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American tour - 1953

Discussion in 'Sports Trivia' started by roopy, Jun 5, 2003.

  1. roopy

    roopy Referee

    May 24, 2003
    Likes Received:
    I have already posted these articles on LWOS, but this looks a better spot for them.
    As I said in another thread, I stopped researching this subject when a journalist asked me to stop because he is going to write a book on the subject, but since these ones are already up, there is no harm in repeating them.
    You can see about the book here;

    As you can see, the journalist has contacted some of the players and got their firsthand accounts, which should make for a great read.

    I'll put up some more articles in a few days.


    Rugby League administrators are not generally known for their devil-may-care approach to spreading the game to new countries or for taking financial risks to help promote the game, but one nearly forgotten League tour of Australia was both financially risky and incredibly bold in promoting the game. The tour in question was the 1953 tour of Australia by the American All Stars team. The most incredible fact related to this tour is that not one of the Americans had ever played the game, in fact, only one member of the touring party had ever seen the game played before they arrived in Australia.
    The idea for the tour came to the American tour organiser, Mike Dimitro, when he witnessed a game of Rugby League between Australian troops in PNG during WW II. Dimitro was a twice All-American gridiron player when in college and went on to become a professional gridiron player after the war.
    Dimitro gathered together a diverse group of athletes, mostly from around his home state of California. The average age of the tourists was 24 and the oldest man was 29. The group came from many different backgrounds; Bob Buckley was a 20 year old student from Brooklyn University; Harold Han was an Hawaiian native who played gridiron and studied at a Californian University; prop Xavier Mena took leave from his highly paid career as an architect to tour; Bill Albans was an Olympic standard athlete who had competed for USA and was said to be able to run the 100 yards in 9.5 seconds; Al Abajian was a medical student in his last semester at USC; halfback Ted Grossman was a movie stuntman and body double for Clark Gable; lock Jack Bonetti was a Catholic All-American and had played Union for three years at Stanford University; deadly accurate goal kicker and 5/8 Gary Kerkorian had played Union for two years with Pittsburg Athletics. Dimitro claimed that all his men had played Union and several, including himself, were professional gridiron players.
    The American team was the biggest and heaviest team seen in Australia to that point, with only three of the forward weighing in at under 95 kg. Props Xavier Mena, Pat Henry and Vince Jones were all around 110 kg and all over 190 cm tall. This pack would compare in size to a modern day pack, but were veritable giants when compared to Australian players of the era.
    The tour began with several well publicised training runs and a trial game against an army side. The tourists impressed all who watched with their athleticism and handling skills as well as the power and aggression of their forward play. The American forwards were said to approach the line like bulldozers and to never submit to a tackle without putting their shoulder into the tackling players. The most novel aspect of their play was the so-called ‘pitch pass,’ where they would throw the ball up to 50 yards across the field with deadly accuracy to a player who would take the pass at full speed.
    The Americans played a few games against country teams before, in what looks in hindsight to be a terrible blunder on the part of tour organisers, they were matched up against a full strength NSW side featuring the skills of none other than the man many believe to be the greatest ever League player, Clive Churchill. The Americans were defeated easily in a game where it became obvious to a very large crowd that the NSW team was nursing along the Americans to keep them in the game.
    The credibility of the tour was shot to pieces after this game, but the Americans went on to complete a gruelling schedule of matches that saw the 20 man squad lining up for two games a week over a seven week tour of Australia and then play an eight game tour of New Zealand. Several of the games saw the Americans perform well against good opposition, including a close loss against a full strength Queensland team and a good win over a strong Newcastle side. All their games were well attended.
    The greatest regret for League fans is that the American All Stars improved every game and were starting to look like they could be a truly competitive team by the end of the tour, but poor scheduling and a lack of follow up on this tour cost us a superpower of the game developing as far back as 1953.

    Newcastle Sun, April 16th 1953.

    U.S Rugby League Tour Could Cause Storm

    Sydney; The visit by an American Rugby League team to Australia could result in the biggest internal storm the game here has known.

    If the tour fails the League would find itself with a heavy financial responsibility. Club officials would place full blame on the Australian Board of Control, with reorganisation of its personnel inevitable.
    If the tour succeeded, the board, of course, would be men of business acumen assured of their positions.
    A large section of Rugby League officials feel they have been held in ignorance of happenings over the tour. They can't make up their minds whether it is to take place or not.
    Many will be wrathful with the board if the tour isn't a success.
    Board of Control officials will discuss the tour during their annual meeting which opens in Brisbane tonight. The board also will discuss a report by English president Bernard Manson on incidents in the third Test, won by the Kangaroos on the recent tour.

    Newcastle Sun, April 23 1953

    Airline Cancels Seats For American League Side

    Los Angeles, Mon. (O.S.R.): Pan-American Airways announced that tentative reservations for a Rugby League team to fly to Australia on May 17 had been cancelled.

    The airline announced today that the reservations had been cancelled because promoter Mike Dimitro had failed to meet his obligations in completing payment of fares for his team.
    Dimitro, the organiser of the tour, had been given until yesterday to complete payment of air fares to Australia after depositing 400 dollars when he made the booking.
    As late as yesterday Dimitro said: "Tell them in Australia there is no hitch in the American Rugby League plan."
    Dimitro had been asked for comment on reports that hitches appeared to have developed concerning the tour.
    Dimitro added, "We are leaving here on May 17 with 22 good, big, fast boys and we are going to show them wide-open Rugby like the French did in 1951."
    "We have selected boys with lots of speed, some with colledge football experience and a few professionals."
    "The average age of the players is 24, with the oldest man 29. The American team is coming down-under to show them what really wide-open Rugby is like." added Dimitro.
    In Sydney today Australian Board of Control chairman Harry Flegg said the news of the cancellation was surprizing to him.
    "But the Americans will still be here next month - you can be definate about that." declared Mr Flegg.
    "The tour has caused many problems and great bitterness, but I am certain it will eventuate."
    Mr Flegg said there had never been any request from Dimitro that the outward fares be paid by Australia.
    The fact that Dimitro has not sought financial aid from Australia was puzzling In view of the fact that he has not been able to pay the airfares on the dead-line.

    Newcastle Sun, April 23 1953

    Conflicting Reports On American R.L. Tour

    Sydney: Conflicting reports on the proposed American Rugby League tour of Australia continued today

    In a cable to the Australian Board of Control, organizor Mike Dimitro said the team would leave on May 16 following a switch of airlines.
    A Los Angeles message quotes a university coach as saying he knew of only three players who had accepted invitations to join the Sydney-bound party.
    Board of Control secretary, Harold Matthews, said it now appeared as if all doubts regarding the tour had been eliminated.
    At Brisbane Q.R.L. officers are "pretty certain the tour won't come off."
    Early this week Dimitro named 18 players whom he said had been chosen, adding that the team eventually would number 22 or 23.
    Todays Los Angeles message says that Rugby Union players, mainly university students, had been approached by Dimitro to join the party for Australia, but examinations and other committments caused many of those approached to decline the invitations.

    Airlines Switch

    Yesterday Pan-American Airways at Los Angeles announced that reservations for the party on a plane leaving Los Angeles on May 17 had been cancelled.
    Dimitro's cable received by the Board of Control today said he had switched to Canadian Pacific Airlines and that the team would leave on May 16 and arrive on May 20. He added that a letter explaining the move was following.

    Newcastle Sun, April 30 1953

    U.S. Player Keen On League Tour
    LOS ANGELES, Sun. (A.A.P.) – An American footballer said today that he was so keen on going on the Rugby League tour of Australia he would give up 50 dollars (22pounds Aus.) a day as an Architect.
    The Player, Xavier Mena, said he had obtained three months leave from his firm to play with the team that promoter Mike Dimitro is organising for the tour.
    The team is booked to leave on May 16.
    Dimitro said today expences, including plane fares, would run to 4500 dollars (aus. 2000 pounds) for each of the team.
    He said 22 players would make the trip. All had been signed up for the tour.
    Most of the players had <st1:place>Rugby</st1:place> experience, gained mostly in California, ranging up to six years, Dimitro added.

    Eight Six-footers In U.S. Rugby League Team
    SYDNEY; Eight six-footers are included in the American Rugby League team, which arrives at Mascot airport tonight for an Australian tour.
    The team is the biggest and heaviest ever to come to Australia, with only three forwards under 15st. and one under 14.7.
    The three wingers include the tallest man in the team, 6ft. 4in. Bill Albans.
    Albans is reported to be a fast runner with a good sprint record in college athletics.
    Confusion is likely to arise by the presence of Al. E. Kirkland, a centre, and Al. D. Kirkland, a lock forward, in the team.
    Organiser of the tour, Mike Dimitro, has listed himself as a second row forward. He weighs 15.10.
    The full committee of the N.S.W. League will greet the Americans on arrival tonight and the players will begin training at Coogee Oval tomorrow morning.
    They will be coached by Kangaroo manager N. Robinson and leading referee Jack O’Brien will instruct them on interpretations of the rules.

    Newcastle Sun, May 19 1953

    U.S. Likely to Invite RL Teams
    Sydney; Australian and N.Z. Rugby League teams will be invited to America as a result of the Americans’ current tour of Australia.
    Manager and second row forward Mike Dimitro said this today. He and his team arrived by air last night.
    Dimitro said an organisation would be established in America to control and expand Rugby League.
    He said an Australian team would be able to play in 10 states.
    It would take two matches and a fortnight’s activity to get his men “right into the groove.” he added.
    Rugby League attitude here is that no matter whether the Americans are good, bad or indifferent, it is a start and can lead to a big future in the game between the two countries.
  2. roopy

    roopy Referee

    May 24, 2003
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    More articles

    Newcastle Sun

    Americans Will Not Seek Replacements

    Sydney; Permission for replacements during matches will not be sought by the American Rugby League team during its Australian tour.

    Manager Mike Dimitro said today that the team wanted to play Rugby League in strict accordance with the rules.
    "The rule says no replacements - so that is the way it will be." said Dimitro.
    Dimitro today ordered a private practice session for his players.
    The team trained this morning at Coogee Oval, and Dimitro then decided to take them to another ground for this afternoon's run.
    Dimitro said he wanted the team to work out moves and be able to concentrate on what they were being told.
    The Americans will be a spectacular team. The accurate way they can hurl a pass for 40 yards should enable them to open up bright attacking moves.
    Olympic games representative Bill Albans, who breaks evens any time he sprints over 100 yards when in training, is keen to play on the Cricket Ground. Team mates say that Albans is easily the fastest man in American gridiron and has had experience in Rugby Union.
    He probably will mark Ian Moir in the Sydney match on Saturday week. Their clash would provide an interesting contrast.
    The organisation of the match at Canberra, which opens the American tour next Wednesday, has been handed over by the Board of Control to the Country League. The match will proceed as planned.

    Newcastle Sun

    American R.L. Team At Canberra
    SYDNEY; The American Rugby League team left mascot for Canberra this morning confident of a good showing in the first match against Southern Division.
    The Americans are fielding a strong team, but are reserving several of the star players for Saturday's game in Sydney.
    Leading Referee Jack O'Brien flew to Canberra with the Americans.

    Newcastle Morning Herald, April 15 1953

    Assurance On U.S. R.L. Team

    SYDNEY. Monday, - The Chairman of the New South Wales Rugby League (Mr. H. Flegg) said to-night that the American League team would carry out its proposed tour of Australia.
    The team is scheduled to arrive in Sydney on May 20.
    Mr. Flegg gave his assurance after Western Suburbs delegate, L. Moses, had asked if there were any truth in reports throwing doubt on the tour taking place. Mr. Moses also asked whether the League knew whether the Americans were conversant with the code.
    Welsh Coach
    Mr. Flegg replied that the American team manager, Mr. M. Dimitro, had assured the Board of Control that the game had been played in America for the past three years. The former Welsh international, Welsh, had been coaching the American team for some time. Welsh had now given up the job.
    Mr. Flegg said that Mr. Dimitro had declined aid from Australia to send out a coach for the team.
    Mr. Dimitro had claimed that the American team did not need a coach.
    Mr. Flegg said the Board of Control had investigated Mr. Dimitro. It was satisfied he was a competent team manager. There was no suggestion that Mr. Dimitro was anything but sincere in the offer of the tour.
    Mr. Flegg said that as far as the board knew, the American team had booked their air fares.

    Newcastle Morning Herald, April 25 1953

    U.S. League Side Visit "Certain"
    SYDNEY, Thursday - The American Rugby League team was due in Sydney on May 20, the secretay of the Australian board of control, Mr. H. Matthews, said to-day.
    Mr. Matthews said the board had received a cable from Mike Dimitro, manager of the American All Stars.
    Mr. Dimitro, in the cable, said he had switched the plane reservations to Canadian Pacific airlines and was scheduled to leave the United States on May 16.
    Mr. Matthews said it now appeared certain the tour would take place.

    Newcastle Morning Herald, May 19 1953.

    U.S. Rugby Team In Sydney

    Sydney, Monday. - The American Rugby League team, which arrived at Mascot airport to-night, is the tallest ans heaviest ever to visit Australia.
    The President of the Board of Control (Mr. H. Flegg) and an American Vice-Consul, Mr. Burn, officially welcomed the team.
    The team includes eight men over 6ft. Only three forwards are under 15st. and one under 14.7. The three wingers include the tallest man in the team, 6ft 4in Bill Albans.
    Mr. Dimitro, the team manager, who listed himself as a second-row forward, weighs 15st 10lb.
    Mr. Dimitro said at no stage was the tour in doubt, and described reports that he had difficulty in raising the fare as "entirely false."
    "I guaranteed the 20,000 dollars for the fares." he said.
    "None of the boys has played Rugby League, but all have played Rugby Union. We hope to learn the League rules in the eight days before our first match."
    Mr. Dimitro said team members had played together since March 15, and had practised five days a week. They received advice from Frank Clark, a former English Rugby League player.
    Mr. Dimitro said in its matches in Australia the team would not wear padding, but would wear knee-length pants in wet weather and shorts in fine weather.
    Asked how the tour originated, Mr. Dimitro said he watched Rugby League played when he was in New Guinea during the war with an American amphibious force.
    "I thought it a good game, and made arrangements to get an American team together." he said.
    The team will train at 9.30 AM, tomorrow at Coogee Oval. It will be coached by the Kangaroo manager (N. Robinson). Leading referee Jack O'Brien will instruct on interpretations of the rules.
    The team will play its first match of the tour in Canberra on Wednesday week, and its opening Sydney Cricket Ground match against Sydney on the following Saturday. It will play at Newcastle on June 13.

    Newcastle Morning Herald, May 20 1953

    U.S. League Players Show Crowd Appeal
    SYDNEY, Tuesday. - The American All Stars Rugby League players impressed critics in their first training run at Coogee Oval this morning.

    The visitors displayed some loose ends - mainly in playing the ball and scrummaging.
    Critics claim the Americans will probably excel the "crowd appeal" of the Fijian Rugby Union players who toured Australia last season.
    The Americans, who arrived in Sydney just last night, displayed amazing ball sense. Although some of the passes were very low, hardly one was dropped.
    They intrigued the crowd with a bout of long passing. Some of the passes thrown by the forwards travelled 40 yards.
    Their coach (Norman Robinson), who was co-manager of the Kangaroos on their successful tour of England, said he was pleased with the Americans, none of whom has played League before
    Robinson said most of the players had taken part in Rugby Union matches and had no idea of playing the ball.
    The backs handled and passed the ball in a style reminiscent of the Frenchmen.
    Most impressive was the right winger, Bill Albans, a former Olympic representative, who is credited with running the 100 yards in 9.5 seconds.
    The team manager (Mike Dimitro) said his players were "broke," but would have 12 pounds a day expenses "when we get organised."
    "We will get around to giving the boys some 'dough' when we get organised, but right now we are all concerned with getting into top shape."
    This afternoon, the Americans saw the New South Wales team train at the Sydney Cricket Ground and met the players.
    They were keenly interested in the play the ball and scrum work by the New South Wales stars.
  3. brook

    brook First Grade

    May 26, 2003
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    The greatest regret for League fans is that the American All Stars improved every game and were starting to look like they could be a truly competitive team by the end of the tour

    LOL is it possible the Americans improvement could at least in part be put down to the fact that they had balmain players turning out for them? ;-)

  4. roopy

    roopy Referee

    May 24, 2003
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    From memory they had a squad of 20 players and played about twice a week for 3 months. This was a really trying schedule, and it is not surprizing they couldn't keep it up.
    Towards the end of the tour they were using ring ins more and more often.
    They had to leave one of their best players in a hospital in north Qld when he came down with polio, and many of the guys picked up injuries due to playing an unfamiliar game I would think.
    It is true that they struggled more and more as the tour went on, but they had a couple of good results early on when they beat a Newcastle side with six state players and had a close game against a fullstrength Qld side.

    For a bunch of guys who never played before they did an amazing job, and I think League missed a big chance to get another international side up and running by not following up on this tour.
  5. brook

    brook First Grade

    May 26, 2003
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    not bagging the tour really just thought i'd bring up some info that hadn't been posted as yet and that (given the source) most of the people here probably hadn't read.
  6. roopy

    roopy Referee

    May 24, 2003
    Likes Received:
    I thought that was your intent, and thanks for the info.
    I just couldn't let it pass without putting in my 2c worth on the subject, because it is a bit negative (not your fault or intent I'm sure).
  7. roopy

    roopy Referee

    May 24, 2003
    Likes Received:
    Newcastle Morning Herald, May 22 1953


    Newcastle Rugby League will need fine weather and a bumper gate if it is to clear expenses on the visit of the American team on June 13.
    The Americans, by agreement with the Board of Control, receive 65 percent of the gate, and the board 5 percent.
    As the Newcastle City Council takes 12 1/2 percent of the gate as rental, the Newcastle League is left with 17 1/2 percent to pay local expenses and entertain the visitors.
    Delegates from the Country League will meet the Board of Control in Sydney tonight in an effort to have the board's 5 percent eliminated for Country games.
    The Secretary of the Newcastle League (Mr. O'Sullivan) said last night that the League would need its percentage on the best part of 1000 pounds to make a small profit.
    he estimated that a dinner would cost around 80 pounds, insurance 40 pounds, and a set of jerseys 35 pounds. Other expenses would be for ground staff, referees, staging early games and other entertainment for the Americans, who will be in Newcastle from the Saturday morning till they leave for Coff's Harbour at 11 pm on the Sunday.
    Against France in 1951 the net gate was 2626 pounds, of which France took 1706 pounds.
    The special committee organising the visit would meet at the League rooms early next week to arrange the programme, Mr. O'Sullivan said.
    Unless the Americans learn quickly, under the current expert coaching they are receiving Newcastle's chance of a good gate will depend on the novelty of their mixture of Gridiron and League football.
    Newcastle, however, is fortunate because the Americans will have played five games before coming here. They will have a chance to learn the code and will not have played enough games for the novelty of their visit to have worn off.

    Newcastle Herald, May 26 1953

    Americans Beat Army Side, 41-10

    SYDNEY, Monday. - The American Rugby League team today defeated a Royal Australian Engineers' team by 41 points to 10 at Casula.
    Although allowed some latitude by the referee, the Americans often showed brilliant form and threw the ball about in a manner which reminded many of the French team which toured in 1951.
    The Army side was not of particularly high standard, but some of the Americans' tries would have been good in any company.

    Note - This appears to have been a practice game and doesn't seem to be counted in the tour records.

    Newcastle Morning Herald, May 28 1953

    Impressive Win By U.S. Team

    Canberra, Wednesday. - The American All Stars Rugby League football team today defeated Southern Districts in their first official match in Australia.
    Trailing 20-8 at halftime the Americans scored six tries to one in the second half and won by 34 points to 25.
    Considering the team had had only eight days training since arriving in Australia it played remarkably well as a combination and showed keen football sense.
    The Americans were unlucky to lose winger Billy Albins, who suffered concussion early in the first half. He was treated at the Canberra hospital, but returned to Sydney with the team later tonight.
    Referee Lenient
    The referee, J. O'Brien, of Sydney, was lenient in his handling of the game, with the result that although many of the Americans were guilty of many minor breaches of the rules the play was open and fast.
    Best player for the Americans, if not the best on the field, was the five-eighth, A.L. Kirkland (sic), who scored four tries and made openings for at least another two.
    He was everywhere on the field when required and gave an untiring display. He was well supported by the centre, Gary Kerkoria, and the lock, A.D. Kirkland.
    Best player for Southern Districts was the fullback, K. Beazley (big Kim?), of Wollongong, who kicked five goals.
    A record crowd of between 7000 and 8000 saw the match, which was played under ideal conditions.

    Newcastle Sun
    U.S. Team May Be Allowed Replacements
    CANBERRA (O.S.R); Australian Rugby League Board of Control will discuss allowing the Americans to use replacements for injured players throughout their tour.
    With a limited number of these fast and zealous Americans available it seems the right action for the board to take.
    Two board members, George Ball and Johnny Quinlan, who watched yesterday’s match against Southern Districts, said the board would consider the replacement question at their next meeting.
    The importance of approving replacements was obvious after winger Bill Albans had been injured in the first half yesterday.
    For 30 minutes America had no cover from the scrum base as second-rower Jack Bonetti had to go out to the flank and Southern led 20-8 at half-time.
    The difference was striking when Al Abajian was substituted in the second half and the Americans scored 26 points.
    Rugby League personalities were highly impressed by the Americans’ quick mastering of a relatively strange game.
    Points that impressed one particularly in the Americans’ game were their clean play and sharp condition, which enabled them to finish the 80 minutes at top pressure: intense backing-up and understanding acquired in so short a period: cool direction of their long spiral throw to team mates in the clear: refusal to give away possession so strenuously won in scrums – full-back Kauffman kicked only once: the sporting manner in which they remained on the field at the finish to cheer their opponents and then cheerfully sign hundreds of autograph books.

    Newcastle Morning Herald, May 28 1953
    Haslam In Team Against U.S.
    Sydney, Wednesday. – Metropolitan selectors tonight chose a strong team to meet the American All Stars at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday. The team contains six Kangaroos.
    Former Newcastle player, Ben Haslam, has been chosen in the second-row. He will partner Kangaroo Arthur Collinson – another former Newcastle player.
    The selectors have shown a preference for youth in choosing the team. They have included 20-year-old centre Ron Taylor, who will be playing his first big representative match.
    The possible highlight of the match will be the clash between speedy wingers, Ian Moir, and United States decathlon representative Bill Albans.
    The team is: C. Churchill (Captain), N. Pidding, G. Martin, R. Taylor, I. Moir; five-eighth, R. Sullivan; half, K. Holman; forwards L. Cowie, A. Collinson, B. Haslam, R. Bull, K. Kearney, L. Hudson, Reserves; B. Stenhause, K. Slattery.

    Newcastle Morning Herald, May 30 1953
    Big Gate Likely At League
    Sydney. Friday. – Rugby League officials expect a big crowd of 60,000 to see the American Rugby League team play Sydney to-morrow.
    The match will be played at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
    Interest in the match has been high following the All Stars win against Southern and Monaro divisions last Wednesday.
    The American manager (Mike Dimitro) today predicted his ‘boys’ would play a fast, hard, clean game.
    Their unorthodox methods of passing the ball and their phenomenal backing up are certain to capture the Sydney crowds.
    The Sydney team has also been instructed to throw the ball about, and this should provide a fast, entertaining match.
    Churchill Bogey
    The American players have been instructed to keep the ball away from Kangaroo captain, Clive Churchill, as much as possible. They saw Churchill play at his best last Saturday to pave the way for a N.S.W. win over Queensland.
    Dimitro said the Americans were pinning a lot of faith in their brilliant centre, Al Kirkland, and the ‘bulldozer’ tactics of the forwards.
    The Sydney Cricket Ground crowd tomorrow will probably see a softening-up process among the forwards not previously used with such intensity in Australia.
    The American system is, when cornered, to hit their tackler with the shoulder. This process ‘softened up’ the Southern forwards last Wednesday, and allowed the American forwards to run.
    This match will be refereed by Jack O’Brien, who has been selected by the Australian Board of Control to referee all the Americans’ matches in Australia.
  8. GBT

    GBT Juniors

    May 24, 2003
    Likes Received:
    They wore an interesting looking uniform, more gridiron in style than Rugby League.
  9. roopy

    roopy Referee

    May 24, 2003
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    They wore the long pants because most of them ended up with skinned knees after the first game, not being used to being tackled on grass.

    The funniest thing was one of them made up a nose guard so he didn't get his nose broken. It looked a bit like a Hanibel Lector mask strapped around his head, but only came down to his top lip.
  10. GBT

    GBT Juniors

    May 24, 2003
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    Roopy, there's a section about the tour in "The Story of Australian Rugby League" - it includes a team photo.
  11. kier

    kier Juniors

    Jun 4, 2003
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    Another interesting aside to this story is the switch one of the Canadian provincial RUs to RL in the 1950s.

    The move wasn't given much support by either Aus or GB (no suprise there really :evil: ) and only survivied for a few seasons.

    I have an article in the UK magazine "Our Game" about it........it's probably in one of the many (still) unpacked tea chests I've got. I'll try to dig it out and scan it.
  12. mud n blood

    mud n blood Juniors

    Aug 15, 2003
    Likes Received:
    Here's a piece written for our local Qld Cup program last year .....

    By ###########

    It was precisely this week exactly half a century ago that Queensland rugby league patrons were treated to perhaps one of the most entertaining – yet definitely different ! – visiting rugby league tours of all time. The American “All Stars” hit Australian shores in 1953 with a bang, treating crowds to a most unique and exciting variation of the greatest game. Playing 26 games during a three month ground-breaking tour of Australia and New Zealand, the Americans thrilled big Australian crowds with their athleticism, speed, toughness and ball skills. Rugby league fans flocked to these matches during the tour, which sometimes resembled more of a travelling circus full of rock stars, than a serious international rugby league tour.

    The “All Stars” continually tantalised and excited Australian crowds, with long gridiron passes across field and set gridiron scrimmages during matches. They became household names and football stars in their own right during the tour, as post-war Australia and New Zealand went crazy over footballers from places as exotic as Hawaii, Oklahoma and California. Such was the hysteria in some areas, screaming girls forced the tourists to change hotels and training schedules. Wearing royal blue jerseys emblazoned with stars, and red and white stripes down the sides, the “All Stars” actually took the field donning American gridiron pants for the first two tour games, before standard shorts were adopted.

    In hindsight, other than the novelty value of “yanks” playing rugby league, the tour was doomed from the outset, with none of the 22 “All Stars” ever having played rugby league previously. Most had not even heard of the 13-a-side code before the tour, so it was far too ambitious to think a team of novices could be competitive against one of the most powerful rugby league nations. And the Americans’ inexperience showed, winning only 3 and drawing 2 matches from 18 in Australia, and winning 3 and losing 5 in New Zealand. They also scored 563 points and conceded 777 points while on tour, most of which were scored by a very capable Gary Kerkorian. As it turned out, one of the “All Stars”, Alvin E. Kirkland returned to Sydney in 1956, where he played all 18 first grade matches for Parramatta, and scored 4 tries. He started the season at wing, but mainly played centre and five-eighth. The following season he moved to England, where he played the season with Leeds.

    Tour manager Mike Dimitro, a previously outstanding American gridiron player himself, and now professional wrestling promoter, had been in Australia during the Second World War, where he was involved in wrestling and boxing promotion within the armed forces. After being approached by the Australian Board of Control about a possible tour, he set about bringing together a team of gridiron Rose Bowl players from Stanford, USC and UCLA and several other pro teams - including a future NFL Championship winner, a Hollywood stuntman and an Olympic decathlete – and called them the “American Rugby League All Stars”. After breaking the news to his “All Stars” that they were going to be playing a game called rugby league while on tour, a squad of more than 50 then prepared for the 13-a-side game in a training camp. One saving grace was that a few of the “All Stars” were actually familiar with rugby union during their time at university.

    However, many of his prospective tourists were less than eager to be playing a game they were not familiar with, and especially one without helmets and pads. Even though Dimitro explained that the game was simple, and only required strength, speed and ball-skill, squad numbers dropped alarmingly. So desperate did the situation become, that two emergency players actually arrived in Australia the day of the first official tour match, to build up tour numbers. Dimitro also engaged Norm Latchem Robinson, the co-manager of the 1952/53 Kangaroos, as official tour coach, to guarantee the “All Stars” would at least be competitive on-field.

    After being in the country for only a week and practicing twice daily, the “All Stars” amazingly won a trial match against a team of army engineers, before the official tour began in earnest the next day with a surprising 34-25 win over Monaro & Southern Districts in Canberra. Learning the game in the first period, the “All Stars” trailled 20-8 at halftime. However, four tries by Kirkland in the second stanza turned it all around for the Americans, and they registered a most impressive victory. Treated with skepticism before the tour, rugby league authorities immediately reacted to the American victory by selecting a full-strength Sydney side for the game five days later. Over 65,000 people flocked to the SCG for the game against a combined Sydney team. However, the Americans flopped as a team, and lost most unceremoniously 52-25.

    As the “All Stars” true playing standard had now been revealed, only 32,000 patrons turned up for the game – later to be described a “fiasco” - against the NSW state side. Although the final score of 62-41 flattered the Americans, it was actually the NSW players, and the referee himself, going easy on them in the interest of entertaining the crowd. Much criticism was slated towards the referee, for allowing the Americans ridiculous amounts of latitude in offside and illegal ruck play. Bad publicity emanating from this refereeing issue would continually dog the “All Stars” throughout the tour. Other than winning the match against a Newcastle side minus their state representatives, the “All Stars” lost all remaining southern tour matches, and reached the Queensland leg of the tour with a somewhat tarnished lustre. Suffering many injuries, and with a number of players suffering various illnesses, the tourists were a much depleted force. One player, Jack Bonetti, was even diagnosed with polio by this stage.

    Then Secretary of the QRL, Ron McAuliffe, who had been on a promotional mission for some time before the Americans headed north of the border, soon announced the match against Queensland at the Brisbane Cricket Ground would be filmed and sent back to the USA for television viewing. He also said that the game against NSW had been filmed for American television, but that the game against Queensland would be a much better standard now that the “All Stars” were more experienced. There was also some controversy surrounding the Queensland match, with tour manager Dimitro approaching the QRL about rescheduling the game to the Exhibition Grounds so it could be played under floodlight. The QRL refused all discussions on the matter, and the game went ahead as originally scheduled.

    As the Americans embarked on the northern leg of the tour, former Balmain international George Bishop, also joined the touring party as assistant coach. With so many injuries, the “All Stars” actually took the field against Queensland, with a number of high-profile Brisbane representative players in their side, although this fact was never publicized. This however, made the match much more competitive, with the Queensland side triumphant 39-36 in a sometimes rugged affair, and thoroughly entertaining nearly 25,000 patrons along the way. Interestingly, state winger Bob Buckley, actually lined up against his namesake, “All Star” Bob Buckley during the match. The “All Stars” played a further 8 matches in Queensland during the ensuing month, drawing 17-all with Far North Qld in Cairns, losing 38-17 to North Qld in Townsville, losing 26-21 to Central-West Qld in Longreach, losing 33-26 to Central Qld in Rockhampton, losing 39-26 to Combined Brisbane at the Cricket Ground, losing 29-15 to Toowoomba, drawing 33-all against Wide Bay in Maryborough, but winning 16-15 over Ipswich in a very popular result.

    Although the issue of lenient refereeing continued throughout the tour, the “All Stars” more than matched their Australian opponents in the toughness and durability stakes. They played plenty of rugged matches in regional centres, and spared no quarter in personal fistic exchanges on-field. The superior gridiron conditioning these players had undergone back home, made them very fit, fast and strong, and thus very difficult to defend against in broken play. In the tackling area, there were plenty of experienced rugby league opponents forced from the field injured during matches. In ball skills, the Americans adapted to the rugby league ball very quickly, and their handling and passing was pinpoint, and always most impressive. Primarily, it was the error rate in defensive patterns, lack of skill in the play-the-ball area, and overall lack of positional play and tactics that cost the “All Stars” so many matches.

    It was hoped that this trailblazing tour by the “All Stars” would go a long way to establishing the rugby league code in the United States. Tour manager Mike Dimitro did not give up on rugby league after the 1953 tour. He organized two exhibition matches in California between Australia and New Zealand following the 1954 World Cup in France. Unfortunately, interest in the concept was not forthcoming, and any future ideas of promoting the game in the USA were shelved. During the 1960’s, Dimitro approached the International rugby league board about the possibility of holding the next World Cup in the USA. However, controlling authorities were uninterested. Dimitro’s vision for the game in the USA, was not all in vain though. Today, there exists a national 8-team premiership in the USA, with regular international matches played by the USA Tomahawks against other emerging nations. Who knows …. perhaps one day we’ll see the USA Tomahawks touring as a fully-fledged rugby league nation.
  13. carlnz

    carlnz Bench

    Dec 27, 2003
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    V AUckland lost 54-26
    v Taranaki Won 21-18
    v Wellington won 21-18
    v West Coast lost 21-10
    v Canterbury lost 39-8
    v North Auckland won 26-5
    v Auckland Maoris lost 40-23
    v South Auckland won 22-19 :shock: :shock: :shock:

    Played 18 games in Australia

    Won 3
    Lost 13
    Drew 2
    Points for 406
    Points against 560

    They arived in NZ and had many Injuries and were given 7 leading NZ players
  14. yankeerugger

    yankeerugger Juniors

    Apr 12, 2006
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    ahhhhhhh..... the "what ifs" in life...

    quite a story.

    Why was this never followed up on? What happened?
  15. roopy

    roopy Referee

    May 24, 2003
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    I have since found out that the 'All Stars' toured France in 1954, and film footage of many of their games exists from that tour. I think you can even download it over the net if you can speak french to request it, which i tried to do, but failed. I have it bookmarked on my other computer still i think.
  16. The Electric Horseman

    The Electric Horseman Juniors

    Sep 3, 2003
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  17. RL1908

    RL1908 Bench

    Jan 21, 2007
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  18. Bombay Devils RLFC

    Bombay Devils RLFC Juniors

    Apr 30, 2009
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    I was just watching a youtube video on rugby league in Australia during the 1950's and it showed a bit about this tour.

    I decided to find out a bit more and came across this. It mentions that a book was being written on the topic but the link to the amnrl web site no longer exists.

    Does anyone know of the existence of this book as from what I see some of the people who were part of this tour were real interesting characters.

    Long time ago I know but worth finding out more.
  19. madunit

    madunit Super Moderator Staff Member

    Sep 15, 2003
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    Pretty sure that the book never eventuated.
  20. Disinterested third party

    Disinterested third party Bench

    Mar 17, 2017
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