Former Sea Eagle Max Brown’s story about the brutal 1973 Grand Final between Manly and Cronulla is about redemption. It was one of the most physical grand finals ever, highlighted by a number of brawls and off-the-ball incidents.
Manly went on to win the heated tussle 10-7, but Brown would go on to harbour a regret from that game that lasted for 30 years, something he carried very close to himself.
As Cronulla’s Rick Bourke was crossing the line to score a try, Brown struck out a firm right arm and collected him square in the head. It was an act that would sit uncomfortably with the Manly winger for three whole decades.
“1973 was a very bitter game, which is what everyone knows... it was a war,” Brown told NRL.com.
“It was a personal thing. I was never really a dirty player; I was never really drawn into fighting unless I was retaliating.
“However in the Sharks game when Rick Bourke scored his try, I could see it coming up and I came across the field and I whacked him in the head – I broke my thumb and I flattened him.
“It was 30 years later when I had the opportunity to go to a reunion to apologise to him and it was quite moving. I had really carried that right through the years. I didn’t do anything about it in that period of time, but when the opportunity was there, it is the first thing I did and we became very close friends.
“Unfortunately he passed about five or six years ago, but that to me is a very significant memory of my career and it came out of that game. I guess I remember it, because it [foul play] is something I never ever did.
“It was a rotten thing to do.”
After retiring from rugby league, Brown overcame a tumour he had carried unknowingly for seven years before it burst inside him. He would later find out the tumour was a result of a rub-down cream he used to use in his playing days.
He spent six months recuperating and struggling to get by without being able to work. It was here that the seeds of the Men of League Foundation were sown.
However, if Brown had had his way, they would have been known as the ‘Dinosaurs’. He admits the Men of League tag is a much better fit for the organisation.
“In 1999 I had cancer and the tumour actually burst inside of me and I’d had it for seven years and hadn’t known,” he said.
“I was recuperating for six months and was off work, and everything that goes with being off work, it becomes quite difficult – that gave me the thought that this must happen to a lot of players.
“Subsequently I created the idea that we should have a charity organisation to look after the Men of League, which was originally called the Dinosaurs.
“As they said to me, and I think I can cop it a little bit sweetly: ‘Dinosaurs – they don’t eat much and don’t drink much, so how could we be dinosaurs?’.
“I had this thought that if I could organise this charity... I struggled for six months to put a plan together; it was only when I bumped into my old mate Jim Hall at Fox Studios and explained to him what had happened and that I couldn’t get anywhere, he said: ‘we are going to do something’.
“So we went straight up to the NRL, spoke to Ian Schubert and Schubert said ‘we have to do something with this’, and we had the first function. I rang Ron Coote and said ‘come on in’ and he agreed. We then went down to the NSWRL, had a big night and enlisted membership – and that is how it all started.”
The Men of League Foundation assists rugby league players, coaches, referees, officials and administrators – from all levels of the game – plus members of their families who have fallen on hard times.
The Foundation has grown to 20,000 members in only 10 years and they have big plans for the future.