League Lookback: Coaching magic rubbed off on mighty Mick Argeros

*Hopefully one in a series of League Lookbacks, by Max Uechtritz

When you are coached by two of the greatest names in Rugby League, then the odds are that some of their magic will rub off on you – and it did with Mick Argeros who hoisted four premiership cups as captain-coach.

Clive Churchill. Harry Bath. Not a bad couple of mentors. Both legendary players and coaches. The ‘Little Master’ and ‘Immortal’ Churchill coached Argeros in the Gold Coast representative team and Bath did the same at Brisbane Souths. Mick Argeros was probably best known in Brisbane and Gold Coast league circles as captain-coach of one of the strongest ever country club sides, the star-studded Nerang Roosters team of 1978. It included Australian Test forward and UK Challenge Cup winner David Wright and two players who represented Queensland – from Nerang – that year, Ian Dauth and Bob Cock. That trio had walked out on Brisbane Brothers over contract disputes and, along with highly-regarded Brothers teammates John Short, Glen Frahm and Chris Ryan, joined Nerang at the beginning of the 1978 season.

Mick had been appointed to lead the Roosters well before those headline-grabbing signings. He told me in a video I produced for the 40th anniversary of that Roosters premiership – and again recently – how daunting it all was to suddenly be in charge of the Brisbane stars. But it was a measure of his maturity as a person and player-coach to quickly earn the utmost respect and loyalty of the newcomers. To me – a barely-20-years-old centre recruited by the Roosters from Gold Coast rugby union – Mick had seemed very much like a seasoned veteran way back then. I was bowled over this week when he told me he was only 25 at the time!

One of the first games we played had Mick butting heads with another legend of the game John Brass. A dual union and league international and Australian league captain, Brass was captain-coach of Tweed Heads Seagulls. Our pre-season knockout clash was only three years after Brass had starred with two tries in the famous 38-0 Sydney grand final rout of St George then skippered the Kangaroos in the 1975 World Cup match against New Zealand. Our clash with the Seagulls was closely fought with Brass’ team prevailing thanks largely to his massive boot continually getting the Seagulls out of trouble off their own line.

The Roosters went on to beat the Tugun Seahawks 26-5 in a tough grand final but the season was no cakewalk. The Gold Coast competition was strong, peppered with former and future representative players. Mick’s opponents as captain-coaches included former Canterbury and North Sydney star Peter Inskip (Southport Tigers), former English, Manly and North Sydney half Graham Williams (Burleigh Bears) and the tough and experienced NSW country player John Johnson who led Tugun to the grand final in their inaugural season. Former international David Wright says that the 1978 Nerang Roosters side was capable of winning the Brisbane premiership. That in itself reinforces how strong was the Gold Coast league in that era, given how most sides tested the Roosters during the season.

Grand Final Blues … the Roosters players from left are John Short, Bob Cock, David Wright. Night sure of the pair wrestling in the dust!

Mick was picked in the Gold Coast representative team and that’s where he was coached by Clive Churchill. Mostly remembered as an ‘Immortal’ and the fullback in the Team of the Century, Churchill was also a great coach. He took South Sydney to four premierships from five grand finals and coached Australia and Queensland. He steered the Maroons to a rare pre-origin series win over New South Wales. Apart from his football nous, Mick remembers a humble Churchill being central to team spirit and culture. On a personal side note, I was thrilled when The Little Master came along and coached our Gold Coast Colts rep side that year.

Mick moved back to Maryborough in 1979 – and immediately won another premiership as captain-coach. It was his third title and second with Maryborough’s Western Suburbs. He’d coached the 1976 premiership team as a 23-year-old. The team photo (below) shows two teammates with big futures, Bob Kellaway and Brad Backer, who both went on to play State of Origin for Queensland. Flying winger Backer was in the Maroons’ fabled first origin team in 1980.

While playing in Maryborough, Mick played for the Wide Bay Bulls representative team and was to figure in one of the greatest boilovers in the new State League competition in 1982. He scored the winning try in the 17-16 win over Mal Meninga’s Brisbane Souths. League journalist Steve Ricketts (whose website is a must for league fans) recorded the wrath of the Magpies coach, legendary Bob McCarthy who was quick to blame the referee (see below). SA highlight for Mick was that this game was the only time he got to play against his young brother Bill, pictured.

Mick wasn’t finished with winning premierships. In 1987, now aged 34, he nabbed his fourth when his Rovers team took out the title. In a small twist his opposite number that day with the Brothers team was former Wallaby prop Tony Darcy. Way back in 1978 Mick and a young ‘Darc’ had played one game together in that Nerang Roosters team. It was after Darc’s UK tour with the famous Australian Schoolboys rugby union team featuring the Ella boys and Wally Lewis – and before him joining Brothers and going on the win Wallaby honours. Darc and I had played together in an Under 19 premiership win with the Gold Coast Eagles and he joined me for that one game as my centre partner against Tugun. He must have used a ‘Micky Lane’ type pseudonym given union was amateur in those days. The photo below shows us both with Greg Wilkins looming. The other is of Mick’s Rovers premiership team.

Tony Darcy lunges for the ball, with myself as other end of tackle sandwich and hooker Greg Wilkins looming

Mick obviously took a lot from the likes of Churchill and Bath, who he played under at Brisbane Souths. Bath had coached Australia to World Cup glory twice (1968/1970), won two premierships with St George (1977/1979) and also coached Balmain and Newtown. Mick showed his willingness to learn even on the eve of the 1978 grand final when he brought legendary Queensland coach Bob Bax into the Roosters camp for some sage advice.

That anecdote – which Mick also told in the 40th anniversary video – and others in this blog says a lot about Queensland rugby league in that era. It was collaborative. It was robust, full of mavericks and stars of the day and of the future. It was the foundation of Queensland’s soon-to-be dominance in State of Origin. The country leagues may not have had shiny stadia and facilities but were punching above their weight. The best example of that is Queensland Country’s incredible performance in the 1979 Amco Cup, when they beat in succession three Sydney clubs (Newtown, Norths, Parramatta) before just losing their semi-final 8-5 to a star-studded Combined Brisbane. When I say stars, think Wally Lewis, Mal Meninga, Chris Close and John Lang for starters.

Sadly, there is very little digital footprint online about those years. Histories are being lost or forgotten. When I came across a box in the garage with some yellowing clippings from the years I played for Nerang and Burleigh, it led to nostalgia and a bit of unsuccessful googling about some of those big names who made such an impression on me. I was just a kid and my career was short thanks to a crippling knee injury, but even at the time I knew how lucky I was to rub shoulders with the likes of the people mentioned in this blog. When you found references to men who’d played at the highest levels in Sydney – like Inskip and Burleigh’s Garry Thomas, George Moroko, Ralph Michaels and, later, even Test star Gary Dowling- there were zilch mentions of their Gold Coast careers. Ditto for many who’d been top of the tree in the Brisbane competition. So, while I have a little time over the Xmas period, I’ll attempt to put together a few League Lookback blogs to redress that in a very minor way.

From left: Max Uechtritz (3), Wayne Farrelly, Peter Inskip passing, Keith Farrelly, maybe Robert Rice
Max Uechtritz (3), Peter Inskip on ground, perhaps Greg Anders , Ian Dauth
Max Uechtritz (3) tackling a Tugun player

Meantime, a few more photos from Mick Argeros’ 1978 Nerang Roosters and the excellent players they took on.

Marc Newman
From left for Nerang: Tony Darcy, David Wright, Ken Frahm , Greg Wilkins, ?, Max Uechtritz (tackling) with top GC referee Joe Ticehurst at the back.
Max Uechtritz (3) tackling fellow journalist John Anderson from Tugun
David Wright
Blog author
From left: Max Uechtritz (3) , Wayne Farrelly, Peter Inskip (passing), Keith Farrelly, possibly Robert Rice from Tigers

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