‘ROBBIE REMINISCES………’

Rob Worthington’s excitement levels used to rise, around this time of the year.

He’d focus his attention on Wangaratta’s Country Week Cricket campaigns, and begin to assess player availability, the possible composition of the teams and the numerous other jobs that would facilitate the smooth functioning of the trips.

For almost 20 years Robbie was the ‘Backroom General’. He’d play a central role in a hectic whirl of WDCA representative fixtures, which included North-East Ensign Cup, Mac Holten Shield and Bendigo and Melbourne Country Weeks.

He became almost synonymous with the competition’s pursuit of success at the higher level. Scores and scores of players – many of them on the verge of outstanding careers – passed through his hands, and vouched for his enthusiasm and attention to detail.

Even now, more than a decade since his playing career wound down and he decided to hand over the reins, he’s still an avid follower of local cricket…………

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Rob learned the ropes at St.Mary’s Cricket Club, in Dandenong.

He rose through the ranks, from Under 16’s to A-Grade, making his mark as a fast-medium new-ball bowler and handy middle-order left-hand bat. The highlight of his twenty years of senior cricket in his home town, he reckons, was his first flag, on Dandy’s Shepley Oval, in 1971/72.

The Saints were a power club in the D.C.A, and he was to figure in another three premierships among a total of eight Grand Final appearances.

The last pennant came in 1986/87 – a fitting farewell from the club which had previously honoured him with Life Membership for his on and off-field services.

Two months later, he and wife Di – and their two kids – landed in Wangaratta. A steady stream of local cricketers ( me included ) beat a path to the door of the business they had acquired, West End Lotto, in a bid to lure the newcomer to their respective clubs.

Smooth-talking Bruck official Andy Walker secured his services. Robbie’s halcyon days had now passed him by, as he was rising 35, but he was to prove a more-than handy back-up to the new-ball combination of Russell Robbins, Steve Harries and the redoubtable Brian Fisher…………….

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His first Bendigo Country Week campaign was less than memorable……..”After being fortunate enough to get 3 wickets on the first day, I opened the bowling on the second and had a couple of wickets in my first two overs, then did a hammy. That meant I was in charge of the score-book for the rest of the Week,” he recalls.

“But I really enjoyed the experience. Playing in the city, you just didn’t get to savour that type of thing. There’s rep cricket, of course, but nothing to match a Country Week tour.”

Twangy hamstrings started to plague him, and he had to manage his body……and reduce his pace. He made one more trip to Bendigo as a player, then took over as Manager.

He’d been helping out with the Under 21 North-East Colts teams, and many of those lads formed the nucleus of the youth-orientated Bendigo squad.

At the time, a close-knit, happy-go-lucky group of youngsters were coming through, and they thought the world of Rob, who admits there was always a fair bit of revelry; but occasionally a few stern words, just to keep them in check.

One player recalls the pep-talk that he’d usually deliver on the eve of the opening Bendigo Country Week game …..: ‘Righto fellahs, it might be alright to have a few beers one night. But if you follow that up with another, it’s bad news…..It’s the cumulative effect that knocks you. Take it from me, you’ll struggle to last the Week’.”

“We ‘stitched’ Robbie up after the final game one year, though. He found himself in three different ‘schools’. Resultantly, it must have been a herculean effort to lift his head off the pillow the following morning. He wiped off the Vegemite that someone had pasted in his ears whilst he was sound asleep, and, right on the knocker of 7.30am, performed his final task for the week:

“This is Rob Worthington, reporting for 3NE, with the Bendigo Country Week match report…….”

“With admirable poise, he signed off and said : ‘Whadd’ya think boys. How’d I go over ?…..”

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Players like Leigh Hansen, Ash Gilbert, Shane Welch, Paul and Nathan Broster, Darren Petersen, Barry McCormick, Simon Hill and Jordan Wood were among the ‘younger breed’ of rep players of this era who went on to perform well in Victorian Premier Cricket, or its equivalent.

Two other highly-promising youngsters – Jaden Burns and Chris Tidd – both lost their lives whilst still playing Under- 21 rep cricket. Rob was keen to perpetuate their memory. For the past 27 years the WDCA’s outstanding young player has received the Award named in their honour.

Wangaratta won the B-Group title in 1994, but undoubtedly his most cherished moment at Bendigo was the A-Group crown they took out in 1999.

After being set a meagre 142 for victory against Kyabram, the match looked to be out of their reach when they’d slumped to 9/125. An 18-run last wicket stand between the match-hero, Ian Rundell and number 11, Chris Kenny, got them over the line, amidst raucous celebrations.

Much to Rob’s chagrin, the WDCA elected to bypass Bendigo Country Week the following year. He’d been Manager for 11 years, and regarded the experience that youngsters gained as ‘priceless’ for their development. He was rapt that the Association eventually decided to renew its link with Bendigo in 2017.

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After a lengthy spell with Bruck, he was considering retirement in his mid-forties, when he was approached to join Wang-Magpies, a move which elongated his career by several years, and provided him with a raft of cricketing thrills.

Not least of these were premierships in 1993/94 and 2003/04. The latter was of special significance, as the ‘Pies had come from 7th spot in mid-January, just fell into the four, then hit peak form at the right time.

They blasted through the highly-touted Corowa line-up for 93. Rob’s son Mark had grabbed the vital wicket of danger-man Rod Lane for 11, and from then on it was a procession. Mark took 3/22 off 15 overs, to share the bowling honours, and his ‘old man’ tied up an end, with 0/13 off 7. Wang-Magpies knocked off the required runs for the loss of four wickets.

Rob reckons watching his son emerge as a talented quick – and playing alongside him – was about as good as it gets.

He continued playing, on and off, until he finally hung up the boots, aged 58, and began following Mark’s District career, at Footscray and Geelong………

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Throughout the nineties, he’d been helping out with the North-East Cup team, and making regular trips to Melbourne to watch an occasional Country Week game. This morphed into him being a key component of the touring party.

He couldn’t think of a better way of spending his annual Leave ; one week at Bendigo and another at Melbourne. He became the off-sider to Managers Joe Pilkington, Graeme Kerr and Gary Lidgerwood, and would order Lunches, help with hit-ups, give rub-downs, score, drive the Bus and perform a myriad of other tasks.

He was even pressed into action, and made his Melbourne CW debut in 2004, aged 52, when a series of circumstances left the side in a pickle. “It was one of those weeks that you dread,” Rob says. “There were three wash-outs, and in the one completed game, four run-outs cost us victory.”

“Whatever happened though, you felt every bit a part of the team as the players. It was a great way to get to know blokes you played with and against. I saw some fellahs who were the toughest of competitors on the field, but when you socialised with them they were terrific.”

I ask him to pluck out some of the best rep players he saw in his two decades of involvement. It’s no surprise that he immediately plumps for the revered Barry Grant……

“He was as passionate about cricket as anyone I’ve met ( still is ) and he rose to the occasion in rep cricket. Some of the knocks he played in Melbourne, and in Ensign Cup matches, were terrific.”

“Rod Lane was a man of few words, but was a fine competitor and captain for many years…..There were few better all-round players than ‘Rocket’.”

“And the inimitable Darren Petersen…….Once he got going the runs came in a hurry. He treated the bowling with a minimum of respect, and was an excitement machine.”

“Of course there were the veterans like Brian Fisher, Gary Lidgerwood and ‘Psycho’ Carroll, and the other stars – Duane Kerwin, Rod Newton, Darren Grant, Paul Miegel, Ian Rundell and Jon Shaw…….”

In fact, whilst glancing through his extensive cricketing records, I come across a couple of teams he selected, comprising the star rep players from his time. He’s at pains to point out that it was purely subjective. Some had almost passed their peak when he arrived on the scene….some made only brief appearances before moving on…..others were just making their way in the game……..

I hope you don’t mind, Rob, if I publish your ‘Representative Teams From 1990-2008’……

TEAM No. 1

Barry Grant.

Darren Petersen.

Paul Broster.

Shane Welch.

Rod Newton.

Darren Grant.

Paul Miegel ( Wicket-Keeper )

Rod Lane.

Duane Kerwin.

Jon Shaw.

Ian Rundell.

Rod Gulliver.

TEAM No. 2.

Anthony Carroll.

Peter Tossol.

Simon Hill.

Joe Wilson.

Luke Norman.

Aiden Ryan.

Glenn Cousins. ( Wicket- Keeper )

Paul Lavis.

Ross Hill.

Gary Lidgerwood.

Brian Fisher.

Adam Booth.

Unlucky to miss: Jeremy Carr, Shane Norman, Craig Henwood. Andrew Wilson, Jon Townsend, Mark Higgs, Ashley Gilbert, Colin Smith, Michael Keenes, Peter Harvey, Andrew Hill, Mark Worthington, Chris Jones, David Diffey, Wayne Newton, Mick Lappin, David Lane.

Footnote: Rob Worthington’s contribution to representative cricket was acknowledged in 2004, when he was installed as a Life Member of the WDCA…..

‘ROCKET’

 

To his Corowa cricket team-mates he was ‘Harry’, the most important component in a premiership juggernaut . The ‘go-to’ man who could be relied upon to extract the side from a crisis with a big innings or a fiery 5-over spell.

To opponents he was ‘Rocket’, the unsmiling, aloof, taciturn leader, begrudgingly acknowledged as the first bloke you would pick in your ‘Dream Team’.

Many cricket followers in this area rated him the outstanding player of his generation – and possibly among the best in the WDCA’s long history.

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Rodney Lane grew up in a football environment. His dad, John, had been one of the old-style ‘tough-men’ of the Ovens and Murray League, who played in middle, or lower-ranked Corowa teams for most of his 253-game career.

‘Big John’ assumed the role as ‘protector’ for his less physically-adorned team-mates, and at 6’4″ and tipping the scales at 16 stone, he was a daunting opponent.

The two undoubted highlights in his lengthy spell at the John Foord Oval were Grand Final appearances. In 1963, Corowa were belted by Benalla, but in 1968 they caused a major boil-over in defeating raging-hot favourites, Wodonga.

It was the Spiders first flag for 36 years and a rich reward for the hard-toiling ruckman.
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‘Rocket’ was to make his own telling contribution with the merged combination – Corowa-Rutherglen – as a raw-boned, lanky centre half forward-cum ruckman with sharp elbows.

His 150-odd games were full of endeavour and featured one Grand Final appearance, in 1992, when the Kangaroos shocked Wang.Rovers in a thrilling Preliminary, but were not quite good enough to match Wodonga in the ‘big one’.

He played it hard, with shades of his old man’s spirit. And was an important component of those good ‘Roo sides of the ’90’s.

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But it was as a cricketer that Rodney Lane will live long in the memory. He and his older brother David were part of the inaugural Corowa Cricket Club, which made the move to the Wangaratta & District Association in 1985/86.

The reasoning was full of logic. There were many talented young cricketers in the area and, if they were to progress, they needed to be playing on turf – and in a higher-standard competition.

Two years earlier, the Rutherglen Association had played Wangaratta in a North-East Cup final. Many of the members of that team were to form the nucleus of the Corowa line-up which would take the WDCA by storm throughout a dominant era.

Within a couple of years the Lavis boys had been enticed from Balldale. Greg Hennessey joined from Cornishtown, the inimitable ‘Psycho’ Carroll came from Buraja and long-serving spinner Rod Gulliver was recruited from Rand.

They complemented the local talent, such as medium-pacer Michael Keenes, mercurial ‘Popeye’ Livingstone and that veritable run-machine, school-teacher John McPherson.

And in Rodney Lane they had an exciting prospect.

He had won selection in a VCCL team which played the West Indies at Wangaratta in early 1985 and showed enough to indicate that, indeed, he was out of the top-drawer.
After just two seasons – and 65 wickets – in the WDCA, he was recruited by Carlton.

He spent six years at Princes Park and played 63 matches, taking 136 District wickets. His accuracy and big heart impressed the Blues’ hierarchy and his development as a lower-order batsman was duly noted.

Three appearances for the Victorian Second XI proved that he was probably on the perimeter of State selection.

But he returned home in 1993 and settled back into life as a builder, Corowa-Rutherglen footballer and Ball Park regular.

In his absence, Corowa had won six straight flags and their reign of power in the WDCA was rivalling that of the great United sides of an earlier era.

But inexplicably, after some dominant batting performances during ‘Rocket’s’ comeback year, they suffered a dramatic batting collapse in the semi-final.

He had to wait until the following season – 1994/95 – to play in the first of his four premierships with the club. Rovers-United had compiled a challenging 181 and, after a good start, Corowa lost 3 quick wickets to be exposed at 5/112.

Was another clatter of wickets on the cards ?

No ! A Shane Norman-‘Rocket’ partnership of 71 guided them out of stormy waters to reach their target without the loss of another wicket.

A couple of worrisome batting performances in semi-finals over the next couple of seasons suggested a hint of mortality in the Border line-up, but they soon rectified this misconception by winning a hat-trick of flags to round out the millennium.

Paving the way a lot of the time was ‘Rocket’, who led by example with his captaincy.
Opponents found him to be an intimidating presence on the field. Some suggested that the strains of ‘white-line’ fever that he displayed were part of the family genes.

‘Rocket’s’ height, allied to a longish, stiff-limbed run-up, made him an awkward proposition to contend with, as he broached the crease.

His ability to get the ball around your solar-plexus from a good length was disconcerting. He rarely wasted a delivery and when you played and missed, you were met with a stony glare, which could make an edgy batsman decidedly uncomfortable.

Knee problems took the sting out of his bowling durability for a few years. But he was still capable of wrecking a batting line-up with an explosive spell.

Word spread around WDCA circles in the early 2000’s that his knee ‘op’ had been a success. There was trepidation when he again began to measure out the ‘long-run’.

His batting seemed to develop as the years wore on. The first impediment to a bowler who would prepare to launch into a delivery, was the big left foot that he planted down the wicket. He had a strong defence and a good array of shots. 7 club centuries and 30 half-centuries indicate how effective he was.

His twin ‘tons’ ( 111 not out against Central Gippsland and 103 against Warragul ) at Melbourne Country Week in 1999 put the stamp on his transition into a champion all-rounder.

WDCA officials were delighted to see his commitment to representative cricket. He captained Wangaratta at Country Week from 1996 to 2000, exhibiting sound cricketing nous.

He was still performing solidly for his side in 2011, when he decided to retire, aged 43. In his 257 WDCA games ‘Rocket’ had scored 6,681 runs and taken 384 wickets.

When you add the contribution of his brother David, who played 172 games, captured 330 wickets and featured in 10 premiership sides, you’ll see why Corowa have found it difficult to replicate the deeds of the Lane’s and the other superb players of their club’s Golden Era.

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