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Legends Remember 1976 World Club Challenge

The Sydney Roosters and St Helens Saints will lace up for the 28th World Club Challenge fixture in 2020 since the inception of the competition in 1976 at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

What’s unique about this meeting is it’s the same fixture that took place for the first official match, and will be the fourth overall meeting between the two rugby league clubs.

Looking back at the first meeting, the Roosters were lining up after winning the competition in back-to-back seasons in 1974 and 75, while the Saints were set for their first ever match in Sydney after winning their seventh Championship the year prior.

SYDNEY ROOSTERS SQUAD

The Sydney Roosters 1976 World Club Challenge team.
The Sydney Roosters 1976 World Club Challenge team.

1. Russell Fairfax 2. Ian Schubert 3. Mark Harris 4. John Brass 5. Bill Mullins 6. Trevor Barnes 7. Kevin Stevens 8. Barry Reilly 9. Arthur Beetson (c) 10. Ian Mackay 11. Royce Ayliffe 12. Elwyn Walters 13. Kel Jones 14. Robert Laurie 15. Johnny Mayes 16. Grant Hedger 17. Greg Townsend Coach: Jack Gibson

The most notable change to the Roosters World Club Challenge squad from the 1975 Grand Final was the return of fullback Russell Fairfax.

We spoke to Fairfax to get some of his memories from the day, and his selection was a moment that he’ll cherish forever.

“We won the comp in 74, then in 75 I broke my leg three weeks before the Grand Final,” Fairfax recalled.

“This was a Grand Final team, and I was selected straight in there.

“Ian Schubert was selected in the Australian team that year and went overseas to play fullback, so I had to work my tail off to get selected in the squad.

“All I remember is that I wanted to play well, and I had to prove myself if I wanted to be selected.

“Schuey was so good at fullback in the Grand Final, but I wanted my position back.”

Easts winger Ian Schubert returned serve with a humble response, claiming with no hesitation that he was just keeping Russell’s seat warm until he was fit and ready to return to duty.

“Russell was the Roosters fullback,” Schubert clearly stated.

“I’d never played fullback until Gibbo (Jack Gibson) asked me to play there.

“I was a centre playing on the wing because Mark Harris and John Brass were playing in the centres.

“They had to put me somewhere, much to the demise of Bruce Picket.

“He (Pickett) still blows up about it,” he said with a cheeky grin from ear to ear.

ST HELENS SQUAD

The St Helens 1976 World Club Challenge squad.
The St Helens 1976 World Club Challenge squad.

1. Geoff Pimblett 2. Les Jones 3. Eddie Cunningham 4. Derek Noonan 5. Roy Mathias 6. Billy Benyon 7. Kenneth Gwilliam 8. John Mantle 9. Tony Karalius 10. Kel Coslett (c) 11. Eric Chisnall 12. George Nicholls 13. David Hull 14. Peter Glynn 15. Frank Wilson 16. Jeff Heaton 17. Mel James Coach: Eric Ashton

The Saints of 1976 were known as the ‘Dad’s Army’ in those days, due to the fact that the majority of the squad were over 30-years of age.

They had three stops on their three week Australian tour, one against Queensland at Lang Park, and one final stop in Auckland, New Zealand.

Saints fullback Geoff Pimblett recalls the tour as a memorable one for the Club, though noted the loss of momentum the team experienced before the trip.

“It was a fantastic experience for the lads, but it would have been better if we had say, just a week’s rest to recover from our own domestic matches and then jetted off Down Under,” Pimblett said in an interview with Saints in 2016.

“But we had six weeks’ delay before the trip and we’d lost a bit of momentum by then – a great pity.”

GAME DAY MEMORIES

In front of a crowd of 26,856 at the historic SCG, the Roosters and Saints took to the pitch for the first ever World Club Challenge.

While the match was a memorable one for Eastern Suburbs, Fairfax’s memories lean closer to the atmosphere of the day.

“When we first found out about the game, we were basically just sat down and told that we’re playing the winners of the England competition,” Fairfax said.

“We just treated it as another game back then, but then when the day came and we walked out on the field it was completely different to what we were expecting.

“There was a huge crowd at the SCG.

"The Queen was there, the line-up on field for the anthem sent shivers down my spine.”

The opening try of the match was scored by Fairfax, a fitting way for him to start the contest after a long stint on the sidelines.

Another try scorer from the match, Ian Schubert remembered the match as free-flowing and physical.

The contest is always the main attraction, but Schubert’s top memory is of an 18 year old kid embarrassing himself in front of Queen Elizabeth.

“I remember when the match was over, we did a lap of honour which was special, then we went up into the grand stands to receive a medal and meet the Queen,” Schubert said.

“Someone introduced me to her, so I shook her hand and she said ‘Hi there, well played today,” he said as he started giggling.

“I looked back at her and very casually said ‘good thanks. My Mum’s name is Elizabeth.’

“She just laughed and said ‘oh, that’s nice.”

The Roosters went on to win the match 25-2, claiming the first World Club Challenge in history.

It will mark a special occasion when the two teams face each other again at Totally Wicked Stadium on February 22nd for their fourth meeting.

GET YOUR TICKETS today to get behind your Roosters as they look to secure their fifth World Club Challenge title.

Sydney Roosters win the 2019 World Club Challenge.
Sydney Roosters win the 2019 World Club Challenge.