against Mum and Dad’s wishes. They just stuck me on the wing and I did the best I could.
Who were your football heroes as a kid?
Undoubtably, Reg Gasnier.
As it turned out in later life when I came to Sydney I ended up working with Reg for 23 years in the sales game for the Flexible Packaging Industry. Reg was my boss, what a great bloke and a gentleman. The status that he held in Rugby League, he was very humble.
Who did you play for before coming to Sydney?
As I said there was no junior league in Nambucca Heads, I think I played three years in the Under 18’s side. I think it was when I was 16 we won the comp and the following year they put me into First Grade. They had to ask Mum and Dad if I could play. I turned 17 in that first year.
What got you to Balmain in 1972?
Funny story there. Western Suburbs had a secretary called Bill Beaber, lovely gentleman, he used to holiday in Nambucca Heads and he became friendly with my Dad. So, it was arranged that, once I had finished school I would come down and stay at Bill’s place and play for Wests.
I played for CHS, at Gosford the same year and two Balmain representatives, one was Nipper Goldsmith, Reserve Grade Coach approached me after a game. I didn’t hear from Balmain after that. My parents and I drove down to Sydney to sign with Wests. We went to the Wests Leagues on Friday night, had dinner, but they didn’t have a contract ready, so obviously no contract was signed. The next day Newtown rang, two guys picked us up and gave us a tour of Newtown, we went around Marrickville, Tempe. It wasn’t a very nice place in the 70’s, especially for a young bloke who had been surrounded by water. I remember going back to the hotel and saying that I don’t want to go there.
The next day Kevin Humphreys rang, had someone to pick us up and took us to Balmain Leagues Club. We had a discussion, I felt comfortable. From the Leagues club you could see water. Kevin was a very smart operator. He holidayed at Iluka and on his way to his vacation he stopped in at our place with a contract. My parents signed the contract with me, Kevin was that thorough.
Do you remember your first time in Grade football?
I was very lucky, when I came down to Sydney I went straight into First Grade because Terry Parker who was the incumbent centre with Geoff Starling had bad knees and couldn’t play. My first game was against Manly at Brookvale Oval and they had fair centres that day in Bob Fulton and Ray Brannigan. I was 17 and my centre partner Geoff Starling was 18. This was a Pre-Season match
How about your first Comp game?
My first comp game was at the Sydney Sports ground, and you wouldn’t believe it, we played Wests. Again, my centre partner was Geoff Starling and the Wests centres were John Elford and Steve Knight. Knighty had played for Australia and Rugby Union and Johnny Elford was a very hard man.
How was the culture playing for Balmain from 1972 through to 1978?
When I started in 1972 we still had a lot of the culture from the 60’s. We had a lot of players who played in the 1969 Grand Final. We had blokes like Johnny Spencer, Barry McTaggart, Peter Bolton, Joey Walsh. It was like that for probably the 1972 and 1973 seasons. Training wasn’t that hard, we did a couple of nights training a week, did a bit of ball work.
In 1973 I think the Balmain Tigers won the initial Under 21’s competition. It was decided that the coach of that side, Alan Mason become the First-Grade coach and he brought up a lot of his players to First Grade. We really struggled that season.
In 1975 we really changed as a club. Paul Broughton came along and that was the era of the Americanised, Jack Gibson style coaching. We were lucky enough to have blokes like Bing (Neil Pringle), Greg Bandeira from Easts, Brian Lockwood came over from Pommy Land, David Topless at five-eight. We also had some good young blokes coming through like Greg Cox, Denis Bendall, Wayne Wigham, Lloyd Martin. They were the guys we had until 1977 when Ron Wiley took over and Ron was a completely different coach.
Ron Wiley was a stricter coach. Larry Corowa and Percy Knight joined us, so we had a good side on paper. I left in 1979 to go to Newtown and there was a lot of young blokes coming through
At what stage did you become Captain of Balmain?
1975 Paul Broughton appointed me as Captain, even though we had experienced guys like Denis Montiet, an International fullback in Alan McMahon, Brian Lockwood. It was a great honour. We worked as a unit anyway
In 1976 you were selected for City Firsts, how was the lead up to that game?
I think in 1975 Country beat City and in 1976 Chang (Graeme Langlands) was still the City coach. I was in the centres with Steve Rogers, he could play a bit. Chang was still dirty on getting beat the year before. Country had a centre from Gerringong called Mick Cronin who could play, obviously.
All week leading up to the game, I tell this story all the time, I was still young at the time. Sludge (Steve Rogers) was an established Australian player at the time. Chang was telling me about Cronin, he said he can play but the word is he doesn’t like the rough stuff. So, for the first ten minutes I want you to make sure he knows you are around. He has obviously picked me because I am the young one and Sludge is the experienced one. So, the first time Mick Cronin got the ball, I hit him a bit late, a bit high with a swinging arm, whatever it was Mick didn’t like it. So, Mick gets off the ground and starts throwing them like Mike Tyson at his best. I was ducking a weaving trying to avoid them connecting.
We went on to win the game and we were all happy and in the dressing room Chang comes up laughing. He said “Shit, that Cronin can throw them, can’t he”. I said yea, what happened to your late mail? He said, “It was not good was it?” and he just walked away laughing.
It just goes to show you don’t believe every people tell you, not even the Immortals.
You were then selected for the interstate match for NSW in 1978, how was the lead up to that game?
I had been selected before, but only as a reserve. I look back at what were the best moments in my career and of course captaining Balmain is up there. I was also selected for NSW as a Centre and as a Second Rower. Albeit, I didn’t get on the field twice as a centre because they had a couple of centres named Mick Cronin and Steve Rogers. 1978 I got to go on as a second rower, we had a great time, Frank Stanton was the coach. We had a lot of talent in that side and he just let us run our own routine.
What got you to Newtown in 1979?
Singo (John Singleton) can be very persuasive. I already had eight seasons with Balmain and I think they were taking me a bit for granted. I had represented NSW, City Firsts and I captained City Seconds one year. They offered me some money and their thing to keep me was saying that I could break more records here. I said, well that isn’t going to help me.
Singo just came up to me at the Rothman’s Medal night and asked if he could talk to me. He took me outside for a coffee, I had to pay for the coffee. I just liked the way Singo sold what they were about
How was the culture at Newtown in 1979?
Warren Ryan was the coach at Newtown, he really was a student of the game. Training was getting a bit harder. We were very fortunate at Balmain, we had a lot of blokes who had been around the place for a long time. Went to Newtown and it was a mixture of different personalities, from different clubs.
I used to hang around Ken Wilson, a great friend of mine, Phil Charlton, we all got along well. Steve Hardy is another one, and there were the Canterbury blokes like Bill Noonan was a great bloke and we had some young blokes like Phil Sigsworth, Steve Bowden, Geoff Bugden.
In 1979 Singo has signed Tommy Raudonikis from Wests and we were very unlucky not to make the Play Off’s that year. Billy Noonan retired that year.
What got you to Wests in 1981?
Newtown said they were going to sign Phil Gould from Penrith. We would love to have you onboard, but this is what we are offering. I just said, don’t worry about it and gave it away.
I used to hang around with the Balmain blokes, play some cards and have a bet. I got a call from Wests before the June deadline. Their First Grade was going well but they had a couple of injuries in the forwards and they said I haven’t trained so far this year, I will need a couple of weeks to get in shape. Then I came on against Parramatta and we got absolutely flogged and the next week was against Penrith and I came on and pulled my hamstring. As it turned out the First Grade didn’t make the play-offs, but Reserve Grade did
How was your year at Wests in 1981?
In 1981 I gave it away and got a call from Wests and had a bit of a run there under Roy Masters. As it turned out I got a couple of First Grade games there and pulled my hamstring and that made me legible for the Reserve Grade Semi Finals. We ended up wining the Reserve Grade comp against Parramatta. It was great winning that with blokes like Paul Merlo, Steve Broughton, we had a fair side.
We had a fair side, Ian Schubert and me in the second row, Mick Pickerton in the centres.
What got you to Balmain in 1982?
I had my Mother and Father down for the Grand Final in 1981, I got them tickets in the members stand and after the game I went to the members stand to see them and Frank Stanton was there. He said, Well done, what about next year, do you want to come and play some serious football?
How was your return to Balmain in 1982?
Things were getting a bit more serious with Frank Stanton there, it was a lot more professional, training was 3-4 times a week. We had young blokes like Wayne Pearce, Benny Elias, Garry Jack came over from Wests, Steve Roach. For some reason Cranky Franky as I called him (Frank Stanton) had teamed me up with Wayne Pearce for physical training on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights. I was nearing the end of my career and Pearcy wouldn’t take a short cut. I was looking for every short cut possible. I would leave training and wonder what all these aches were. I used to say to Pearcy, leave it for the weekend. He would just go 100 miles per hour.
I was appointed captain halfway through the year. I think Neil Whittaker was the captain beforehand.
What are your Greatest Memories of playing Rugby League?
I have a lot of mates from Balmain and Newtown, we still get together now.
Captaining Balmain was a great honour.
I think playing representative football in both the centre and second row positions are not bad for a kid from Nambucca.
Who was your most respected rival?
There were so many great players back then. Steve Rogers and Mick Cronin stand out, but you had to respect them all.
A young John Elford was such a damaging tackler, when he hit you, he really hit you. That was in my early days and those memories stay with you. Ray Brannigan is another one, there are so many of them.
As far as the forwards go, there were so many good ones in that 70’s era. Blokes like John O’Neill, Bob McCarthy. The one that really stood out was the Englishman Malcolm Reilly. Tough and he knew what he was doing too, it didn’t matter if it was elbows, feet or whatever. The scary thing is he could play the game too. He knew how to tackle and how to chip kick.
Arthur Beetson, what else can you say?
Which was the best team you played against?
It is funny, I would have to say some of those Manly sides early on (1970’s). They had blokes like Graham Eadie at fullback and in the forwards, they had Malcolm Reilly, Phil Lowe and John O’Neill who was there for a bit.
That great side of Easts, I think if you look through the records, Balmain beat them at Leichardt Oval.
We were that sort of side at Balmain to go well against the harder sides and not so well against the lesser sides.
When did you know it was time to give the game away?
I can’t blame Pearcy 😊
I had been around for a while and things were starting to change. You had to hold down a job and the training was getting more and more serious.
What followed football?
As I alluded to earlier, I was lucky enough worked with Reg Gasnier for 30 odd years in the flexible packaging game.
Football wise I coached a couple of football sides, we won the Balmain a Grade one year and then I coached in the North Sydney comp a few years later with different sides.
I am married with two kids, a daughter and a young bloke who is a very good footballer. He went to the Tigers but couldn’t get a run with Tim Sheens and he went to Parramatta and played a few First-Grade games there. Ricky Stuart sort of got rid of him when he did a clean out of 12 players so then he went to England. When he came back from England, he said he just wants to enjoy himself.
How has the game changed since your playing days?
It is a completely different game to the 70’s and 80’s. All the protection rules they have for players these days didn’t exist when I played. It was either learn or get out of the game.
The thing I really enjoy is seeing some of the wingers score the tries, they didn’t do that back in my day. Another rule change there is the corner post rule.
I think TV has been involved with some of the rule changes, such as taking the contest out of the scrums. This thing where you have the fullback packing in at lock, I don’t understand all of that.
We didn’t get the exposure that they have now, no videos back then.
Did you keep a scrapbook?
I didn’t but I was very lucky that I had a Mother and a girlfriend who is now my wife who used to collect the stuff for me. When you are playing it is a second nature, it doesn’t really mean much to you. When you get to my age now, I am 63, and raised a family, it is good to show my daughter and son. It is something to reflect on, to show my old man did something.
What is your favourite restaurant?
A little place in the northern suburbs called Four Nose, great steaks, pizzas, we go there quite a bit.