John Fisher will become just the second Port Macquarie Shark to be admitted into the Group Three Rugby League Hall of Fame at the next induction to be held at Wingham on Friday, November 24.
Fisher holds a special place in the club's history. A fullback, he captain-coached the Sharks to their first Group Three first grade premiership in 1976. Until then the Sharks had often been around the money, but just couldn't seal the deal.
The club was a grand finalist in 1970, when the great Harry Wells was captain-coach. Unfortunately they ran into a Forster-Tuncurry side, captain-coached by Tony Paskins that is rated as among the best teams to play in Group Three.
A Goulburn junior, Fisher came to the Sharks in 76 following stints at Western Suburbs in Sydney then Lakes United in Newcastle. Former test second rower Alan Thompson was his coach at Lakes and Fisher won two premierships. However, it was a business opportunity that drew him to Port Macquarie.
"I was working for a plumbing supply company and the opportunity came to open up a shop in Port. I worked for them for five years then I opened my own business,'' he said.
He had been travelling to the area the previous year when Mike 'Dolly' McLean was the Sharks player-coach. Fisher was either in Port or Tamworth on a Thursday once a month, meaning he had to miss training with Lakes United - Thompson suggesting he train with a local club to maintain fitness.
"It was just an excuse to have a beer really,'' Fisher smiled.
"But I got to know the Port blokes.
"When I knew I was coming to Port I mentioned it to the club and things got going from there. That's how I ended up coaching.''
Port was primed in 1976. The club bought astutely, including Fisher, electrifying halves Les Drew and Eddie Vale, tough front rower Wayne 'Sammy' Aoake, second rower Terry Elford while some club juniors, led by Pat Cudmore, were ready to make a mark in first grade.
Drew - who represented Country Firsts just two years before when he was at Maitland -was mesmerising defences. However, he wasn't always the hardest of trainers. He was dropped on one occasion for not training, giving Cudmore the opportunity to play six. Then Drew's season ended in the third round, cut short by a knee injury.
Fisher still thought the Sharks had the team to win the comp.
"We had blokes like Sammy and Terry playing good football, we had speed in the backs and tough forwards,'' he said.
"We got the job done, that's the main thing.''
The Sharks lost the major semi to Wingham before beating Taree Old Bar in the final. They were too strong for Wingham then in the grand final - played in Taree, as all the major games were in those days.
It looked as though the Sharks could dominate for the rest of the decade. But that's not how it panned out.
"All the players left,'' Fisher said.
Elford, a second rower, was named the group player of the year and he was signed by Newtown, then a first division club. Cudmore was off to North Sydney. Fisher will join Cudmore in the Group Three Hall of Fame on November 24.
The Sharks were competitive but never a genuine premiership threat in 1977/78 with Fisher retiring at the conclusion of 1978. The Sharks made successive grand finals in 1979/80 under captain-coach and former international Gary Sullivan before Fisher was wooed back in 1981/82, initially as non-playing coach.
"But it's fair to say we were struggling then,'' he said.
Fisher eventually returned to the field in 1982, playing five-eighth, to give his side some direction.
"I thought I was going alright and I was thinking about having another run the following year,'' he said.
Then the Sharks ran into the dominant Taree Old Bar side. Fisher was hit in a crunching tackle by Old Bar captain-coach Darryl Warwick.
"Richard Swan said to me 'now you know why the forward won't run straight,' " Fisher said with a laugh.
He also decided that perhaps it was time to hang up the boots for the last time.
He also coached Group Three and North Coast representative teams and his firm was a longtime sponsor of junior and senior rugby league. A grandson, Cody Fisher, was a member of this year's Port Breakers reserve grade premiership winning side.
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