Lowe blow brings Aussies down
Kiwis create their own identity to end 12 years of TransTasman misery
WORKING ON CARS IN an Auckland workshop as an auto-electrician in 1974, Graham Lowe would get regular visits from his third-grade Otahuhu players.
The youngsters would imagine they were playing for the Kiwis and Lowe was the national team’s coach. They’d ask “Lowie” to come up with a game plan good enough to beat their Kangaroos heroes – the likes of RLW Immortals Bob Fulton and Arthur Beetson.
Fast forward to 1983 and Lowe had accepted the NZ head coaching role. And it just so happened four of those kids he used to coach were there, too – Mark Graham, Gary Prohm, and brothers Owen and Adrian “Nicky” Wright.
The Kiwis hadn’t beaten the Kangaroos since 1971, and Lowe knew it was because his countrymen were giving too much respect to the Roos.
“New Zealand has always had all these amazing players but whenever you mentioned Australia, they often shrunk into their shadow,” Lowe tells RLW.
“So we had to break down the invincibility mentality that we Kiwis looked at Australia with, and that’s what we did.
“That started for me back when I was first coaching those guys at Otahuhu. They’d all be wearing Manly, Wests and North Sydney jerseys to training because they idolised the players and the game over there so much.
“I used to say to them daily they were as good as the blokes they looked up to, and that they should be using those jerseys to wipe their cars down with instead . . . my goal was to create a new era of respect.”
So when he arrived at Lang Park with his team for the second Test in 1983, after they’d just been beaten convincingly yet again, he knew what he had to say.
“Before that game I took the whole thing to another level. I really worked on the emotional aspect a lot, the ‘little brother’ thing. I really played on the fact that we were never going to be given the respect to grow the game internationally if our best side couldn’t beat Australia.”
To make the assignment tougher, skipper Mark Graham was out injured, and the Kiwis were up against a freakish assembly of superstars headed by the Emperor of Lang Park himself.
“Wally Lewis was the greatest player I’d ever seen and we were playing in his backyard, but I had absolute faith in my guys,” Lowe says. “Even halfway through the second half of the first Test, I just thought ‘We’re stuffed here, we can’t win this, but I know we can win the next one if we make a couple of changes’, and we did.”
The final score was 19-12 with tries to James Leuluai, Joe Ropati and Graeme West, and three goals from Nicky Wright.
And while whipping them into a mouth-foaming frenzy was an important part of Lowe’s strategy, loosening the shackles was even more crucial, and it was a concept he conceived while toiling away in that Auckland garage.
“My appointment was a break from tradition. Before me it was always former greats coaching New Zealand – and they always coached with a very, very structured type of play,” he explains.
“I remember always thinking that was a negative type of play – it was a type of play that wasn’t allowing our guys to play to their full potential.
“I had blokes like Kurt Sorensen, who was one of the most explosive, damaging second-rowers the game has ever seen, so for them to play at their best you’ve got to have a game plan that allows that talent to shine through . . .
“To me, physically they could match anything Australia could do, just emotionally and mentally they were miles behind. So I just worked on the mental side of it, and the belief in one another and what we could do.
“International rugby league was starting to get robotic – everyone was looking to play the same way.
“So I said, ‘Australia plays their way, we’ve got to show them that there’s a New Zealand way of playing’.
“We tried to create a New Zealand identity of how to play international football, and I think we did it.”
RLW’s weekly look at footy’s famous moments “We had to show them there was a New Zealand way of playing”
KINGS OF THE CAULDRON Howie Tamati leads the Kiwis in a stirring rendition of the haka to celebrate their stunning 19-12 defeat of Australia at Lang Park.