Three of the greatest
THREE Northern Rivers rugby league players have been named among the games' 100 greatest players in a controversial poll.
The Australian Rugby League (ARL) voting panel selected pre-World War II players Joe 'Chimpy' Busch of Harwood Island, Vic Armbruster of Mullumbimby and Jack Beaton of Lismore ahead of modern heroes Gordon Tallis and Ricky Stuart.
The top 100 list, which was released in full on Saturday as part of the code's 100th anniversary celebrations, drew criticism because only 68 of 120 people eligible actually voted and some commentators believe it snubbed several modern champions in favour of players most people have never heard of.
Nonetheless, in their day our local boys were standouts of their generation, according to information supplied the Centenary of Rugby League historians committee and rugby league historian, Sean Fagan.
Chimpy Busch achieved a meteoric rise from professional fisherman and unknown barefoot country centre to international halfback in four months, according to Fagan's website www.rl1908.com.
"Busch was a tall man but was fast and deadly at the base of the scrum, could throw a bullet-like pass at the blink of an eye and was the master of blind-side play," Fagan wrote.
"He was spotted by Easts' star and talent scout Dinny Campbell while playing barefoot in the centres for Harwood Island on the far north coast of NSW in 1926. Campbell, former team-mate of the legendary Dally Messanger, advised Busch to go to Sydney to trial with the Roosters at the beginning of the next season. "But disaster struck. Busch broke an ankle in a local flood and had to postpone his trip until he recovered. The following season, aged 19, he made the trip to Sydney arriving with a 100 or so young hopefuls for trials at Centennial Park. It didn't take long for "Chimpy" to grab the limelight.
"Playing halfback he threw a couple of dummies to a number of 'seasoned' stars and scampered away to score. The selectors didn't need to see any more. Busch was named as first grade halfback.
"Within a couple of matches he had claimed a place in the NSW side for the clash against Queensland where he found instant stardom. For years after, fans talked about Busch's try when he took the ball from the base of a scrum and shot down the blind-side with Test winger Benny Wearing in support. As the Maroon defence closed in, Busch held the ball back from Wearing he dummied to him five times before scoring a brilliant individual try. A couple of weeks later he was chosen as the Australian halfback for the second and third Tests against the touring Lions from England.
Busch played nine games for NSW and six Tests for Australia before signing with top UK club Leeds. He stayed in England for five seasons and returned to Australia to play out his career with Balmain.
Vic Armbruster was born in Meershaum Vale and was playing with Mullumbimby when he won selection for NSW as a 20-year-old in 1922.
"A tall second-rower, Armbruster settled in Toowoomba in 1924, and made an immediate impact on his new club Valleys, where he teamed with future Test stars Herb Steinohrt and Dan Dempsey, the trio becoming automatic selections for Toowoomba and eventually Queensland," the historical committee wrote.
"Armbruster, Steinohrt and Dempsey all played in the famous match between Toowoomba and England in 1924, when the local team won 23-20.
"A noted ball handler with the ability to slip a pass when surrounded by defenders and a player renowned for 'dropping back to take the high punts', Armbruster's international career began in the second Ashes Test of 1924. He played all three Tests against England in 1928 and was one of the first forwards chosen for the 1929-30 Kangaroo tour.
"His partnership with George Treweek in the Australian second row for three of the four Tests was hailed as one of the finest combinations ever to wear the green and gold.
"Armbruster returned to England in 1931, playing with fellow Australians Cec Aynsley and Bill Spencer at the Rochdale Hornets club, his career winding down in 1935."
John James (Jack) Beaton, who played one season with Lismore in 1933, played only five seasons in Sydney before retiring in harsh economic times to work in his father's brewery.
"Beaton's rugby league career was brief, yet in just five extraordinary seasons he established himself as an all-time great of the game. Beaton was a member of the great Eastern Suburbs team of the 1930s, a versatile player who was equally at home at fullback, wing or centre; he was also an accomplished goal kicker," the committee wrote.
"Originally from Yass in southern New South Wales, Beaton played League as a youngster before heading to Sydney to attend St Joseph's College, Hunter's Hill. There he developed into one of the finest footballers in GPS history, representing St Joseph's first XV from 1930 to 1932.
"In 1933, Beaton moved to Lismore, where he captained the local league team, before returning to Sydney a year later to link up with Easts.
"He played for New South Wales for the first time that season. With Beaton an integral member, Easts developed into one of the greatest club teams of all, rewriting the record books with a series of astonishing performances. In 1936 and 1937 the club remained undefeated in premiership matches.
"Beaton made his Test debut against the Jim Brough's English side of 1936 and toured with the Kangaroos of 1937-38, but after returning to Australia he shocked the League world by announcing his retirement. In difficult times, the opportunity to hold down full-time employment was too good for Beaton to pass up, so at the age of 24 he slipped quietly into league history."