Platz a cracker from the Downs

Article from the Men of League Magazine – Issue 68 – September 2017

The Platz brothers, Greg and Lew, are league legends on Queensland’s Darling Downs. Six-Test hero Lew, special guest at Brisbane committee’s Kick Off Club in August, is also one of the few players to publicly challenge coach of the century, Jack Gibson. By Steve Ricketts.

Lew Platz hardly put a foot wrong in 1975 when he played six Tests for Australia, featured in a rare Queensland win over NSW and played finals football. Yet he never wore the green and gold again.

Raised on a farm on the Darling Downs, Platz toured New Zealand, England, Wales and France with the Kangaroos in an elongated World Series campaign, which saw the five countries play each other twice, on a home and away basis.

International football was suspended in ‘76 following the hectic campaign of 1975 and another, shorter World Cup was staged in Australia and New Zealand in 1977.

“I always thought I was playing better that year than in ’75; it just didn’t work out,” Platz said. “Queensland didn’t go quite as well in the interstate series, and Greg Veivers and Nick Geiger were the only forwards chosen.

“Terry Fearnley was the Australian coach, and he also coached Parramatta. He signed me for the Eels at the end of that season, so I must have been playing okay.”

If Lew’s mother had had her way, Lew and his brothers Greg and Ray would have played tennis. But living within sight of Wattles’ home ground at Clifton, it was inevitable the boys would join their mates playing football, although farm work came first.

“One Sunday, Greg and I got 300 bales of lucerne hay in before we went to [play] football,” Lew recalls. “Mum was one of the best weather forecasters. If you had the hay out and it rained, it would be ruined. Mum said she thought it was going to rain, so that was that.

“Mum and Dad had a dairy in those days and they would have to start milking roughly the same time as we were playing. Jack, an old bachelor who sold half his farm to dad, would take me to the games. People thought he was my father.”

The Platz boys and their four sisters went to school at Nobby, the town where great Australian author Steele Rudd and famed nurse Sister Kenny once lived.

Platz made his Queensland debut in 1973 and in 1974 joined Souths in Brisbane after he had told former Test prop John Sattler, a Queensland teammate in ’73, he would join him at Brisbane Wests.

“I think ‘Satts’ has had the shits with me ever since,” Platz said.

“I was still on the farm and I went into town for Greg’s engagement party. I had worked all day, so I had a shower at Dad’s house in Toowoomba, when who should turn up but Souths’ English coach Brian Briggs and some officials. They didn’t even tell me they were coming.

“They promised me an off-season with an English club, through Briggs, but it never happened. He got sacked before the season was over and John Grant became captain-coach.”

With Souths struggling with financial issues, Platz moved to Wynnum-Manly in 1975 where the team boasted Platz’s Australian teammate John Rhodes, future St George (Sydney) and Queensland State of Origin hooker John Dowling and Sydney Wests firebrand Neville Hornery. Dowling was best man at Platz’s wedding.

Platz played in the 1974 interstate series, Barry Muir’s first year as coach, when they held the Blues to two draws after losing the first game. The following year Queensland went one step better, beating the Blues 14-8 in the first match of the series with Platz, David Wright, Ross Strudwick, John Lang and John Payne chosen for the Kangaroos’ opening match of the World Series – against the Kiwis in Brisbane.

Platz scored two tries in his six Tests. In 1976, a hernia problem restricted him to one match for Queensland – against the touring St Helens club. In the meantime, his older brother Greg made his Queensland debut, playing all three interstate matches.

They were the Queensland second-rowers in both interstate clashes of 1977 and an 18-13 loss to Great Britain’s World Cup side.

Lew had a tumultuous start to his Sydney career in 1978, dropped by Fearnley after one match. He was reinstated a month later but was sent off with teammate Ed Sulkowicz and St George players Ted Goodwin and Craig Young.

“I’d never been sent off,” Platz said. “Parramatta told me to wear a suit at the judiciary but they didn’t have anyone represent me. I had to find my own way to Phillip Street. The word had got around that all four of us were going to get a month.

“Ed and Craig Young were well dressed like me but Teddy Goodwin turned up wearing ripped jeans, a shirt undone to his belly button and a blue velvet jacket. When we told him we were all getting a month, he said ‘beauty. I want a holiday’.

“A month out for me meant it was hard to get back into firsts, because Parra had an all-star pack.”

While Lew was battling in Sydney, Greg made his Test debut – against New Zealand at Lang Park, his only Test appearance.

“Greg had offers to move to Brisbane and Sydney but he just loves the country. He’s a plant pathologist in the Department of Primary Industries, in charge of the barley. He will have been there 50 years next July.

“In 1978 the QRL gave him a $2000 incentive to stay in Toowoomba but they may as well have kept the money in the bank because he wasn’t going anywhere.”

Platz’s 1975 Australian teammate John Peard succeeded Fearnley as Parramatta coach in 1980 and then Jack Gibson got the job for 1981.
Gibson told the tall, athletic Platz he wanted him to play out wide, modelling his game on Nathan Gibbs at South Sydney.

“I played all the pre-season, including the last trial against Manly, when I had conjunctivitis, something I had never had before and have not had since,” Platz said. “I got a phone call at midnight after the game. ‘Jack here’. I thought it was [skipper] Steve Edge [playing a trick].

“He said, ‘No, it’s Jack’. I was an import, and you were only allowed 12. Jack said: ‘I thought I should ring you before you get tomorrow’s paper. I never graded you. I regard you as a first grader, but I’ve got a couple of blokes here I’m going to use more than you and I don’t think you want to play reserve grade.

“I said ‘Jack, what a thing to do when I’m am import’.

“He said, ‘I’ve been sacked by plenty of places and I’ve always come back, and you will. Somebody will find you’, and he hung up.

“I can’t really explain how I felt. I must have been in shock.

“I gave it to him (Gibson) the next day in the media and let it be known if he had let me know earlier, I could have gone elsewhere.”

As things transpired, Platz did find a new home – at Penrith, where he spent three seasons.

While there he had an opportunity to work in the poker machine industry and 35 years later Platz is still there, as Queensland North state manager for Ainsworth Game Technology, with a territory stretching from north of the Brisbane River to Cairns.

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