JOHN 'Tucker' Adamson remembers the day back in 1970 when he lined up for Taree Old Bar against Port Macquarie in the Group Three Rugby League competition.
Adamson was a centre. His opposite number was one of the greats of Australian rugby league, Harry Wells, who was the Port Macquarie captain-coach.
Wells was in the twilight of his storied career, but he was still a formidable figure.
"I grew up idolising Harry Wells and Reg Gasnier,'' Adamson said.
"Then all of a sudden I'm playing against Harry Wells. I thought 'shit, what's going to happen here.' At one stage of the game I tackled him. He patted me on the head and said 'good tackle son.'
"I said 'thanks Mr Wells.' I wasn't sure if I could call him Harry."
Adamson was one of the big talents in Group Three in the late 1960s and early 1970s until a knee injury ended his career. He'll be inducted into the Group Three Hall of Fame on Friday November 29, along with Phil Amidy, Brian Eakin and Ken 'Snow' Clarke.
Adamson started playing league in the early days of the Taree and District junior competition, initially with Green Hornets and then Red Rovers. He then linked with Taree Old Bar under 18s at a time when the leading juniors tended to gravitate towards Old Bar's bitter rivals, Taree United.
"All my mates from Taree High went to Old Bar so I followed them,'' he explained.
"We made the grand final in 1965 and 1966 and got beaten both times by (Taree) United. United's centres were Grahame and John Moran - and they were both good footballers who went on to play in Sydney.''
Adamson graduated to first grade and was a member of the Lifesavers side that won a competition known as the Caltex North Coast Knockout in 1969, winning the final at Smithtown. It was the club's first major success since 1946.
The Lifesavers were captain-coached by Bob 'Rajah' Wallace, a Taree boy who went to South Sydney and later played and coached extensively in country NSW.
"Bob was the best five-eighth I ever played outside,'' Adamson said.
"He had brilliant hands and just knew how to put you in a gap.''
Adamson's form was good enough to attract the attention of representative selectors. But city talent scouts also took notice and he was invited to trial with South Sydney in 1970. The Rabbitohs were then the powerhouses of the Sydney competition, having won premierships in 1967 and 68 while they were beaten in the 1969 grand final by Balmain in the upset of the century.
"I was down there for two weeks and had a great time,'' Adamson said.
However, it didn't have a happy ending as he broke the scaphoid bone in his wrist during the last trial.
"John Sattler shook my hand after the match and the pain shot through me. But I wasn't going to tell John Sattler not to shake my hand too hard,'' he laughed.
Adamson doubts the star studded Souths side would have signed him.
"Look who they had - Bob McCarthy, Ron Coote, John Sattler, Ray and Arthur Brannigan,'' he said.
Canterbury also showed an interest.
"But I was a country boy. I was married and we had Phillip by then, so there were a few other things going on,'' he explained.
Adamson rates 1971 as his best year. He represented Group Three and North Coast before came the crowning achievement - selection for Country Seconds in the then-annual clash against City at the SCG. His centre partner was Geoff Foster, who later had a long career with Western Suburbs. Garry Dowling was a classy fullback who eventually signed with Canterbury.
Adamson marked Mark Harris, the powerfully built international three quarter who played with Easts.
"They beat us pretty easily but it was a great experience,'' Adamson recalled.
"But it rained all week leading into the game and the ground was a quagmire.''
Adamson remembers when Group Three attracted quality captain-coaches in that era who helped lift the standard of the competition - Wallace and later Bob Carnegie at Old Bar, Wells at Port Macquarie, Ron Boden at Taree United, Forster-Tuncurry's Tony Paskins.
"John Wittenburg played for Australia against England in 1970 and came to Wauchope as captain-coach in 1971,'' he pointed out.
Adamson's only regret is not winning a premiership.
"I made four grand finals for Old Bar and lost them all - to United,'' he said.
The Lifesavers were well beaten in the 1971 decider. However things were coming together nicely for Old Bar towards the end of the 1973 campaign.
"Bob Carnegie was the captain-coach and we won six games in a row - we beat everybody,'' Adamson recalled.
However, a game against Port at Port stopped the momentum when Adamson smashed his kneecap - the injury that ultimately ended his playing days, while star five-eighth Phil Amidy sustained a leg injury.
"We still made the grand final. But I was out; Normie (Taylor) broke his arm in the semi, Phil (Amidy) was playing on one leg. And we were only beaten 8-3, so we were a bit unlucky.
"But that's football I suppose.''