Lowe is hoping for start of bright new era

Neither of them could ever imagine that more than 40 years on they would still be talking about the last time the Australians were second best to players from these shores.

Meeting at Malcolm Reilly’s favoured pub in a village just outside Castleford this week, Phil Lowe and his former Great Britain team-mate reminisced about venturing Down Under in 1970 to bring home the treasured Ashes.

And also about events two years later – when Reilly was punishing Australians on a weekly basis in Manly colours – when Lowe was part of the side that lifted the World Cup in France.

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You cannot blame them for taking a nostalgic trip down Memory Lane ahead of tomorrow night’s Four Nations final.

What they struggle to understand is how none of their subsequent fellow countrymen have managed to repeat either feat.

The barren period has been hard to endure for such fiercely patriotic men but Hull KR legend Lowe hopes the wait will soon be over.

Perhaps a new batch of heroes will be unearthed when Steve McNamara pits his England side against Australia in the Gillette Four Nations final at Elland Road.

“I think we’re as close as we have been for a long time,” he told the Yorkshire Post.

“Steve had got Malcolm down to their hotel in Hull last week to speak to the players and give them a bit of a motivational talk before the New Zealand game.

“He said the squad looked really up for it, focused and ready and they did play well against the Kiwis so who knows for Saturday as well?

“Our forwards certainly match the Aussies, if not better them, but I do still worry about the halves.

“Kevin Sinfield is a good footballer but he’s a loose-forward playing at half-back while Rangi Chase was a disaster in his first game but improved last week.

“I still think Rob Burrow would have been the answer – he could hurt the Aussies – but it’s Steve’s call and we’ll see. We’ve just not got anyone like Roger Millward.”

Lowe’s Rovers team-mate Milward was the darling of that 1970 triumph, replacing Castleford stand-off Alan Hardisty after the tourists surprisingly lost the brutal opening Test in Brisbane.

With his flair and invention, Millward inspired Britain to victory in the second Test, scoring 20 points, and was similarly pivotal in the decider.

Powerful wide-running second-row Lowe recalled: “We did really well. We had a hell of a pack with Malcolm, Dougie Laughton and Jimmy Thompson.

“Laughton was an out-and-out loose-forward but he had to go to second-row such was our strength and others with real Test match experience just couldn’t get in at all. I didn’t get a game in the Tests but was only 20 at the time and went out there as an also-ran.

“It did me the world of good, though. Two years later, we won the World Cup and I came into my own.”

Lowe was player of the competition along with Australia centre Bob Fulton but touring in 1970 had been crucial for his development. “That’s also when Australia sat back and realised they had to do something and change their whole system,” he added.

“By the time I went over in ’74 as a player with Manly it had started.

“I remember on the morning of a game me and the other players would have to go out and watch junior matches. We’d go to a field where there’d be around a 1,000 kids all playing and we’d be there to encourage more to play.

“It got to the point where they could put five sides out as strong as ours back in England. It does hurt having waited this long for another win. It’s disappointing as we were always there or thereabouts but we are getting better.”

It was different in 1970 when England, coached by the legendary Johnny Whiteley and featuring such stars as Clive Sullivan, Keith Hepworth and Frank Myler, were overwhelming favourites.

Lowe, 61, said: “Australia were in the position then that we are now. Their players were not quite as good and instead they tried to intimidate us.

“It did get brutal but that was part and parcel of the game. I was never a tough player but we had plenty who were – people like Malcolm, Cliff Watson and Terry Clawson – so we managed them in that department.

“They tried upsetting us – John O’Neill stood on Terry’s head in a scrum and there was a huge melee – and we have to do the same on Saturday.

“As Malcolm says, ‘get in among them, they don’t like it.’ But we have to be aggressive without being silly and getting anyone sent-off. We’re just as tough, just as fit, it’s whether we’ve got the skill.

“Australia are far more clinical and you know their error rate will be almost zero per cent so we have to keep the pressure on them throughout the 80.”

And then, maybe then, that new era will finally begin.