TWO Armidale rugby league pioneers will finally be recognised by the NRL this weekend – 40 years after representing the Australian Aboriginal team in New Zealand.
Tom Briggs and Bill “Bimbo” Widders have travelled to Brisbane to be a part of the NRL’s Indigenous -All Stars weekend, where they will be presented special jerseys, recognising their feats as the first Australian Aboriginal rugby league team to travel overseas.
Both men, who still live in Armidale, said it was a proud moment and one they would cherish.
“It does feel good, because we’ve really been unrecognised for all these years,” Mr Widders said.
“I don’t have a great memory of the tour, but I remember how tough the games were and how big those New Zealanders were.”
Mr Briggs said he was looking forward to catching up with old team-mates.
“There will be some blokes there I haven’t seen since we got back to Australia,” he said.
“I’m really looking forward to it.”
The 1973 Aboriginal team comprised 34 players – 19 from NSW, 13 from Queensland and two from the Northern Territory.
Some players have died since the tour, but NRL spokesman David Taylor said 30 members of the touring party would be in Brisbane this weekend.
“It really is a special moment for these players and squad members,” Mr Taylor said.
“They haven’t been recognised for their feats until now, but what they did was incredible.”
Despite the hulking size of the Kiwi teams, the Aboriginal team managed to win seven of its nine matches in just 10 days.
“One of the side’s wins was against a team called Petone, which was an all-Maori attack,” Mr Taylor said.
“They also played against the Te Atatu Roosters, which had New Zealand rugby league legend Dennis Williams in the line-up.”
Mr Widders, who played half-back, said he remembered the Aboriginal team had real trouble in the scrums against the New Zealanders.
“Us blokes were pretty small. I think someone joked that their half-back was bigger than our biggest forward,” he said.
Mr Widders said he had caught up with a lot of former team-mates at Aboriginal Knockout tournaments across NSW.
“I don’t go to the Knockout every year, but when I do I always bump into someone I played with,” he said.
Mr Widders and Mr Briggs will today present the NRL Indigenous with their jerseys at the Murri v Koori match in Brisbane.
Tomorrow, the men and their former team-mates will be introduced to the crowd before the All-Stars match at Suncorp Stadium.
More than 40,000 people are expected to be at the annual match.