Lowe blow brings Aussies down

Ki­wis cre­ate their own iden­tity to end 12 years of Tran­sTas­man mis­ery

Rugby League Week - - Flash Back: 1983 - BY JOE MCDONOUGH

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.

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