Tough as Teak Hard as Cement

“Where is this bloke from?” asks Channel 7 football comentator Lou Richards.

“North Wagga” replies co-comentator Peter Landy.

It is just before half-time of the National Escort Championships between New South Wales and VFL club Fitzroy at the Sydney Showgrounds and the “rotund full-forward” from NSW had just kicked his 5th goal to give the Blues an eleven point lead at half-time.

The player in question was Laurie Pendrick, the NSW skipper, who had kicked his first 3 goals in quick succession early in the first quarter on the Victorian representative full-back Harvey Merrigan.

“When the Fitzroy runner came out to change him (Merrigan) over with the bloke wearing the head-gear (Chris Smith), I told him he’s no good either! I’ve played on better in the Riverina!”, Pendrick told me in the interview for this piece.

Such was the supreme confidence that was the trademark of arguably Wagga’s best-ever locally-produced player not to go to the VFL/AFL, although he did receive multiple offers to go to South Melbourne in the mid-1970s.

NSW playing under legendary VFL coach Allan Jeans took the game right up to Fitzroy in that pre-season game at the Sydney Showgrounds but faded in the second half to lose by 56 points. Penrick ended up kicking six goals and being named best for NSW.

Laurie Pendrick was a young Wayne Carey’s hero when “Lozza” ruled the roost at McPherson Oval, North Wagga in the 1970s through what has been the club’s most successful period. Carey told Neil Cordy in a recent interview for the AFL NSW Hall of Fame nominations that,

“Laurie was my first football hero. He was a very good player and a standout in Wagga. He played in the centre but could go forward and kick goals. He was tough and hard and opposition fans hated him and North Wagga fans loved him”.

Pendrick grew up over the back fence from the Careys in the Mt Austin area in Wagga.

Laurie recalls playing kick-to-kick with Wayne’s older brother Dick in the back-yard; later, they would play and coach together at Collingullie in the twilight of their illustrious careers.

The Turvey Park Midget League is where Laurie began his football at the age of five playing for the “Magpies”. He would graduate through the ranks and make his debut at 16 for Turvey Park in the South West League in 1967.

The pivotal moment that turned Laurie into a top-line footballer, and ultimately a successful coach was the arrival of Graham “Curly” Ion to coach Turvey Park in 1969. “Curly” was a star in Footscray’s 1961 grand final team under Ted Whitten but went to coach Deniliquin in 1966 leading them to a premiership and winning the competition best and fairest award.

“I was in awe of ‘Curly’. I wanted to be just like him, both on and off the field!” said Pendrick. “I became assistant coach to him and travelled to games with him in his brand-new Monaro GTS 350. He taught me everything.”

In 1973 “Lozza” went across the river to North Wagga to be assistant coach to Allan Hayes. Together they led the Saints to their first premiership since 1935.

Pendrick took up his first senior coaching appointment at Grong Grong Matong in 1975. He lifted the combine from the bottom rungs of the ladder into finals contention. He recalled his time at “Grongy” with great affection:

“Great people, passionate about their football club. If we won the farmers would give me a fistful of dollars in the change rooms, buy me drinks at the pub, and leave a side of dressed lamb on the back seat of the car”.

He returned to North Wagga as captain-coach in 1976. He led North Wagga to a premiership over Collingullie and topped the Farrer league goal-kicking with 114 goals.

The following season “Lozza” had probably his best season of football: he won the Baz medal, topped the goal-kicking with 132 goals, and led the Saints into another grand final.

It was during this season that South Melbourne tried its hardest to entice Pendrick to the VFL. The Swans offered him $10K to sign and two players on the senior list to North Wagga as replacements similar to a deal that they had done to secure Colin Hounsell from Collingullie. But North Wagga insisted he honour his contract to coach the club.

Pendrick would continue on as captain-coach of North Wagga, but then would embark on a remarkable football odyssey that would see him play and/or coach Newtown in Sydney (1979), QAFL club Coorparoo (1980 & 1984-86 including two premierships), North Wagga in 1981-83 (winning a Clear Medal) and again in 1987-88, Palm Beach-Currumbin on the Gold Coast (1989-90), Latrobe in Tasmania (1993), Collingullie (1996-1998), and Yarraville in the Western FL in Melbourne (2000-2001 including a premiership).

As captain-coach of Cooparoo he promoted Churchie school-boy Jason Dunstall to full-forward, who, of course, went onto forge a legendary career at Hawthorn following “Lozza’s” recommendation to his old NSW coach Allan Jeans, with whom he maintained a close relationship. Mary Jeans called him, at Allan’s request, just before he passed away.

According to long-time Wagga Tigers’ opponent Bevan Rowe, “Laurie was almost an unbeatable opponent. He had wonderful skills, enormous confidence, and was just so hard. He had massive influence on his teams, they followed him, and were absolutely fearless with him at the helm”.

Laurie Pendrick represented NSW on 11 occasions including captain-coach, and Queensland nine times including coaching the Maroons to Division II championship wins in 1985.

NSW’s RECORD IN INTERSTATE FOOTY

1938 NSW State Team to Launceston 1 smallWe have often been asked about NSWs history of interstate games and how successful they had been over the years.

Well we can tell you that the NSW Football Association, the forerunner to the NSW Australian Football League, played their first representative game at the MCG on 1 July 1881.  The match was against the then VFA which was the first controlling body for football in Victoria.  The VFL was formed in 1897 from some clubs that then comprised the VFA.

Behinds were not counted in the score in those days, winners were judged by the number of goals they kicked and just as well in this first game because the VFA or Victoria, kicked 9-24 to 0-1.  The game in Sydney had only been going for 12 months while of course it was founded in Melbourne with the first game recognized as being played in 1858.

NSW played twenty six representative games between 1881 and until the Association’s demise in 1894 and only won against their regular nemeses, Queensland.  They drew several of their other matches, mostly because behinds were not counted, an anomaly in the game that was changed in 1897.

When the code was resurrected in Sydney in 1903, VFL clubs were falling over themselves to visit and play against the locals.  Some of the games were listed as NSW versus … or Metropolitan or alternatively, Combined Sydney and many of the records of the matches were lost or no effort was kept to maintain them.  So it has taken many long years of research and investigation to locate details of the respective games.

NSW’s most significant victories have been two over the VFL which were both played in Sydney.  They won the first of these in 1923, 15-11 to 11-19 and the other two years later by a point 13-10 to 13-9.  It is fair to say though on the weekends these games were played, the VFL fielded at least two other representative sides playing other interstate games so maybe their top side was not that which was fielded against NSW.

In the first thirty years of the last century they defeated Queensland (on several occasions), Port Adelaide, Geelong (twice), Tasmania (twice), South Adelaide, West Torrens, Melbourne, ACT, Sth Aust Football Assn and most of these games were played in Sydney.  They lost the rest which we have calculated as seventy.

The state has competed in numerous national carnivals, which up until the first war were played every three years in different states however in latter decades were relegated to competition between Tasmania, ACT and Queensland while the other states played in the same carnival but against supposedly (and more correctly) stronger opposition between themselves.

NSW have also played in at least three amateur carnivals, the most recent in a country championships carnival in Wagga in 2012.  The other two were held in Adelaide in 1936 and Launceston in 1938 and we have included a photograph of the team taken as they travelled to the apple isle by boat.

As part of the 1988 Bi-Centenary celebrations, a pure State of Origin team was selected to compete in the carnival in Adelaide.  They lost their game against South Australia but recorded their first ever win over WA 10-8 to 9-12.

Some might remember the pseudo State of Origin team NSW fielded on a rainy night game against the VFL on May 22 at the SCG.  They won that match 13-8 to 10-16, much to the chargrin of Victorian selector, Ted Whitten.  We say pseudo because the team contained several Sydney Swans players who were not born, nor played their junior football in NSW.

To sum it up, NSW have lost far more than they have won in interstate contests and now the state combines their fortunes with players selected from the ACT, so here’s to the future.