This weekend Mick Fairleigh and Paul Doherty release their fifth book, a Maitland rugby league offering. Josh Callinan discovers what lies beyond the historical pages.
They say old couples can finish each other’s sentences. Mick Fairleigh and Paul Doherty fall into that category.
The pair grew up across from one another on Louth Park Road and their friendship has stood the test of time.
More than 50 years down the track and when one starts a story, the other chimes in with the punch line.
Like a stand-up comedy routine, they describe the night South Sydney broke rugby league’s longest premiership drought and they were once again in the stands to watch it all live.
“We were both there in 1971 when they [Souths] won it and we waited 43 years for that second one, but it was worth it,” Paul said.
“Big Sam [Burgess] cried,” Paul started before Mick took over, “and we cried with him.”
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd near us,” Mick concluded.
It is this connection as mates, fondness for Maitland and love of rugby league which has seen them combine forces for their fifth historical book.
Pride, Passion and the Glory: Three Clubs and One Tradition takes a closer look at the relationship between the South Sydney, Maitland and South End clubs.
They focus on five main players – internationals John “Whacka” Graves and Jim Morgan as well as Frank Threlfo, Les Drew and the recently departed Merv Wright.
But this latest offering wouldn’t have happened without their last about the Maitland Police Boys Club.
And that stemmed from the pages of their old school St Ethel’s, following a record of the city’s major floods and kick started with childhood stories around Maitland Showground in The Louth Park Mob.
And all of it was born over a barbecue in the backyard.
“We would be at a barbecue and start talking about old times,” Mick said.
“We would get talking about old times and our wives used to say ‘you should write a book about that’.
“One night we decided we were going to write a story each, just as a joke.
‘We sent it to each other, showed a few people and they liked so it all just went from there.”
After countless interviews, cups of tea and homemade scones during the past decade they reckon this book is their best work.
“This one is from the heart,” Paul said. “We love rugby league and we love these three clubs.”
The link between the three clubs started with Australian representative Paddy Maher, who came from Souths to lead Maitland to their maiden premierships of 1933 and 1934.
Those same Pickers sides included South End players Don Lemmon and Ron Walsh.
Soon after, John “Whacka” Graves made his way through the grades from South End to Maitland and spent five years at Souths from 1947, which yielded two grand final wins and a Kangaroos tour of Europe.
Maitland’s Frank Threlfo followed in similar footsteps winning competitions with both the Pickers and Rabbitohs during the 1950s.
He then passed on the baton to South Sydney products Merv Wright and Les Drew for Maitland’s memorable run of success from 1965.
Recently retired Threlfo was asked to meet Wright at Maitland train station when he arrived in town by then Pickers president Dave Moreland.
“You’ll know him because he’s go the biggest smile you’ve ever seen,” Paul said.
“We call that handing over the baton because Wright took Threlfo’s place in the team.
“Two legends, both Maitland and South Sydney people.”
Jim Morgan was named Maitland Sportsperson of the Year in 1964 after signing a contract with South Sydney and he later went on to wear the green and gold.
The connections between the clubs continue today, according to the Louth Park boys, including the Pickers latest success in 2011.
“Maitland’s last grand final win, there was two ex-South Sydney players in there – PJ Ellis and Mick Moran,” Mick said.
Paul continued: “Moran kicked a field goal to win the grand final for them, a South Sydney junior winning it for Maitland.”
Right on cue Mick wrapped up the story: “It’s still going on all these years later, it’s fabulous.”
Pride, Passion and the Glory: Three Clubs and One Tradition will be launched at Maitland Leagues Club on Saturday with finger food provided from 12.30pm for a 1pm kick-off.
Mick and Paul will then make three appearances next week – Thursday, December 17 at Green Hills Newsagent between 3pm and 5pm; the following day at West End Newsagent for two hours from 11am; and the Queens Arms Hotel at 6pm that same Friday night.
All four venues will have the book for sale as well as Maitland Information Centre, Brian Burke’s café in Church Street, Inspirations on High Street and John Quinton’s hairdressers in Rutherford.