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.

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