By Rod Gillett
East Sydney with mega-star full forward Petar Ruscuklic booting 9 goals cruised to a resounding 121-point win over North Shore in the 1980 grand final at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
It has been the last local competition grand final played at the SCG.
The match was also televised live in NSW on Channel Seven and attracted 120,00 viewers.
A live kick-by-kick radio broadcast was provided by Sydney radio station 2KY with special comments by SFL media and footy stats guru Kevin Taylor.
Final scores were East Sydney 30-24 (204) d North Shore 12-11 (83).
Easts adopted a special strip for the centenary season, a white guernsey with red and blue bands (pictured right), with white hose with red and blue stripes at the top. This was one of the first adaptations in Australian football of a specially designed jumper for a celebratory occasion.
After the disappointment of going out of the finals in “straight sets” the previous year after going through the home-and-away season undefeated, the Bulldogs regained the services of former South Melbourne and Subiaco star full forward Austin “Ocker” Roberston as coach; he had previously coached Easts to the 1976 flag.
And they retained Petar “Snorkel” Ruscuklic who had booted 136 goals in 1979; Petar did not follow the coach, his brother, Alex (ex Fitzroy and Carlton star) to Western Suburbs. East Sydney president Jack Dean ensured that there was a sufficient incentive for “Snorkel” to remain at Easts for the centenary season.
Despite the Bulldogs winning by a then Australian senior league record margin score, they were actually behind by ten points at quarter time but led at half-time by 42 points as a result of an eight goal burst in the second quarter.
According to Lionel Beale’s report in Inside Football (25 September 1980) “…another eight goals in the third quarter and 12 more in the last was champagne football by the best team seen in Sydney for many seasons”.
Easts’ had outstanding players on every line with skipper Robbie Claridge brilliant on the ball taking advantage of the dominance of ruckman Steve Byrnes and former Narrandera follower Stuart Allen.
The best player on the ground was Jim Richardson in the centre with five goals. Originally from Eastakes in the ACT, Richardson had trailed with Geelong but was recruited to Easts for the centenary season from WAFL club South Fremantle.
In defence, Guy Sherrington was “unbeatable”, according to the Inside Football report along with centre half-back Ian Geddes and classy back pocket Ted Pleming (both from UNSW).
Up forward, Petar Ruscuklic was in superb form with nine goals, along with fellow forward Geoff “Hammy” Spaulding (3 goals), centre half-forward Grant Luhrs (4 goals), and Laurie “Wally” Axford (2 goals).
North Shore were best served by defender John Tuckwell, winger Henry Townsing and utility Bruce Wickham.
Unfortunately, captain-coach John Pitura (ex-South Melbourne and Richmond), who was the match-winner in the 1979 decider succumbed to a shoulder injury suffered in the preliminary final win over Newtown and had negligible influence on the game.
Speaking to me by phone from Perth, dual premiership coach Austin “Ocker” Robertson, told me that that the 1980 team was more talented than the 1976 team “…but the 1976 team had more larrikins!”.
“We recruited well from WA where I used my contacts to secure Wayne “Cowboy” Hardie from South Fremantle along with Jim Richardson, Guy Sherrington (Perth), former St Kilda player Enzo Corvino (Subiaco) and Grant Luhrs from Claremont as well as Laurie Axford (Sutherland) who returned from study in WA and playing with West Perth” ‘Ocker’, one of the architects of Kerry Packer’s World Series cricket, told me.
But the star of the show on grand final day was prolific full-forward Peta Ruscuklic, who booted nine goals to take his tally for the season to 156, a new Sydney record, which he subsequently broke the next season with an astonishing 213 goals.
“Petar was mecurial, unstoppable” according to centre half-forward Grant Luhrs (pictured right), who after playing in the 1976 premiership went to Claremont in the WAFL for three seasons and returned for the centenary season.
“He was such a strong mark, especially one-out against an opponent and such an accurate kick for goal from any angle. He had “The Rat” (Robbie Claridge), “Gossie” (Wayne Goss) and “Richo” (Jim Richardson) pumping the ball forward from out of the middle”, Luhrs told me in an interview for this piece from his Flying Fox recording studio in Wagga.
“We were a group of itinerant and nomadic footballers loaded with talent that were bonded together by the coach (Austin Robertson) and his match committee chairman Jack Dean”.
“Off-the-field we had great support with club stalwart Reggie Dew (team manager), fitness guy “Long Bay” Lionel Potter and electic butcher Glen “Globie” Gasser as the runner”, added Luhrs.
Vice-captain Ian Geddes told me in an interview from Griffith for this piece that it was a great thrill to play in the grand final on the SCG, “We had the chance to play some curtain-raisers to VFL matches on the ground during the season which enabled us to get to know the nuances of the ground; it also meant that we weren’t over-awed on grand final day”.
A win by 121 points was a clear manifestation of East Sydney’s superiority on grand final day on the SCG.