By Troy Whittaker
One of the fiercest players of his era, Les ‘Bundy’ Davidson never took a backward step when it came to a scuffle.
The former South Sydney hardman belted many players during an illustrious career, but his blow that sent Penrith and NSW prop Peter Kelly’s headgear flying out of a scrum in 1989 is among the most memorable.
Given Davidson and Kelly’s now-infamous blue, you could understand if they weren’t cordial after retiring from professional rugby league.
But according to Davidson, the rivalry is “all in the past” and the pair “get on like a house on fire”.
They are both currently visiting regional NSW on the Men of League Foundation’s Tackling the Drought Tour. So far, no punches have been thrown.
When asked why he whacked Kelly all those years ago, Davidson insisted it was nothing personal, chalking it up to the hardnosed style of play in the 1980’s and 90’s.
After seeing Kelly strike inexperienced Souths prop Mark Lyons with a sly uppercut in a scrum, Davidson said he instinctively clocked his opponent in retaliation.
“We were two [aggressive] front rowers and that’s how the game was played back then,” said Davidson, a 244-game veteran for Souths and Cronulla and also a NSW and Australia representative.
“I’ve had a little bit to do with Peter since playing football with different things and he’s a champion. That’s why we all played the game, we all have the same interests and all the rest of it.”
Kelly, who branded the incident as “bizarre”, agreed with Davidson’s comments and said he bears no bitterness about the clash.
“Back in those days I think it was part of the game. Did you expect to get king hit every game? No. But it was part of the game and I was no angel so I accept what happened,” said Kelly.
“The game finished and you forgot about it – there’s no point in holding a grudge … We played each other over the years 20, 30 times, so if you wanted to get revenge there were opportunities, but it never came to that.
“Les and I have been at sports functions and they’ve made it a highlight of that function, showing the incident time and time again. So we have a laugh at it.”
It wasn’t long before footage of the fight was dug up on the Tackling the Drought Tour, featuring in comedic singer Denis Carnahan’s Rugby League The Musical show at the Narromine Memorial Services Club on Friday night.
While Kelly can chuckle at the vision, Davidson says he feels uncomfortable watching it back.
“I get embarrassed by it. It puts you in an awkward position when you see it, especially if Pete’s around. I think, ‘Oh no, not again’,” he said.
“But he’s sweet with it too. I’m sure he belted plenty of blokes in his day.”
Though Kelly considers the melee to be water under the bridge, he wants fans to remember something about that fateful match between Davidson’s Rabbitohs and his Panthers.
“We ended up winning 19-8, so that’s the moral to the story – look at the scoreboard!”
Aside from reliving old memories, Davidson and Kelly are thrilled to be out in the western region of rural NSW with the Men of League Foundation to provide support to drought-stricken communities.
“It’s a good thing. I’m from this way out here so I love getting home anyway. The weather’s great – we probably wanted a bit more rain but that’s the way it is,” said Davidson, who was born and bred in Dubbo.
Added Kelly: “Opportunities like this are great. I’ll give anything a go to try and help. I feel morally obligated to give something back and if this is the way to do it then I’m all for it.”