IN MEMORY: Glyn Rees pays tribute to Brian Phelan, a local legend of rugby league. Picture: contributed
IN MEMORY: Glyn Rees pays tribute to Brian Phelan, a local legend of rugby league. Picture: contributed

Tribute to “local legend” of rugby league

RUGBY league on the Southern Downs lost a father figure on April 30th in Brian Phelan, a renowned Allora Rugby League Club player of the 1950s famous for his dogged determination and toughness.

Brian's sporting prowess was recognised back in 1998 when he and his brother Max Phelan became the first two inductees into the Allora Regional Sports Museum's Hall of Fame.

Current South Sydney Rabbitohs coach and former long serving Brisbane Bronco's premiership winning mentor Wayne Bennett who was born and raised in the Allora area paid Brian compliments on his tough approach to playing 'the greatest game of all'.

Bennett happily recalled his days as a local lad on the sideline of many challenging football battles, and watching the highly competitive Brian shining with his 'give no quarter' style for Allora on the Allora Showgrounds turf.

While born in Warwick in 1933, Brian Phelan was raised on a farm at Berat just east of Allora.

He worked all his life on the land, and when not flexing to the demands of agriculture and dairying, his mind was taken by the challenges of rugby league.

Educated at Berat State School and later St Partick's School at Allora, the galloping local league legend completed his schooling at Nudgee College before heading home to work on the family farm, 'Woodlawn'.

Local rugby league author John Croke rated Brian as an above average player from his early days in the game, "we both turned out for Allora's Junior Minor team in the Pittsworth & District Rugby League competition before making the grade in the senior side."

As a towering centre three-quarter or fullback who was later to feel at home in the forward pack, Brian commenced his A Grade career sitting as a reserve in the successful 1954 Allora line-up that finished Warwick Amateur Rugby League Premiers and winners of the famous St George Cup.

That initial premiership gong was the first of five he would earn wearing the Allora green and gold colours, success also coming in 1958, 1961, 1962 & 1963.

In 1962 as a long striding back-rower he was named the best forward in the St George Cup competition.

He also turned out in Warwick and District Rugby League representative teams, a high point playing in a curtain-raiser to the 1955 Australia verses France Test match in Brisbane.

After retiring from the game in 1965, the rugged forward laced on his well-worn boots again aged 44 in 1976.

He ran on for the final outing alongside his brother and former Queensland rugby union representative Max Phelan in a promotional 'Golden Oldies' match at the opening of Tom Cowley Oval in the Allora Showgrounds.

Aside from his many on field exploits, Brian Phelan is best remembered for a long-range grand final winning penalty goal at the Warwick Showgrounds against Pittsworth.

Witness to the event Wayne Bennett commented that "the kick ranks among the folklore" of the former Warwick Amateur Rugby League competition, its success presenting Allora with the 1961 premiership and the famed St George Cup.

Test referee Jack Casey penalised Pittsworth's former Queensland hooker Kev Boshamer with five minutes remaining in the season decider. Phelan soaked up the undoubted pressure with the clock winding down and his team trailing 5 - 6. From 55 metres out from the goalposts the penalty kick never strayed from its course allowing Allora the silverware and Phelan hero status as he and team skipper Glen Day were carried shoulder high from the field.

The Warwick Daily News edition of Monday September 18th 1961 heralded Phelan's kick as one of the greatest kicks in St George Cup premiership history along with the Allora team's success in the closest grand final contested at the Warwick Showgrounds.

Brian and brother Max along with teammates Graham Shelley, Brian Smith and Barry Donegan had shone in the Allora line-up in the historic victory.

The man who was among Allora's more familiar faces, after his illustrious league career eased to a halt Phelan settled in to becoming a regular lawn bowler in the best little town on the Downs.

The respected gentleman in whites was more than capable on the greens.

He also gained local fame in the test of strength that is sheaf pitching, considered unbeatable in what is an age old contest of brute strength, his closest and at times equal opponent his brother Max.

With the passing of Brian Phelan, Allora and the Southern Downs have lost not only a high achieving sportsman and example of a past sporting tradition but also a well liked community character.

He will never be forgotten while memories linger of "that kick" in '61!

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