Rod Newton was a conglomeration of flailing legs and arms and contorting body parts when you were facing his left-arm ‘Chinaman’ bowling.
That he was able to drop the ball on a consistent length was a minor miracle. His style was reminiscent of the successful South African, Paul Adams, whose action, they said, resembled a ‘frog in a blender’.
Newton was a magnificent servant of his home club, Whorouly. He was a star footballer and a brilliant cricket all-rounder, who made his debut as a 12 year-old in 1972 and was still going around 42 years later.
Rod’s dad Bill, uncles Alan Newton and Brian and Stuart Elkington were all stalwarts of the footy and cricket clubs. Over the past couple of decades, Rod and his brother Wayne proved to be mainstays, as Whorouly’s cricketers battled the odds to remain competitive.
The sizeable Newton dairy farm is situated a couple of kilometres from the Oval, and Rod has spent most of his life criss-crossing between the two.
He once recalled the ‘apprenticeship’ he served, helping his uncle look after the ground and wicket.
“It was always dry by Christmas and I remember the first time I came in to play at the Showgrounds. I was so excited, my stomach was in knots. It was such a beautiful, green surface. ”
“We only had one team in those days, and about 12 players, so if a couple were unavailable I’d be roped in to play. ”
But he had plenty of good role models and soon showed enough in his brief innings’ to indicate that he was a star in the making.
The feisty, competitive streak that used to sometimes get up opponents’ noses, was on show early and he was difficult to dislodge.
He was an excellent on-side player with a good technique and would take charge once he got on top of the bowling.
“He was aggressive and tried to dominate you early. And he wasn’t frightened to loft you over your head,” one long-time rival recalled. “And if you dropped anything short he would hoik you through mid-wicket”.
“He did his block one day when he was given out caught behind first ball”, this adversary continued. “He reckoned he didn’t hit it. By the time he reached the boundary he had shed his pads, gloves and any other equipment he was wearing. And all the while, he was looking over his shoulder, muttering in the direction of the umpire. It was a memorable display.
“But one thing about Rod. For all his aggressiveness on the field, he was the first bloke to come and have a yarn and a drink with you after the game.”
From the time he was 18, Rod had become a consistent run-scorer and was recognised as one of the Association’s up-and-comers. He played at his first Country Week in 1981, one of 12 trips he was to make to Melbourne.
Two years later he won selection in a VCCL/North East XI which played the New Zealand ‘A’ Team in Wangaratta.
It wasn’t until the mid-part of his career that he re-invented himself as an all-rounder. A natural right-hander, he taught himself to bowl left-arm spin and began to take plenty of wickets.
Brian Hargreaves, who kept wickets for Whorouly during this time, said that Rod always believed he’d take a wicket with his next ball. “With his action, he was hard to read. He liked to throw the ball up and had a good wrong-un and got good bounce. And he didn’t like it much if you dropped a catch off him”, he joked.
His biggest thrill came in March, 1982, when Whorouly broke through to win their first WDCA flag in seven years. He liked that premiership feeling and could reasonably have expected to repeat the dose a few more times during his career.
But it wasn’t to be. They were runners-up in the following two seasons and twice again in the mid-nineties.
The Grand Final of 1995/96 left a sour taste, as weather intervened and Whorouly were left with about an hour and a half to chase down a large Rovers-United total. Years later, Rod was still livid about the injustice of the finals system.
He scored six centuries, including a career-best 138, but has a soft-spot for an innings of 87 that he scored against Rovers-United at Whorouly in 1990. The Hawks had set a target of 271 and the Maroons, fired by Newton’s superb stroke-play, scored at seven an over for the last 28 overs to chase down the total.
Perhaps one compensatory factor for the solitary WDCA flag that he shared, was that he was a member of 8 North-East Cup-winning teams over a 20-year period. He had a few memorable performances in Cup finals, but one that stands out, came in 1994.
Wang had been placed in a perilous position in pursuit of Benalla’s 8/173. A clutter of middle-order wickets at the Gardens Oval saw him take charge of proceedings. His unbeaten 48 guided his side home – nine wickets down and with two balls to spare.
Two years later he top-scored with 58 against Albury, then, just as the home team were sailing along comfortably, he and Peter Tossol wrecked their lower order, to clinch victory.
Rodney Newton’s record stacks up, with the best of all-time. He scored 9318 runs and took 419 wickets in 415 A-grade matches with Whorouly. He was a four-time winner of the WDCA’s Cricketer of the Year Award and also won the Chronicle Trophy in 1994/95.
The Newton clan played an integral part in the ongoing fortunes of the Whorouly Football Club. Bill chalked up 295 senior games in the Maroon and White guernsey. Wayne was a 200-Gamer and Rod made more than 160 senior appearances.
Rod was enticed to have a run with the Wang. Rovers in 1981 and showed a fair bit as a creative half forward in his 3-year stay at the Findlay Oval. The Hawks were sorry to see him go after 49 games, but knew that his heart lay at Whorouly.
He had been the ‘baby’ of Whorouly’s 1977-’78 premiership sides, under Norm Bussell’s coaching, and was a seasoned campaigner when Billy McMillan led them to another flag in 1989.
His wife, Kerrie won a swag of best and fairests in a terrific netball career and daughter Kristy is following in her footsteps, having taken out the Rovers ‘A’ Grade award last year.
The Newtons lived the AFL ‘dream’ when son Michael, a high-flying forward, was drafted by Melbourne. Often hampered by injury, his interrupted five-year stint with the Demons produced 28 senior games and some sensational aerial displays.
Michael moved to SANFL club Norwood in 2012. He recovered from a knee reconstruction to figure prominently in the club’s third successive premiership last year.
Sport and dairy-farming have dominated Rod Newton’s life and he wouldn’t have it any other way. He has no regrets…but another couple of cricket premierships would have been handy.