Billy Johnstone in action for the Bulldogs
Billy Johnstone in action for the Bulldogs

A cold beer with . . . boxing hooker with ties to Artie

Michael Nunn

IF you wanted a hard-hitting interview then Brothers, Souths and Bulldogs premiership hooker Billy Johnstone might be your first call.

The tough hooker did not muck around on the field or in the ring. I touched gloves and packed down into a scrum to find out about a great career.

You came from Cunnamulla to Brisbane to play for Brothers. How did that happen?

I came down to Brisbane Brothers in 1978. Tony Testa got me across to Souths. They had Greg Veivers, who is a Souths legend, and I thought I could learn a lot about scrummaging from Veivers so I went across to Souths in 1980.

Billy Johnstone
Billy Johnstone

In 1981, Souths beat Redcliffe in the grand final thanks to Mick Reardon's classic try. What was that experience like?

Souths had lost the previous two grand finals so it was massive for the club and it was looking like they may go three in a row until the Panther got involved. My highlight of that game is playing in Arthur Beetson's last game. I still love that fact.

In 1981, you packed into 357 scrums in the season for Souths and won 196 at 55% the second most in the competition behind Wynnum's David Green. Then in the finals, you lost the scrums 15-9 against Redcliffe and 14-7 against Wynnum. On grand final day against Redcliffe you dominated 18-10. Why the turnaround?

Greg Veivers came to Souths training to fix the problems. He was a master at that. He spent the week teaching us how to screw the scrum, how to pack tight with your front row, body position and pushing up and from the backrow.

All those little things we were not getting right in the finals we got right on grand final day. I even won two against the feed I think in the grand final- against the feed was like little nuggets of gold.

If you could keep your yearly win above 50%, you were going all right; drop below 50% and you will be heading over to meet the Reserve Grade coach.

Hookers were judged on two things - your ability to win the ball and to pass accurately and a decent distance. You wanted your half to be able to get 20m away. Hugh O'Doherty could hit Marty Scanlan and get him on the outside of two men. That won Valleys games.

You were off to the Bulldogs at the end of 1982. Did Bullfrog Moore approach you in Brisbane?

Bob McCarthy was coaching me at Souths and Peter Moore was scouting. That is what he spent his life doing. Bullfrog and Bob got on really well from McCarthy's Bulldog days and McCarthy let Bullfrog know. I got on so well with the whole Moore family. His two son in laws Chris Anderson and Steve Folkes were my best mates.

Canterbury player Billy Johnstone knocks down Australian middleweight champion boxer Richie Roberts in 1984.
Canterbury player Billy Johnstone knocks down Australian middleweight champion boxer Richie Roberts in 1984.

Do you prefer boxing or league?

I prefer boxing. I had my first fight at eight and I just loved it. Problem was there was no money in boxing. I fought at Festival Hall in Brisbane and made $40. I was making $40 a week as an apprentice builder so it doubled my income but it is still not much. Weight was an issue too. I had to fight as a middleweight so be around 72kg and football needed me to be 82kg. I would lose the 10kg in the off-season then have to put it back on for football.

You made one trip to Ipswich in 1982 and Souths beat Jets 23-10. You scored a try then got knocked out. What happened there?

I am not too sure. I cannot remember but clearly someone got me. That is all right plenty tried and sometimes you had to wear it.

Are you a jersey keeper?

Every single one is still at home, folded and kept neatly. My favourite jumper is not mine. Tim Pickup played for Australia and NSW in the 1970's. When I came to the Bulldogs, he gave me Steve Crear's Queensland number 6 jumper. Crear played for Wests and Dolphins but he was one of my favourite players and I have his jumper. I wear it whenever we have a BBQ at our place to this day.