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Seventies fashion still in style

Stringent concussion rules, tries worth four points, skin-tight jerseys with no collars.

So much has changed from rugby league in the 1970s to 2019. But what hasn't changed?

Talking to two dyed-in-the-wool 70s-style players, premiership winners, and rugged all-round types Max Krilich (with Manly in 1976, 1978) and Bob McCarthy (with South Sydney 1967, 1970, 1971) gives you an idea.

"The hits. They hit more in numbers now but back then there was only three yards between you but you could still smash them," McCarthy said. "So the ferocious nature of a hit-up hasn't changed."

Being a fellow forward, Krilich still remembers the pain of a Arthur Beetson or Ray Price tackle.

"The violence in the sport has been lessened a bit today but the hits are just as hard – if not harder," Krilich said.

"The other thing that hasn't changed is a great dummy-half and a superb halfback and running fullback. They call it a 'spine' now but we just called them our best attacking players.

Manly Sea Eagles hooker Max Krilich in action for the Kangaroos.
Manly Sea Eagles hooker Max Krilich in action for the Kangaroos. ©NRL Photos

"They won you games and the good sides had those blokes – the bad sides didn't."

Greg Alexander can add another thing. Yes, he was a 1980s player but "Brandy" is a connoisseur of the game and is one of the nominees for this year's Hall of Fame inductions.

"What hasn't changed is the excitement around the game – the ball movement, wingers running down the sideline," he said.

Retro Round: Sea Eagles v Sharks - Grand Final, 1973

McCarthy looked upwards and smiled, as if he was again "seeing" Rabbitohs winger Terry Fahey racing down the flank.

"We'd run the ball on the last tackle. We'd attack the blind side from our own tryline as guys used to go there for a bit of a rest (in defence).

"We had another two wingers back then – Brian James and Michael Cleary – who were professional sprinters so we got the ball to them as quick as we could. They'd take off down field and away they'd go," McCarthy said.

"A lot of clubs had professional runners then. Now they use wingers as front-rowers to start sets.

"But I suppose the spectacular winger's try in the corner hasn't changed. In my day they weren't so acrobatic but they scored plenty of great tries, pretty often, like they do today."

Alexander also put wingers on his list of things remaining pretty much the same.

"Well they used to be 70 kilos and now they're 110, but wingers are still vital to finishing off a move – whether it's planned or unplanned.

"And halfbacks are still the game managers and can win the tight ones," Alexander said.

"The way the game is played may be a little different but that physical confrontation hasn't changed."

Retro Round: Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles - Grand Final, 1970

Alexander said the players who could do "that bit of brilliance" – from a Steve Rogers to a Latrell Mitchell – hasn't changed and continues to bring people through the turnstiles.

"There's still those individuals that capture the imagination of the crowd."

All three players nominated the props with second-phase play, and the wide-running back-rower, as something that emerged in the 70s and thankfully stayed.

"The game Wade Graham played last weekend was reminiscent of John Raper and Arthur Beetson. He was mercurial like those giants of the 70s were," McCarthy said.

McCarthy is too modest to say it but John Sattler once called him the "best forward in the world".

Back in those days back-rowers would stay in tight, attacking and defending close to the ruck. McCarthy was a trailblazer, a big man on the edge who would make incisive runs out in the centres. 

Bob McCarthy with modern-day Rabbitohs back-rower John Sutton.
Bob McCarthy with modern-day Rabbitohs back-rower John Sutton. ©NRL Photos

"Big 'Blocker' Roach came after us but he was in the same vein. I would have loved to have played with him. He would run upfield and always be looking for the off-load.

"Blokes like myself and Ron Coote adored those types of front-rowers as they made us look good."

McCarthy said forwards like Martin Taupau, Andrew Fifita, Sam Burgess, Curtis Sironen, Junior Paulo, and Tevita Pangai Jr were continuing the second-phase tradition.

So what is the one change from 1970s to the 2010s that hard-heads like Krilich and McCarthy don't like.

"Forwards should play 80 minutes and not 40 minutes," Krilich said.

"It's a detriment to our game. I really believe that's why a lot of injuries occur because you have blokes all the time coming fresh on to the field.

"Lower the interchange down by all means but once you're off, you stay off. Then you have a lot more Jake Trbojevics staying on the field and playing their guts out, rather than putting their hand up after 20 minutes."

McCarthy agrees and also rues the "many eyes" in increased technology.

"Front-rowers often won you games. They only had one camera so you could bash the crap out of someone," he said with a smile.

"You had to get over your opposite number and forwards never wanted to come off the field."

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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