Saturday, October 23, 2021

THE 1963 RUGBY LEAGUE GRAND FINAL

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A post last week concerned the death of Rugby League Immortal (does anyone else see the irony in those words?) Norm Provan. This also prompted me to repost an item about the iconic photograph of the muddied captains from St George and Wests, Norm Provan and Arthur Summons, in a man hug after the conclusion of the match. That photograph, as a sculpture, is the basis of the current Premiership trophy.

Here are some additional items and background to the photograph and the match . . .
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Video:

See a video of what the match, and the conditions, were like by clicking on:

Well worth a look.
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The photograph:
The image caught the imagination of the public who read into it the mateship and sportsmanship that could exist between two hardened but still chivalrous warriors. The idea of a level playing field also appealed to readers who saw mutual respect between equals – the big man and the small – in Australian sport and by extension, in Australian society. O’Gready’s photograph became immensely popular and a symbol of the game, eventually becoming known as ‘The Gladiators’.
- Who’s that? by Michael Desmond, 1 September 2009


As mentioned previously, the photograph was taken by John O'Gready.

It did not have iconic status at the time, nor was it termed The Gladiators until later.

According to the Sun Herald, about the pic:
O’Gready was working for The Sun-Herald, the grand final being a Saturday, and when he filed his photos nobody thought it was good enough to publish. It wasn’t until the following day when a sub-editor came across it, looking for fresh pictures for Monday’s paper, that he picked it out of the tray and gave it a run.


It was published on page 3 of the Sun Herald:


Also, according to the Herald Sun:
Called “The Gladiators”, its impact was immediate, and changed Summons and Provan's life.

While controversy forever taints that grand final, with rumours that refuse to die on how referee Darcy Lawler had heavily backed St George, what remains is the most iconic image in Australian sport.

Summons played only one more season at Western Suburbs, just his fifth in all, and had his contract bought out by Wagga, back when country clubs could do those things.

He relocated with wife Pam and ran Wagga Wagga Leagues Club, raising children David, Gillian, Janine and Kellie.

He came back to the fold in 1982, when the NSW Rugby League took the radical idea of turning the game’s most famous photo into the Winfield Cup.

“The only condition was we don’t want to be involved in sponsoring cigarettes and they honoured that,” he said.

The funny part is, he never knew Provan before that photo.

“We just acknowledged each other as captains, I don’t think he even knew my name,” Summons said.


The photograph is in the collection of The National Portrait Gallery, purchased in 2009, where its captioning includes the following:

Taken after the Dragons’ 8-3 victory over Wests in the 1963 grand final, this photograph of the two captains was for a long time considered a depiction of mateship. Summons later revealed, however, that it in fact shows a moment of bitterness, when Summons refused to swap jumpers with Provan amidst talk that the officiating referee had bet £600 on a St George win. Regardless, the photo later became the model for the NRL premiership trophy. Provan and Summons were both named in the list of rugby league’s 100 Greatest Players during the game’s centenary celebrations in 2008.

 

John O’Gready’s photograph was named British Sports Picture of the Year in 1963 and since then has assumed the status of an Australian sports icon. The irony was that at the very time O’Gready was snapping the image of a battletested comradeship for posterity, Summons was actually complaining bitterly about the unjust refereeing and was himself snapping that the Saints ‘were lucky to win’.

- Michael Desmond

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The match:

A reprint of an article about the match:
The 1963 Grand Final Controversy - time to put it to rest

On the 24th August 1963, in the days of poor ground drainage, the St George Dragons and the Western Suburbs Magpies met on a muddy Sydney Cricket Ground pitch to battle it out. It was the grand final and the Rugby League premiership was up for grabs.

The 1963 grand final still rates as one of the most talked about matches in the history of the game. For many, it epitomised the spirit of Rugby League when photographer John O'Gready captured rival captains Norm Provan and the much smaller Arthur Summons in a brief muddy embrace at fulltime. Entitled 'The Gladiators', the photograph won many international awards and set the standard as an enduring symbol of Rugby League mateship.

But for others, the match will be remembered for the controversial and match-winning try, scored by Dragons winger Johnny King. Debate raged over the tackle on King and claims that the referee had called ?held?. Accusations that referee Darcy Lawler had made a wager on the outcome of the game are still being made to this day.

From the opening whistle the 1963 decider was a gruelling affair. The wet SCG pitch quickly became a quagmire and players became unrecognisable as the ground turned into a grey, thick mudheap. At one point, St George five eighth, Bruce Pollard was blinded by the mud so badly that he couldn't pass or catch the ball, forcing him to swap places with John Raper in the back row. Raper set up the best movement of the match when he broke the line and found Reg Gasnier in support. Reg, with a Wests defender hanging off him, sent the ball to Norm Provan who was backing up out wide before finding Johnny King in support who came within a whisker of scoring.

As the match developed, it was clear that Wests had a game plan to target the Saints centre three quarters. Wests' player, Gil McDougall singled out Reg Gasnier and other Wests players joined in. Eventually, Gasnier was bashed out of the match and became a passenger in the backline.

Just before half time, Wests had a try disallowed. Then with only 15 minutes to go and the score favouring Saints 5-3, Johnny King scored ?that try?, thus creating a sensation in Rugby League circles that was to rage for years. If ever there was an example of playing to the whistle, this was it. With a defender hanging off him, King overcame the slippery conditions long enough to score in the corner.

After the match, the debate continued. King claims it was a simple matter of 'play on' while Wests legend, Noel Kelly claims that King was tackled and that Wests 'were robbed'.

In the midst of the noisy and muddy atmosphere, no one doubted the word of any player. Indeed, the only clear issue was that St George had won their eighth consecutive Grand Final defeating a gallant Wests team, 8-3 and in doing so, destroyed the Magpies' hopes for the third year running.

30 years later, I had the opportunity to watch the match in full, playing back the controversial try.

The claim that referee, Darcy Lawler, changed his mind and was corrupt throughout the match was utmost in my mind. These accusations have largely been hearsay as most people have never seen the match or have only caught glimpses of it on TV snippets. I looked closely for contentious decisions and found that for the most part, the referee allowed play to flow.

After seeing it several times, frame-by-frame, I think we can put this one to rest. There is no clear indication that King was held and there were no hand movements or hesitations from the referee, who was in good position.

In fact, King hit the mud on his knees, slid away from the tackle, and put his hand on the ground. He wasn't held.

For rest of the match, there was very little opportunity for both sides in the mud. Scrums were hard to pack down with players often losing their footing.

As a final adjunct I was intrigued by another incident which never gets a mention. Earlier in the match, Saints were leading 5-0 before Wests struck back with a try under the posts. Goal kicker Summons had the chance to convert and make it 5-5, which would have been a big boost under the conditions... but he missed from right in front.

https://leagueunlimited.com/news/the-1963-grand-final-controversy-time-to-put-it-to-rest

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Gallery:

Some more pics from that match . . .

John Mowbray caring for Kevin Ryan

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One final note . . . 

Kevin Ryan, the injured player in the photograph above, was born in 1934 and, according to Wikipedia . . .
. . . is a former state parliamentarian and local mayor, barrister and advocate. In the 1950s and 1960s he was an Australian dual-code rugby international representative and had previously been a Queensland amateur boxing champion in 1958 and 1959, who trialled for the 1960 Olympics.

He was a front rower or second row forward with the St. George Dragons in the latter half of their 11-year consecutive premiership winning run from 1956 to 1966. He played 106 games for the club from 1960 to 1966, and played in seven winning grand finals. Ryan took over the 'Hard Man' mantle in the St George forward pack from Billy Wilson. From 1960 to 1962 when Ryan, Wilson and Norm Provan played together the St George forward pack was formidable. Ryan perfected a ball-and-all, one-on-one tackling style. He disdained gang tackling believing it was his individual responsibility to bring his man down hard without help. He would leave the ground each time he tackled, often winding his opponent with his shoulder, then bringing them to ground wrapped up, ball included.

During his footballing career Ryan was nicknamed 'Kandos' after the New South Wales cement producing town due to his on-field toughness.

My point in mentioning this is that after retiring from football, he became a barrister in 1970.

I became a solicitor in 1976 and my firm briefed him in a matter where I needed to be at court with him. Even though I was a newly admitted practitioner, I was still a pretty tall and solid chap but his physical size and presence was formidable. He shook my hand and it was like a leg of ham covering my hand in a grip that proved the truth of his nickname in footballing days, Kandos. It was like shaking a hand made of concrete. God knows what it would have been like to be tackled by him on the football field.  I heard back then that it had been likened to running into a concrete wall.

According to the NSW Bar listing of barristers, he still practises as a barrister at Selborne Chambers in Sydney.

Gallery:



The hands I mentioned.


Kevin Ryan holds the ball close to his chest as he is swamped by Wests' defenders, Gil McDougall (left) and Peter Dimond (right) during the 1962 Grand Final.
Eddie Lumsden (background) looks on.

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