THE EPILOGUE IN THE new 50th Anniversary edition of Never Before, Never Again is built around an interview Larry Writer conducted with Johnny King and Eddie Lumsden. In the words of Writer, these two fine men, once great wingers in the famous St George teams of the ’50s and ’60s, admire many parts of the modern rugby league, not least the skills and strength of the footballers, and the colour and excitement of the matches.
‘It’s a tough game played by tough men,’ says Johnny King. ‘Each generation throws up its champions.’
‘I love the game, and I always will, it’s been so good to me,’ says Eddie Lumsden. ‘I still follow St George and Kurri Kurri, my team before I went to the Big Smoke in 1957. There’s plenty that’s good about rugby league today but, boy, I wouldn’t swap my time for now.’
It is true that King and Lumsden are critical of some aspects of 21st-century rugby league …
On uncontested scrums, King is fired up: ‘Don’t talk to me about Cameron Smith, he’s never won a scrum in his life! Killer would kick his rival hooker to death to get the ball.’ And they both cringe when they asked about teammates consoling a player who has dropped the ball or kicked into touch on the full. ‘We’d be right up ’em,’ King exclaims. ‘Wouldn’t matter if it was Ed or me or Gaz or Chook or Billy who’d stuffed up. Mistakes cost you matches.’
‘You’d never see a halfback slapping or mouthing off to a forward like you see in these no-punching days,’ he continues, ‘because he’d be straightened out quick smart. Nobody ever taunted us. We stood up for ourselves and if that meant throwing a punch or a coat-hanger to defend ourselves or dominate an opponent, then so be it. We loved the confrontation and so did the spectators. We’d shake hands with the bloke we belted after the match and that’d be the end of it.’