This November will mark the 25th anniversary of the Southern Districts Rugby Union Football Club’s epic undefeated tour of the USA and Canada. On the 26th of November, 1988 a contingent of 48 members, both players and supporters, departed Brisbane Airport bound for Vancouver. Led by Tour Captain Mark “Nugget” White, the youngest member was Brad Moriarty, at just 10 years old, and the eldest, Henri Harries, at 54 years of age. The tour party grew to 50 as we were joined by Ken & Sue Wills, who had travelled via Europe before coming over to Vancouver.
The tour was the culmination of some of the finest moments of the club’s history: winning the Brisbane A Grade Premiership in 1986 (not since 1958); followed the next year, 1987, by defeating Parramatta in Sydney for the Australian Club Championship; and a star studded Colts 1 side winning the Premiership in 1988. As the youngest player in the touring party, at 19, and having played in the Premiership winning Colts 1 team, it was a particularly memorable occasion.
After a massive travelling effort of some 22+ hours, from Brisbane to Sydney to Honolulu to LA-X, then finally a Delta Airlines flight up to Vancouver. Upon arrival we were expected to play rugby against Meraloma RFC in the rain & icy conditions out on North 10th Street near the Molson Brewery. Being the youngest member I was relegated to the bench; however, it wasn’t too long before I debuted for Souths seniors as a replacement flanker. I remember getting tackled and bracing my fall with my hand in what I thought was a puddle of water; which turned out to be ice… The first match was won and this was followed by much drinking and merriment well into the night and onto the streets of downtown Vancouver.
From Canada we travelled to San Francisco to play the Golden Gate Rugby Club in the middle of Golden Gate Park for another win. Located in the middle of Golden Gate Park with the rugby fields inside a cycling track, it proved a bit treacherous just entering to play. San Fran is a beautiful city and Fisherman’s Warf proved a big drawcard for building camaraderie; one memorable day was spent at the Eagle Café, Pier 39.
After three days we were back in the air and out to Las Vegas where we stayed at the iconic Landmark Tower. Gambling and stage productions was the goal here, although a few participated in a 7s tournament. A road trip was then planned, the two coaches were loaded with Coors & Budweiser before we headed out to Hoover Dam and then a night at the Grand Canyon. A scenic trip through Monument Valley saw us arrive in Scottsdale, Arizona for our third match & a memorable win.
Back on the coaches we continued to San Diego where we played & won against UCSD to complete our “Grand Slam”. Trips to San Diego Zoo & Tijuana were arranged before heading up to Los Angeles for more sightseeing at Universal Studios & Disneyland.
The main tour group departed LA on December 13th for two nights in Honolulu en-route back to Brisbane; whilst a few of us decided to stay on and extend our American experience. Those of us who stayed on, caught up with Gary Christison, a late withdrawer from the original tour, for Christmas 1988 in New York, New York.
Tour Party: Mark White “Tour Captain”, Grant Brady, Anthony Blake, Michael Bailey, Stephen Blackburn, Paul Coffey, Warwick Currin, Shane Campbell, Sean Cuffe, Tony Cooper, Anthony Crane, Kevin Culla, Ian Cameron, John Deighton, Peter “Doubles” Daley, Brian Drainey, Mark Derwin, Patrick Dempsey, Richard Dickson, Michael Duke, Jon Eske, Michael Firth, Darren Free, Alec Harris, Henri Harries, Connie Harries, David Hickey, Gary Henderson, Mark Jenvey, David Knight, Donna Knox, Michael Maloney, Ian Moriarty, Cheryl Moriarty, Brad Moriarty, Paul Mitchell, John Mulvihill, Gary Perrett, Christopher Rea, Danielle Strachan, Gavin Sparks, Michael Turner, Ray Thomas, John Wilson, Barry Watson, Barry Wilkin, Lyn Wilkin, Ken Wills, Sue Wills, Sean Zegenhagen.