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Fatty and Crusher star in Coming to America Part 1

Some three decades after playing dress-ups with good mate Noel Cleal to help promote rugby league’s first venture into the United States, Paul ‘Fatty’ Vautin will be keeping a close eye on proceedings when the NRL rolls into Las Vegas in March.

Vautin and Cleal featured on one of Rugby League Week magazine’s most iconic covers on August 5, 1987 when they donned American Civil War uniforms ahead of the historic State of Origin clash in California.

Taking the old ‘State v State, Mate v Mate’ motto to a whole new level, Vautin and Cleal squared off as a Confederate and a Yankee, complete with replica swords and pistols and an American flag draped over Fatty’s shoulder.

Manly teammates at the time, they would go on to share premiership glory seven weeks later, but when it came to Origin they were fierce rivals – Vautin a proud Maroon from north of the border and Cleal a hard-charging second-rower for the NSW Blues.

“The guys from Rugby League Week asked us to come into their office in Park St in Sydney and they said, ‘We’re going to dress one of you as a Confederate and one as a Yankee'," Vautin recalled.

Noel Cleal and Paul Vautin on the famous RLW cover ahead of the 1987 Origin game in California.
Noel Cleal and Paul Vautin on the famous RLW cover ahead of the 1987 Origin game in California.

“They wanted us to be really serious and look like we hated each other, which we didn’t, but we did our best to put on a snarling face and not to smile.

“The funny thing was neither of the outfits fitted us, especially the pants. They had to cut the pants from behind, so we had our arses hanging out because the pants didn't fit!”

With the Origin shield already in Queensland’s keeping courtesy of a 2-1 series triumph, Vautin admits the Maroons lacked a little motivation for the clash at Veterans Stadium in Long Beach.

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After completing their club commitments on the Sunday, players hastily hopped aboard a flight to America to be part of the Origin promotion, and that’s where the fun started for the Queenslanders.

“Apparently Blues coach Ron Willey put a booze ban on his blokes on the plane, but we had no such ban,” Vautin smiled.

“It’s fair to say we had a good time and we didn’t do a lot of training for the game. It was the middle of the season and we were all fit enough.

“Our coach Wayne Bennett went to a lot of universities to read up on coaching manuals from some of the great NFL coaches so he had a good time and in the meantime we ran riot.

“We were at a bar one night having a couple of beers and a troupe of body builders rolled in for a competition and Alfie [Langer] decided he’d go in it.

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“There was about a hundred people in the pub and Alf comes out all oiled up and the announcer says, ‘Ladies and gentlemen all the way from Australia, we have a special guest, Allan Langer’.

“He gets up and does all the flexing and ends up running third. The blokes who were fair dinkum body builders were filthy.”

When it came to the game itself, the Blues flew out of the blocks with captain Peter Sterling and forwards Les Davidson, Peter Tunks and Cleal leading the way.

The Maroons celebrate their 1987 Origin series triumph.
The Maroons celebrate their 1987 Origin series triumph.

It may not have been an official Origin match but the Blues were out to put on a show for the 10,000 curious fans and gain a small slice of revenge for a narrow series defeat.

“The Blues hit us early and they went on to win 30-18,” Vautin said.

“Sterlo always said ‘we equalled the series’ and I said ‘mate, it was an exhibition game, it doesn't count'.

“There was plenty of expats in the crowd and they loved it because they said it was just like being at home watching the footy.

Game 4, 1987: Blues v Maroons

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"The Americans love it as well and I really hope these games in Vegas do work and people get behind it. 

"The Bunnies had a game over there [against Leeds Rhinos] in 2008 so this is another shot at putting us on the map. 

"The vision is great and it's definitely worth a crack to play over there."

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Manly Warringah Sea Eagles respect and honour 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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