Grand final-winning master player and coach John Lang.
Grand final-winning master player and coach John Lang.

‘Mr September’ shares his grand final winning wisdom


Michael Nunn

SEPTEMBER is when the grass is green and the special players have the mower out ready to produce on the big stage.

If you were on a quest to find out about grand finals you would ask Mr September John Lang.

Lang played in three grand finals for the Easts Tigers in 1972, 1977 and 1978. If that was not enough, Lang then coached the Tigers to premierships in 1983, 1991 and more grand finals in 1992 and 1993.

Lang would also take his finals expertise to Sydney, coach the Sharks and Panthers to a grand final, and play in the 1980 grand final for the Roosters.

You wanted Lang wearing number 12 or holding the clipboard, when the sun was shining and getting warmer, Lang Park was packed and the crowd on the Hale Street side was squinting into the sun for a must win game.

In total, Lang played or coached in 10 grand finals in Brisbane and Sydney across his career.

"Grand finals are all about keeping it simple," Lang said.

"Every bit of experience you have as either a player or coach helps you next time you are in a similar position."

John Lang in 1979
John Lang in 1979

In 1972, John Lang lined up in his first grand final against Valleys with the Tigers winning by a point.

His last Brisbane grand final as a player would be against Valleys again in 1978 with Easts winning again 14-10.

"I don't think there was a lot of difference in my preparation from my first in 1972 to 1978,'' he said.

"Des Morris was our captain in 1972 and Des and our coach Ted Verrenkamp worked very closely together.

"Des was captain/coach in 1978 and his style was to lead by example."

Coach John Lang
Coach John Lang

Lang would move into coaching when he returned from Sydney and there was never any doubt that he would find his coaching niche at Langlands Park.

"For me there was not a big difference in the feeling you get from winning a premiership as a player or a coach. There is a great sense of achievement in both,'' Lang said.

When you have been involved in 10 grand finals you might think a vibe exists in the dressing room, when you just know things are about to go right.

"I don't think that I could pick when we're going to win,'' he said.

"I always went into a grand final with a belief in our team. If you do not have that, you are no chance."

Magic and lesser known grand final memories and jokes

GRAND final weekend, is there a better time?

Brisbane has such a rich and varied grand final history.

A packed Lang Park, 35,000 people. Great stories and history.

I asked some grand final heroes to relay some anecdote that may have slipped through the cracks of time.

Al McInnes (Valleys 1978 and 1979).

After our colossal 1979 win against Souths, we were enjoying a couple of convivial ales at Valleys clubhouse. On my way to the bar I was tackled into the stone ashtray. Nasty gash on the arm warranted a seam of stitches from Dr Tom (no local necessary). It proved once again to be a seam stress without peer as a few months later not even a scar was evident. A great doctor, cub president and man.

Geoff Richardson (Wests 1975 and 1976).

We won the BRL grand final against Redcliffe in 1975 and had just won the BRL 1976 grand final v Easts. Our dressing room was joyous, we had played well and I had contributed. I then changed the tone a little when I announced that game was my last game. I was retiring at 27.

Susan and I went for dinner in the city with my parents, who were up from Taree, before putting them on a bus. We then went out to Purtell Park about 9pm to join celebrations never to play again. There is life after rugby league.

My second favourite memory is a try from 1976. Early in the second half against Easts, we secured the game. I got the ball from Gary Prickett in an awkward position on about halfway, I chipped ahead and raced to regain the ball when it bounced among the Tigers and in the tackle and I threw the ball over my left shoulder.

Greg Oliphant was following the play, caught the ball and advanced into Easts quarter when he was pounced on. But he had time to throw it out over his left shoulder in the tackle to a flying John Ribot who sprinted clear and touched down for the try near the posts.

Wayne Lindenberg (Easts 1977, 1978 and 1983).

Prior to the 1983 grand final, I stayed with Brad Backer and the night before I joked with Brad that in the second half I'd go the blind cut through pass to him and he'd score under the black dot. That is what happened and we joke about it to this day.

Bruce Astill (Souths 1979, 1980 and 1981).

The emotion of the situation, losing three in a row was just an unbearable thought and Souths had not won for 28 years. Redcliffe were one minute away from winning all three grades. We were setting up for the field goal to get it to extra time and then Brad Sully has gone out to Chris Phelan who wasn't known for his passing, now Mal's got it and he is the only person that can get the ball to Mick Reardon.

Gary Coyne and Martin Bella
Gary Coyne and Martin Bella

Gary Coyne Raiders (1987, 1989, 1990, 1991 and Wynnum 1984 and 1985).

We arrived home late Monday afternoon after the 1989 grand final against Balmain and our neighbours had decorated our house in Raiders colours.

Des Morris (Easts 1972, 1977 and 1978; Wynnum coach 1982, 1984 and 1985).

One that sticks with me over the years is the 1972 grand final. We had our usual last training session on the Saturday morning at Langlands Park and we all went our own way and were to meet the next day at Langlands Park.

Most went home to rest and prepare for the next day but Jeff Fyfe went to watch his nephew Mark Fyfe play in a junior grand final at Davies Park.

I get a phone call later that afternoon that Jeff has injured himself putting the juniors through a warm-up session before they played and twisted his ankle on the tree roots at Davies Park and he didn't want anyone to know about it.

Des Morris Picture: AAP Image/Tony Phillips
Des Morris Picture: AAP Image/Tony Phillips

I called the club doctor Dr Nick Conomos, we get him to Dr Nick's place, and he has a look and is quite concerned but suggests that Jeff does the ice treatment and also give him a Quarterzone shot and arranges to see him the next day.

After seeing him the next day, he gives him the all clear to play.

I had played the ball just before the field goal was kicked I still was not aware that Jeff had kicked the field goal. We had trained for weeks with Lee Hutchinson, Butch Pearce and Howard Fullarton so I assumed that one of them had kicked it. Lee Hutchinson had kicked one earlier in this game but no one remembers that. Jeff said to me in the rooms: "What did you think of my field goal".

I said to him I thought Hutchy, Butch or Howard had kicked it but no, he had done the job for us.

All grand finals are special and there is great pride in playing in them and winning them and I remember in the 1978 grand final we had our winger John Callus go down with a leg injury. He decided very quickly to give up his spot on the wing and allow Jeff McDonald as he didn't want to let the team down. Jeff kicked three goals that day.

I have always been aware of how much pleasure and pride the club's supporters get out of being involved with our local rugby league club as when I first joined Easts we didn't have a Leagues Club until the end of the 68 season.

We would all go back to the Stones Corner Hotel where Jack Loth the local publican and club patron would look after us until the clubhouse was available at the end of the season.

There were some great celebrations on the field and in the clubhouse after the 1972 grand final as was in 77 and 78 as well.

During my time at Wynnum and after the 82 grand final win as we drove onto the ground after the place was really going off and after a great night when we went back the next day the car park was still full as everyone was still there.

It was a big night in 1984 as was 1985 even though we were beaten by a penalty goal on this occasion.

Thanks to everyone who helped, read my column

IT has been a strange year with no football but it has been rewarding.

Thanks to the Jets and The Queensland Times for letting me have a soapbox to stand on every week and tell as many people as I can about Ipswich league and the Jets.

Huge thanks to QT sports editor David Lems.

If you have contributed an idea or contact, thanks. It does not go unnoticed and is always appreciated.

Special thanks to all the players that I get to interview.

Whenever I get to talk to a player, I am transported back to being nine and sitting on my lounge room floor at Brassall watching football.

The players that I get to talk to I get off the phone and think I loved them when I was 10. Truth is, I still love them at 41. I just do not tell them you are the reason I love league.

This year I have been able to cross some off my interview list and some of my friends and dad's list too.

Jets players, thank you for always being available and great value and for your unlimited encouragement.

Cooper's stat

John Lang (FOG #12): One game, 69 possessions, 17 tackles, 80 minutes, nine runs, one line break, three tackle breaks.