As part of the Wests Tigers build up to Sundays 50th anniversary of the 1963 Grand Final between Western Suburbs Magpies and St George Dragons, the former Parramatta, Manly forward turned journalist and radio commentator recalls his first grade debut for Parramatta Eels at Lidcombe Oval in 1968.
Aged 20 at the time, Zorba was playing in the second-row and in between football, was working as a young journalist with the now defunct Sydney Sun newspaper.
'Zorba' takes up the yarn about his first encounter with the man known as Ned.
I will never forget this game. Things were going okay until I hit Johnny Elford, the Wests winger high. Referee Keith Holman called out Parramatta No 10, stand there.
Noel Kelly came up to me while Elford was down getting treatment. He yelled hey Zorba, Ive got a story for you. I thought what a nice man, here is the toughest bloke in the game and if he hits you, you dont wake up for ages, and he is going to give me a story.
I said, what is it about. He looked at me and said, youre funeral arrangements. Dick Thornett, Ron Lynch and the other internationals in the Parramatta pack, said to me whatever you do, keep Ned in front of you, never to the side, and just get through the game.
So, Im jogging to a scrum and I felt this arm on my shoulder and I just turned halfway when I realised I shouldnt have. I woke up in the dressing room. That was my first meeting with Ned. We laugh about it today.
Noel remains a wonderful man. He was a tough player who had nine heavyweight title fights in Queensland before he left Ipswich to come to Sydney to play for Wests. Ironically, he lived in Collaroy and travelled all that way for training, first to Pratten Park, and then Lidcombe Oval.
He worked as a butcher and came from an era where you could go to the shops before the game and walk in, buy a couple of pounds of sausages, and have a chat to the man himself. It doesnt happy anymore and thats a pity.
Noel was a great player and a good coach. Today, he is putting something back into the game that has given him such a wonderful life through his outstanding work with the Men of League Foundation.
Kelly will be one of several 1963 players at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Sunday for the Men of League Heritage Round match.
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