This article by Tom Daunt originally appeared in the Gympie Times on Friday
PLEASE NOTE: It will be free entry to this week’s Intrust Super Premiership match between the Wests Tigers and the North Sydney Bears to be played at Leichhardt Oval at 3:00 pm. More information here.
The year is 1989 and Billy Moore, a young up-and-coming rugby league star, has played the game of his life.
He has been part of the North Sydney Bears’ New South Wales Rugby League reserve grade premiership-winning team.
It was a torrid affair as two of Sydney’s heavyweight clubs slogged it out on a bright, humid afternoon. The Bears in the red corner, the Parramatta Eels in the blue.
For Moore (pictured), that game would define him. His performance that season earned him a spot in the Bears’ first-grade squad in 1990.
He eventually played his way into an Australian jersey and went on to be one of the most iconic figures of all time in the State of Origin arena.
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“After the game, everyone wanted to go back to the leagues club and celebrate,” Moore remembers.
“I wanted to go back and watch the first-grade grand final.”
Moore rates his decision to put his own celebrations on hold to witness one of the greatest finals in league history as his most lasting memory of the era.
The game between Canberra and Balmain was only the second time a team from outside of Sydney played in a decider.
Canberra captain Mal Meninga famously overcame a broken arm. He and his team of superstars, including Laurie Daley, Brad Clyde and Ricky Stuart, faced a Tigers pack brimming with Test stalwarts.
Balmain led 12-2 at half-time before a Canberra resurgence against the run of play levelled the scores at full-time. Canberra eventually scored a try in the dying seconds of extra time to win 19-14.
“It really was edge-of-your-seat stuff,” Moore said.
“Growing up we used to get the Sydney games on TV on Saturday and the Brisbane games on Sunday.
“I jumped on Parramatta. Watching what they did (in the 1980s) was amazing.
“That’s basically how I fell in love with rugby league.”
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Moore said the urge to go back and watch that match was overwhelming.
He enjoyed 10 more years of senior football, going on to be one of North Sydney’s favourite sons.
Moore remains staunchly passionate about the game but says the culture has changed. He says the changes are subtle.
They would not necessarily be noticed by the average fan.
“Players used to smoke in the sheds after a game,” Moore said.
“People would think you were fancy if you had a Gatorade.”
Moore said the game was also less complicated in the ’80s.
“When I first started, there weren’t professional players,” he said. “It was a very tough game played by semi-professionals.”
Retro Round celebrates rugby league in the 1980s and will be brought to life throughout round 22.