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John Kolc Little Johnny talks big games, broken noses and that brilliant try in his only Test

Your surname is unusual - what is its origin?

I believe we are the only Kolcs in Australia. It is a Polish name. My mum was born in Poland and in World War II, she was wandering the streets looking for food. The Germans took her and threw her into a Nazi concentration camp. She was one of the few who survived that horror and it was there she met my dad. They were offered several countries after the war and decided on Australia. Dad wanted me to play soccer but my mates talked me into league. Every league player was named Smith or Jones back in the 60s, so I did raise a few eyebrows.

You are the smallest player to ever represent Australia...how often did people tell you that you were too tiny to make it?

All the time as a kid. They said, 'Just be happy playing park football', then, 'Just be happy playing lower grades', then, 'Just be happy playing first grade'. Being told I would never make it just made me more determined to get there. It made me try harder. 

Tell us about your early football career...

I am a Parra junior and got graded from Hills District in 1971. The next year I made my first grade debut and scored a try against Balmain. It was a tough era and cheap shots were pretty common. But I had some hard men in the Parramatta pack and they would watch my back.

You played in the Eels' first grand final teams...

We got there for the first time in 1976 and it was fantastic. The whole city got behind us. Sadly we met a red-hot Manly team. Bob Fulton scored a try - I was going to tackle him but he ran the blindside past the referee, using him as a shepherd. He was very crafty (laughs). Next year we met St George and it was the first ever drawn grand final. We all stood around at full-time...no one, not even the referee, knew what we were supposed to do.

So you did it all again a week later...

Yes, and it's well-known that Saints, and particularly 'Rocket' (Rod Reddy) pushed the boundaries. He belted our blokes, knowing no-one would ever get sent off in a grand final. It was blue murder and he attacked poor Ray Price time and time again. They bashed us and beat us 22-0. It was frustrating.

Legend has it your coach Terry Fearnley told you to turn the other cheek?

Playing good football got us to the grand final and Terry thought it would win it for us. He wanted us to just stick to the game plan and it sounded good in theory. But in retrospect, maybe we would have done better standing up to them and fighting back. We wanted revenge but didn't take it and lost the game to boot - it was a very empty feeling.

It was certainly a big year for you - you also played your sole match for Australia in '77...

Yes, that was the pinnacle. It seemed an impossible dream, particularly, with all the detractors, saying I would never amount to anything all my career. I was at work at the (Parramatta) Leagues Club when I got the phone call and I will never forget it...it was the reward for all the hard work.

I was a kid on the SCG hill that day and you dived over for a try that won the World Series right in front of me. What are your memories of it?

People still remind me of it now, so many years later. We were playing Great Britain and it was a very tight game. One of our guys made a break and got tackled near the sideline. The whole field was open and I went to dummy half. Everyone expected me to spread the ball but I could see the marker was a little lazy. I gambled. I dummied left and darted right down the sideline with only inches to spare and then dived over in the corner. I think I gave you a wave (laughs).

Did you go out and celebrate after the match?

We had a few beers in the SCG sheds but there was no official function and I always thought that was a bit of an anti-climax after winning the World Series. I just had dinner with my family. Next day I played for Parra against the Bulldogs. Play had stopped, I was just running back onside when Bob McCarthy flung his elbow out and broke my nose. I never even saw it coming. The nose was bent out of shape and at half-time the doc said he would have to straighten it after the game.

What happened next?

Our forwards saw it and got square with Macca. They hammered him. But he was a tough man and stood up to the punishment. In the second half, he smashed me again right on the nose...and pushed it back into shape. I showed the doc and he said, ' No need to fix it now...it's all good again'.

Who was your toughest opponent?

Definitely Tommy Raudonikis. He loved to belt me but you had to show no fear and no pain. One day we were playing an Amco Cup midweek game that had been postponed because of rain. There was no crowd and no-one was trying too hard. Tommy got the ball early and I thought, 'Stuff you, this time I will smash you before you get me'. I hit him with my best punch and then kneed him and he just looked at me and growled, 'What are you doing that shit for...this is just a muck-around game'. He was a funny guy and we would always have a drink after the match-there were no hard feelings.

After playing, you went into coaching...
I have two sons and a daughter and coached my boys Nathan and Luke at Kellyville and also coached Parra in the lower grades. At Kellyville I had three hookers-Denis Moran and Ben Galea, who both went on to play first grade, and Nathan. I had to cut one and I cut Nathan. It was very awkward and he didn't speak to me for three months. But we are fine now and for my 50th birthday, my kids presented me with my Test jumper in a nice frame, so I guess he forgave me!

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Great read

Great interview. 

Must have missed it at the time it came out.

Have to disagree that Fearnley was outcoached. Cook the referree was completely weak in allowing head high tackles, elbows and Starkey doing kneelifts into Gerard after a scrum break up. One of the weakest displays ever by a referee. Gibson also held the belief not to retaliate and let the ref penalise the other team out of the game. Cook should be held in the same regard as Hartley. Fearnley had real character. Cook was weak. If Fearnley had known Cook was going to allow boots and all I am sure he would have unleashed our lads. Higgs did leave but Price stayed and won 4 premierships after that. Higgs could have won 4 alongside him. I am a huge Higgs fan and I suppose everyone involved would like that time over again. Maybe like the Centenary Test replay, we can get them all back out again for a run! I would not like to be Reddy if that happened. 1977 GF https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4CYvdq5L-z4 almost brings me to tears every time when Sulkowicz scores. I was sitting in the "Bob" stand which is now at Nth Sydney oval. The replay was a referring disgrace https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTuNyBdEpoQ

I am non violent also but agree with everything you have said above. Not only should Reddy have been sent off but I'll go further and say he should never have been made an employee of our club. Every time I saw him with a clipboard sitting in our stand I would think of 1977. I would love to hear Steve Edge talk about this game. Higgs could have taken on the entire St George pack by himself and wanted to. Where are the blood pressure pills! 

Completely off the topic but just realised that poor Phil Sigsworth played in losing Grand Finals against us for 3 different teams in 1981 (Newtown) 1983 (Manly) and 1986 (Canterbury) Must be a record!

And got sent off in one of them, unlike Reddy

Am I right in thinking that replay was played midweek? I'm not even sure it was on TV. I remember hearing the result at school or after school and being devastated. I have never seen that match and I don't think I ever could. But everyone said at the time that the Saints played dirty.

Fearnley was great coach. In 1976 we were not really a star-studded team but he nearly got us to a premiership and we became a team that was respected.

I remember during the 1st grand final that Rex and Barry weren't too sure what was supposed to happen if the teams were still drawn after extra time. Rex had to send Barry off somewhere to check.

I wonder if Mick Cronin still thinks about those kicks to win the game.

What you have to remember is all the goals Cronin did kick to get us into the GF. This link is Cronin kicking the greatest goal of all time from the sideline in a hurricane wind in 1981 GF at 2 mins 20 secs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ZVwMFegWjI even Rex cannot believe he kicks it!

Wrong Poppa. The 1977 GF Replay was the following Saturday and there were about 49000 people at the SCG. Anyway 1st try to Jansen was a forward pass. Last try was a blatant shepherd behind Cook the referee. Reddy was cautioned 4 times in the first 15 minutes for foul play but stayed on. It was on TV. Got home  for  ABC replay was at 6.00 but didn't watch it. I recall Sevens Big League showing Jansens try at the beginning of the show the following year so I presume Rex also called it. I'm not sure Barry Ross had started on 7 yet. Rex originally had some bloke named Bill Kerr ( don't think it was the actor) updating the scrums and penalties.

The midweek GF was the following year in 1978 played on a Tuesday due to the Kangaroo Tour.Crowd was about 30000. Max Krilich had a hard time convincing half his side to do a lap of honour after they realised that they had been the benefactor of some very questionable refereeing decisions for 6 weeks straight, from the same ref each week, who was in Reserve Grade 2 months prior and a few people were getting  a great earn from their result .

You maybe getting confused with the Midweek1978 Minor Semi Final Replay 2 weeks prior to this when Parra lost to Manly and Ray Price was inexplicably sent off- it had 7 tackle tries to Manly but just 5 tackles in the tackle count to us  (See para above for explanation on this). Despite 3pm kick off crowd ( no lights at SCG just yet) was about 42000 due to School Holidays. It was also Sterlos first game in 1st grade. There may have been a TV replay that night but it wasn't live. Frank Hyde thought ref was a show pony and should be dropped. Along with Wests and Cronulla the following 2 weeks we all thought he should be hung drawn and quartered.

He is right! Here is a link to the Sun-Herald from the day after. 

http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=lL5f5cZgq8MC&dat=19770925...

Memory is a strange thing. I must have of watched the game (unless I was in a coma) and blanked it out later from the horror.

I also could have sworn it was midweek. There is a lesson in there somewhere.

I also thought it was midweek

You maybe getting confused with the Midweek1978 Minor Semi Final Replay 2 weeks prior to this when Parra lost to Manly and Ray Price was inexplicably sent off- it had 7 tackle tries to Manly but just 5 tackles in the tackle count to us  (See para above for explanation on this). Despite 3pm kick off crowd ( no lights at SCG just yet) was about 42000 due to School Holidays. It was also Sterlos first game in 1st grade.

The 1978 Parra v Manly EPIC Trilogy

Game 1 Parra 20 Manly 19 at Brookvale "The Ray Higgs Revenge Match"

Game 2 Parra 13 Manly 13 - Semi SCG

Game 3 Parra 11 Manly 17 - Semi Final Replay

courtesy of slip - stories and newspaper articles - have a look

Game 1 http://2012-2015-games.2306506.n4.nabble.com/Round-16-1978-Parramat...

Game 2 http://2012-2015-games.2306506.n4.nabble.com/1978-Minor-Semi-Final-...

Game 3 http://2012-2015-games.2306506.n4.nabble.com/1978-Minor-Semi-Final-...

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