The Beast, the Wolfman and Brilliant Bev

Malcolm Andrews
Malcolm Andrews

First published in League Express, Monday 2nd Sept 2013

It was heaven for Australia’s Rugby League couch potatoes on Saturday, as well as those who subscribe to Premier Sports in Old Blighty.
And not just for the fact they could watch the Greatest Game of All for more than 12 hours straight.
No! As they curled up on the lounge or in their favourite chair, a bag of crisps in one hand and an ice-cold can of hooligan soup in the other, they were treated to some of the best tryscoring feats of the season on television’s wall-to-wall Rugby League.
The action as the New Zealand Warriors put the cleaners through Canberra at Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium was quite breathtaking. And I doubt whether I have ever witnessed a match in the big league during which three different players scored hat-tricks.
First, in the space of nine minutes, there were three tries from ‘The Beast’ – Manu Vatuvei. All were set up by former Wigan stand-off Thomas Leuluai.
Then, after Manu had his spell in the limelight, it was time for Leuluai’s halfback partner Shaun Johnson to take his turn. His three tries were scored in the space of just 6min 27sec.
It is being claimed as a world record for the fastest treble in rugby history. But who knows? Indeed, who cares? Watching it on the box from across the Tasman Sea (‘The Big Ditch’) I was just delighted to enjoy the champagne footy.
Then, of course, there were the three tries to Jarrod Croker on the beaten side. His first two, which put the Raiders ahead 12-6, had briefly given the Green Machine cause to smile.
But, as the adage tells us, he laughs best who laughs last.
Later in the evening the television viewers and those lucky fans at Brookvale were treated to another great display as ‘The Wolfman’, David Williams snared hat-trick, too.
No one bothered to tell him it was the wrong time of the month. Wolfmen aren’t supposed to be out on the prowl a couple days before a new moon. He was almost three weeks early for the next full moon, on the night when the annual lunar Moon Festival is celebrated.
But all these tries got me thinking about the past.
The Premiership’s biggest tally in one match was the nine scored by forward Frank Burge (one of Australia’s Team of the Century) playing for the now-defunct Glebe against University in 1920.
In Britain that figure has been topped. And I recall seeing news stories shown on television of a couple of them in Wigan’s glory days in the early 1990s – Martin Offiah scoring 10 against Leeds in May 1992 and Shaun Edwards matching that figure against Swinton in September the same year.
But all these tryscoring feats pale into insignificance when compared with the efforts of Brian Bevan.
I saw him only once, at the end of his career, in 1959 in a Sevens tournament at the Sydney Sports Ground (on the site of the current Allianz Stadium). It was a testimonial for Test half Keith Holman. And the memory of the skinny, taped-up Bevan dancing like Fred Astaire in a cameo appearance for the Eastern Suburbs Roosters to this day remains indelibly etched in my mind.
What a tryscoring machine he was. In 18 seasons in British rugby, the expatriate Australian scored more tries than any other player in history. He notched a phenomenal 796 in club and representative games and another 38 in so-called friendly matches. That was 263 more than his nearest rival, the great Welshman who starred for Wigan, Billy Boston.
It is little wonder that Bevan is the only player to have been elected to the Halls of Fame in both England and Australia.
The great forward Harry Bath, who played hundreds of games with Bevan for Warrington, said of the genius of the game: “Brian never had any counterpart in Australia in my time. Maybe Dally Messenger had the same magical effect on crowds in the early days of Rugby League. But no player ever provided sustained thrills for so many fans over such a long period as Bevan.”
Bevan had a penchant for multiple try-scoring feats. Twice, in Britain, he went over for seven in one match. Four times he scored six, seven times he notched five, and on 22 occasions he finished a match with four tries. And trebles were common as far as Bevan was concerned, with a career total of 69. The mind boggles!
One major record which did elude Bevan was that of scoring the most tries in a single season. In 1952-53 he scored 72 for Warrington, eight short of the tally set by fellow-Australian Alby Rosenfeld.
But I am quibbling.
We will never see the like of Bevan again.