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Vale Don Lancashire

Don Lancashire was one of Australia's finest rugby league referees, controlling Test matches, interstate clashes, and Brisbane and Sydney grand finals.

Lancashire also had the honour of standing as an umpire in first-class cricket matches at the Gabba.

The former Queensland Director of Referees died on June 25, aged 89, having spent his final years at Mt Warren Park, in the city of Logan, with his wife, Carol.

Lancashire was born at Brighton-Le-Sands in Sydney, in the heart of St George Dragons' territory, and played rugby union for the local side, before taking up the whistle as a rugby league referee. 

He controlled his first A grade match in 1959 - a St George v Souths clash at the Sydney Cricket Ground, with Test referee, Darcy Lawler ruled out at the last minute, after he rolled his ankle.

Lancashire moved to Queensland in 1960, and controlled Brisbane grand finals in 1963, '64, '67 and '69, before returning to Sydney in 1970, from where he was appointed to control the Australia v Great Britain Test series.

Australia won the first Test at Brisbane's Lang Park, but lost the battle, with their dressing room resembling a hospital casualty ward. Worst hit was Australian prop, Jim Morgan, who made the mistake of starting a head butting duel with British prop, Cliff Watson.

"You look at Cliff Watson, and he's so tough, you'd think if he had an argument with a steam roller, the roller would come off second best," Lancashire said, during an interview in 2015, when asked to reflect on his career in the middle.

"I'll never forget Morgan's nose. It was flattened across his face. After the big stoush in that first Test, I told both captains that was it. No more nonsense, or they were gone. I had no more trouble after that."

Britain went on to win the next two Tests in Sydney, to reclaim the Ashes Trophy.

Lancashire was also in charge of the 1970 Sydney grand final, when Souths skipper, John Sattler played for 77 minutes against Manly-Warringah, with a broken jaw, after an incident behind play.

"The touch judge let me down, no end," Lancashire said of the incident, which happened in the days before the bunker or video replays. "It was on the blindside, and no-one came in and said anything."

Lancashire returned to Brisbane at the end of the 1970 season, and late that summer umpired a Queensland v England cricket match at the Gabba.

His other first class cricket appointment was a Sheffield Shield match between Queensland and Western Australia.

Such was Lancashire's profile, he landed a television commentary role with Channel 0 (now TEN), and also wrote for 'The Australian' newspaper.

A printer by trade, Lancashire said he believed his sometimes-blunt appraisal of refereeing performances got him off-side with his contemporaries, and that, along with other run-ins with the Brisbane Association, forced him to travel to the Darling Downs for matches.

Don Lancashire (far right) tries to restore order in the First Test of the 1970 Australia v Great Britain series at Lang Park.
Don Lancashire (far right) tries to restore order in the First Test of the 1970 Australia v Great Britain series at Lang Park.

He still refereed at the top level, controlling the first Test of the 1974 Australia v Great Britain series, the England v Wales World Series clash at Lang Park in 1975, and the New Zealand v France World Series match at Carlaw Park, Auckland in 1977.

Lancashire controlled 11 interstate matches between 1964 and 1976. He was appointed State Director of Referees in the early 1980s, and oversaw the rise of North Queensland referee, Barry Gomersall to State of Origin and Test status.

In retirement, Lancashire was a strong supporter of the Men of League Foundation.

Former QRL Chairman Peter Betros remembered Lancashire as a tough but respected rugby league official.

"Don was highly respected and most young referees feared his wrath," Betros, a former top referee, said.

"He was a tough task master and kept aspiring referees on their toes. He ran seminars all over Queensland, along with Les Sainsbury, in his role as State Director of Referees."

Main image: Don Lancashire and his wife Carol in 2015.

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Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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