Not content with just beating the Wests Bulldogs in the 1999 grand final, a group of young Tigers famously went undercover to “Flog The Dog”. The heist has entered club folklore as part of a rollicking Sunday night of celebrations after the nailbiting 16-15 victory in the Hospital Cup decider at Ballymore.
Wests had organised a crane and hung their large fibreglass bulldog mascot above Ballymore as a rallying point for the club’s fans. Post-match, the forlorn bulldog was lowered and sat enticingly behind a fence.
Premiership hooker Tim Stoddart happily planted the seed. He spied the perfect accomplices in young Colts Byron Wood, Anthony Riordan, Matt Hughes and Tim Marshall, all apprentices working at the Stoddart family’s metal fabrication company.
“Fellas, if you get the dog back to Easts you’ve got a week off work,” Stoddart offered.
It was an offer too good to refuse. Finding henchmen was easy. Finding a sober driver was harder. Under cover of darkness, the bulldog was duly shuffled and lifted onto the back of a ute. Taryn Wise, the daughter of club stalwart Tony, stepped in as getaway driver.
The giant bulldog found a brief new home hanging from the crossbar at Bottomley Park much to the mirth of everyone at the clubhouse toasting the allconquering Tigers of 1999.
And they did raise a glass. The club had secured a late license until 4am Monday morning and was open again at 8am for breakfast. The “Mad Monday” pub crawl was scheduled for 10am.
Second grade grand final prop Craig Bastow couldn’t help but stir the pot a bit more. He’d ring the Wests club and start singing the old kids’ song “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window.”
“Of course, Wests wanted to charge us but the dog was there to be ‘borrowed’. We gave it back. It was all good fun,” Stoddart recalled with a laugh.
Everything about the 1999 season was fun. Winning always is. The Tigers set the pace from the outset. They won the Welsby Cup and Horsley Trophy during the season and finished as minor premiers with 12 wins from 16 games.
A standout season from fullback and skipper Richard Graham was rewarded with the XXXX Medal as the competition’s joint Best and Fairest winner.
In the major grades, the Tigers made grand finals in firsts, seconds, thirds, Colts 3 and the women’s division. It was “the most successful year in the club’s history” (to that point), said Easts President Geoff Box.
Eight Tigers (Graham, Ross West, Brent Cockbain, Ricky Nalatu, Tu Tamarua, Jacob Rauluni, Shane Tiatia and David Wilson) represented Queensland in 1999.
Flanker Wilson was a high performer in the Wallabies’ World Cup triumph while four further club members (Jacob and Moses Rauluni, Seta Tawake and Epeli Naituivai) represented Fiji at the tournament.
It was fun all the way to the Transcontinental Hotel on George Street late on game nights. Rarely has a club sponsor been supported so well. Centre Tony McGahan kept up sales of ouzo and Coke. Andrew Scotney was never far from some chuckling mischief. Backrowers Darren Gaffney and Glen Hauff played above their weights on and off the field.
The 1999 team entered the grand final in a very different situation to the ‘97 premiers despite the likes of Graham, West, Nalatu, Tamarua, Glen Hauff, Matt Morahan, Rick Tyrrell and Andrew Scotney featuring again.
“There was definitely more pressure in ‘97 in the club’s 50th year and with Easts yet to win a premiership,” Graham said.
“We hit a sweet spot in 1999. The club had set the pace throughout the year, we knew the quality of the side we had and we wanted to back it up on grand final day.
“It was all that and you were playing with your mates. Everyone would head back to the club after games and you’d move on to ‘The Trans’ later that night.
“We were all about pressuring opposition teams and we took a lot of quick taps, rather than shots at penalty goal. We had a genuine belief that season we were going to win matches no matter what.”
That confidence was tested in the grand final when Wests jumped to 15-3 in the first half, albeit with a strong wind behind them.
By common agreement, the turning point came just before half-time. A double blocker play, practised for the first time in grand final week, unleashed winger Tiatia.
The finisher’s power and speed had set the benchmark for wingers across the competition all season. He made the most of the opportunity to close the gap with the first of his two tries in the grand final.
“I always wanted the ball because I was always 100 per cent certain I’d score,” said Tiatia, not in a boastful way but as a reflection of the team’s confidence.
“On that day, we always had the feeling we were going to win. Even when we were down, you had that much faith in the players around you doing their jobs.”
His second try owed more to his Samoan leg drive as he pumped those pistons through the Wests forwards with flanker Tamarua helping to push him to the line.
“I wasn’t that tall but I always had a big person mentality when I played,” said Tiatia, who has needed that persona off the field as a father of 14 children.
“It was an ecstatic feeling to win that premiership. It was such an awesome team and such a welcoming club from the players through to the coaches and managers.”
The forklift driver’s boss Nigel Rowlands had put him on an incentive of $20 a try for the season. Tiatia scored close enough to 20 in 1999 as the competition’s leading tryscorer so a neat little payday ticked over.
Tiatia had switched to Easts after the competition’s one-season experiment with Kenmore as a first grade club in 1997 had fizzled. It was a beneficial pathway because front-row rock Naituivau and backrower Tawake also made the move across.
At 34, Naituivau was the wily veteran of the 1999 team with 20 Tests for Fiji already behind him. He played at a second World Cup to end 1999 with 22 Tests.
He completed a formidable front-row with Stoddart and two-time premiership prop Tyrrell.
Easts clung to a 16-15 lead entering the final stages of the grand final. There were some heart flutters when Wests back Tim Walsh, a former Tiger, set himself for a field goal at the death.
“Epeli got us geed-up to attack Wests at the last scrum of the game. He was the instigator. We pressured, ‘Walshy’ was hurried getting the ball and his shot missed,” Stoddart said.
The late Andrew Cole, as referee, whistled full-time. The Tigers were victorious.
The moment meant everything to a youthful veteran. Stoddart, a former Australian Under-21s representative, was 29 and had merely been a spectator at the ‘97 premiership success.
“Work in Sydney had taken me away for the 1997 season but I flew back to watch the grand final from the hill,” Stoddart recalled.
“The plane was delayed so I hopped a taxi at Brisbane Airport and offered the driver 50 bucks if he could get me there by kick-off.
“He took the fast route and I was maybe five minutes late but I still gave him the 50.
“I was so happy for the guys. I’d played with all of them.”
He wasn’t late to the celebrations. He was pretty much the first body over the fence when the throng of Tigers’ fans spilled from the hill onto the ground to celebrate the win.
Stoddart might have missed being in footy boots that day for a part in history but he also knew he probably would have been in reserve grade behind tyro Jeremy Paul.
“I never thought that was my chance gone. We had good sides in that era. We made the semis in 1998 and 1999 was a great year from the start,” Stoddart said.
Stoddart was a tough nut, a fierce competitor. He put his head where others might not and relished his duels with the top hookers of the day, Wallaby Michael Foley, Brendan Cannon, Christiaan Knapp, Tom Murphy and Matt Holt. It didn’t stop teammates from niggling him about the one area of his game prone to a misfire, his lineout throwing.
“‘Stoddy’ was a really big part of Easts. He was very tough and dependable but he hit our halfback Brad Williams with a lineout throw one afternoon at Norths,” Graham said with a laugh.
“’Scots’, Graham Holt and I niggled him and he spent the rest of the game chasing us to get square.”
Added Scotney: “I don’t think ‘Stoddy’ ever found my type of humour funny. I do recall a lineout close to our tryline one day when one throw bounced around the flyhalf’s feet.”
Whether it was the one event or an amalgam of Stoddart’s greatest hits, the hooker himself recalls one throw-in on the back field at Easts hitting his No.10.
“Not my best throw but there was a massive easterly wind,” Stoddart said with a smile, “Scots loved his cricket and it’s where he honed his sledging. You could always hear him in a crowd.”
Stoddart’s devoted involvement at the Tigers has spanned more than 30 years as player, Club President and father of young forwards Ben, George and Joe. Teenage daughter Molly still has the best hands in the family.
The attraction of Easts has remained constant: “It’s the camaraderie. No one is pretentious. Everyone is equal and I’d call Easts a fair club where you get rewarded if you play well.”
Scotney’s shrewd playmaking in a small frame made him one of the club scene’s best flyhalves although it would not be until 2002 that the Reds selectors saw the light.
Flanker Tamarua was another high achiever on the club scene. He was crowded out of chances by the likes of Wilson, Mark Murray, Luke Hammond and Scott Fava that year but did earn a Queensland game against ACT in an end-of-season series.
“We had a really good squad in 1999 with a lot of depth. Guys like ‘Holty’ and JB started in the second grade grand final that season,” Scotney said.
“We’d picked up some excellent players too. Epeli and Shane had come across from Kenmore. (Lock) Brent Cockbain played just the one season for us but had a huge year.”
Cockbain was the biggest figure in the pack at 120kg-plus. He earned a few chances for the Reds but John Eales, Garrick Morgan, Mark Connors and hirsute youngster Nathan Sharpe blocked his progress.
He headed to the United Kingdom where he forged a worthy 24-Test career for Wales. Cockbain had a strong second-row partner at Easts in Morahan, the skilful Villanova old boy playing his third grand final in five seasons.
“The turning point in the grand final was definitely Shane Tiatia’s try just before half-time,” Scotney continued.
“Shane was awesome that year. Give him a clear 30m run to the tryline and he might be run down. If you gave him 20m with four defenders in front of him, he’d score.
“A lot of his tries were individual tries where he had work to do.”
Centres West and Tony “Dumper” McGahan were vital cogs with their strong running and ability to set up their outside men.
“Apart from having a real good side, there was great chemistry off the field with that 1999 group. We had the characteristics of a good club. Guys were willing to do their extras to make it a better team,” McGahan said.
The accidental hero of the grand final was Morgan Jones, the 22-year-old wearing the No.9 jersey.
Moses Rauluni had played halfback in Easts’ 18-3 win over the Bulldogs in the major semi-final. Like halfback brother Jacob, he was swept into Fiji’s preparations for the impending Rugby World Cup in Europe.
“Morgan had been playing third grade for much of the year but he was a smart footy player. We’d played a lot of touch together so I knew he could handle it,” Scotney added.
Jones also had a wry sense of humour. First grade coach Adrian Thompson knew he’d be without the Raulunis so some weeks before he asked Jones to sit on the reserves bench for first grade for a Friday night game.
The quietly-spoken Jones told Thompson he was unavailable because he was required to work on a 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle for his parish.
“Morgan was so quiet I believed him but I found out about his wicked sense of humour soon enough,”
Thompson said. Thompson and predecessor Grant Batty had different coaching methods but equally effective. “’Thommo’ understood the quality of the side and worked in collaboration with the players to get the best out of us. He was really well organised with his plans and a strong communicator,” Graham said.
Thompson took no prompting to rate it: “Absolutely one of my most enjoyable years in rugby.”
“The fact Shane Tiatia was leading tryscorer for the comp that year says a lot about how we wanted to play the game,” Thompson said.
Backs coach John Bremner and long-time team manager Clive Hunter were integral to the off-field set-up as well.
Thompson gave rich credit to Bremner for being “ahead of his time with his design of game-specific drills and skills that enhanced fitness.”
“We knew John was sick (with cancer) but he didn’t miss a session. He was a Tiger through and through,” Thompson said.
The season left a mark when you consider that Graham, McGahan, Scotney, 2020 premiership coach Moses Rauluni and second grade flyhalf Jason Gilmore all became professional coaches from the playing ranks.
EASTS 1999 PREMIERS: 15 Richard Graham (c), 14 Rick Nalatu, 13 Ross West, 12 Anthony McGahan, 11 Shane Tiatia, 10 Andrew Scotney, 9 Morgan Jones, 8 Glen Hauff, 7 Darren Gaffney, 6 Tu Tamarua, 5 Matt Morahan, 4 Brent Cockbain, 3 Epeli Naituivau, 2 Tim Stoddart, 1 Rick Tyrrell. Replacements: Luke Fairbanks, Seta Tawake Coach: Adrian Thompson. Assistant coach: John Bremner. Manager: Clive Hunter