By Barry Ross
More than 40 years ago, Col McLennan made a big and positive impact on the Sydney Rugby League scene. Col was the promoter of the Amco Cup which began in 1974. A night, knockout competition which was played in four quarters, the Amco Cup matches were televised by Channel 10, with commentators, Ray Warren and Keith Barnes.
The first match was played at Belmore Oval on 10 April 1974 and Eastern Suburbs defeated the Wests Magpies 22-6. It was a very rainy night and probably there were nearly as many players as spectators. Many of the matches were played in wet conditions, as 1974 was the wettest year for some time. Scientists said this was because of ‘La Nina’. But this did not overly bother the players, the fans at the games or the TV audience.
The competition was a great success and was to continue, in some form, until 1995. There was a dream winner of the first Amco Cup. In the final at Leichhardt Oval on 21 August 1974, Western Division 6 beat Penrith 2. Based around the Dubbo area, Western Division were an unknown team at the beginning of tournament and went into the final as underdogs against the Panthers, who were captained by English international, Mike Stephenson and included former Australian coach, Tim Sheens.
Western Division were coached by St. George’s seven time Premiership winner and Kangaroo winger, John King (15 Tests), who had a hotel at Wellington and captained by five eighth, Paul Dowling, who was a Bathurst policeman. Also in the Western Division team were 1963 Kangaroo centre, Barry Rushworth (1 Test) and a young Terry Fahey, who went on to play six Tests from South Sydney, were he was known as the Redfern Express.
After their unexpected win, several of the Western Division side became instant celebrities and probably the most well known of these was TV Ted Ellery, who often came off the bench to play in the second row or on the wing. Western Division had to win four games to take the Cup and the $16,000 prize money. These were Auckland (won 13-7 on 12 June), Canterbury (won 12-10 on 17 July), Manly 12-all on 7 August but won on a penalty countback) and Penrith in the final. The game with Manly was played at Wade Park in Orange.
Western Division used 24 players in their four games and sadly at least six of these have passed away. The Cup continued as the Amco Cup for six seasons up to 1979 and then became the Tooth Cup, followed by the KB Cup, the National Panasonic Cup and the Panasonic Cup in 1988 and 1989. After these 16 seasons, it continued for another six as a pre-season Knockout competition. Eastern Suburbs, under coach, Jack Gibson, took out the 1975 Amco Cup when they defeated Parramatta 17-7 in the final on 20 August 1975 at Leichhardt Oval. Also in 1975, the Amco Shield commenced for secondary school teams. Patrician Brothers Fairfield were the inaugural winners when they defeated Blacktown High 16-8 in the final.
Col McLennan deserves a lot of credit for his idea to establish such an innovative and successful addition to the rugby league landscape of the 1970s. A clever and hard working man, Col brought the legendary jazz musician Benny Goodman to Australia and also English comedians, Dudley Moore and Peter Cook. Later, he brought Michael Parkinson to Australia for a locally produced TV series. Now 82, Col is still fit and active and works in the digital industry. He and his wife Robyn live in Southern Highlands, near Bowral. His son, Hamish, is a former CEO of Channel 10.