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A tribute to 8 Legends of Rugby League

Fri 16th Apr 2021

Whether the love for Rugby League grew from watching the game with Dad as a kid, or kicking bombs in the backyard with mates, or even for those who aren't the biggest rugby fans - there's no denying that Rugby league has been a consequential part of life in most Australian homes, Queensland and New South Wales especially, since it started back in 1908.

The passes, the runs, the scrums, the kicks, the roaring scream from the crowd when the underdog scores a try - Rugby League football and the well respected figures of the game, have produced scores of memorable moments.

So without further ado, let's pay tribute to some of the all time greatest, athletically-gifted, naturally skilled, characters and legends of Rugby League in days gone by.

Tommy Raudonikis 

Tommy Raudonikis was a colossus for Newtown.
Tommy Raudonikis was a colossus for Newtown.

Tommy Raudonikis was a larger-than-life man who hit the Rugby League scene during the 60s and 70s. Gus Gould gave an emotional tribute to Raudonikis recently saying "...he was a fierce combatant, a raw, passionate, unapologetic competitor. He feared no one, and he would never take a backward step".

Raudonikis played 40 International games, World Cup games and also captained his country in two matches of the 1973 Kangaroo tour. In 1982 Raudonikis was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia and has since been named Men of League's Toughest 12 in last 50 years and ARL's greatest 100 in past 100 years.

Raudonikis is remembered as a fearless player, inspirational leader and a humble man who never forgot where he came from.

"He turned boys into men, he built comradery, unbreakable bonds and lifetime friendships" Gus Gould.

Tommy Raudonikis passed away 7 April 2021, at age 70.

Arthur "Artie" Beetson

Arthur Beetson with the Parramatta Eels after the 1980 reserve-grade grand final. While they lost, the retiring Artie was chaired off by Ed Sulkowicz and Phil Mann.
Arthur Beetson with the Parramatta Eels after the 1980 reserve-grade grand final. While they lost, the retiring Artie was chaired off by Ed Sulkowicz and Phil Mann.

Arthur "Artie" Beetson was the first Indigenous Australian to captain Australia and is said to be the best post-war forward in Australian rugby league history.

He represented Australia, New South Wales and Queensland spanning 1964 to 1981 in addition to an impressive coaching career during the 1970s to early 90s - truly a man that could do it all.

Considered the "Godfather of Origin'', Beetson was a man of great humility who cared deeply about his culture and its people, hence the Arthur Beetson Foundation in honour of this great man. Today, players who demonstrate both outstanding skills and admiral qualities similar to that of Beetson are awarded The Arthur Beetson Medal.

Brad Beetson, son of Arthur Beetson and Board Member of the Arthur Beetson Foundation said, "Dad through his life had a passion for improving the lives of young Indigenous people, it's great that the foundation can continue this by using his other great passion of Rugby League as the vehicle to do so."

Artie Beetson passed away 1 December 2011, at age 66.

"Reg" Gasnier

Reg Gasnier in action on the field in 1966.
Reg Gasnier in action on the field in 1966.

Reginald William Gasnier, also known as "Reg", "Puff the Magic Dragon" and the "prince of centres",  was an Australian Rugby league legend and coach.

Gasnier played centre for the St. George Dragons from 1959 to 1967, during this time the team won 11 straight premierships, a record still not broken to this day. He also represented Australia in a record 36 Tests, three World Cup games and captained the national side eight times between 1962 and 1967.

Gasnier was included in National Rugby League's list of 100 greatest players and the honorary Team of the Century. He is also a member of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame, Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame, and was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia.

An athlete remembered for his blistering speed and magician-like converting skills, he sits as one of the greatest backline players of all time.

"He was an absolute Rolls Royce of footballers, a magnificent centre."  said Warren Ryan, a fellow Dragons team mate.

Reg Gasnier passed away 11 May 2014, at age 74.

Clive Churchill

Coach Clive Churchill (left) and captain John Sattler (right) after Souths defeated Manly in 1970 grand final at SCG.
Coach Clive Churchill (left) and captain John Sattler (right) after Souths defeated Manly in 1970 grand final at SCG.

Clive Bernard Churchill stands as one of the original Immortals - a magician of the game.

An Australian international, New South Wales and Queensland interstate representative fullback, he won five premierships with the South Sydney Rabbitohs as a player and three more as coach. When Churchill retired, he was said to be the best Kangaroos player ever, and thus considered one of the game's greatest players.

Churchill's attacking flair as a player is said to have changed the role of the fullback. Fans will remember Churchill's makeshift splint using cardboard, in Souths' second last game of the 1955 season against Manly. He broke his wrist, but played on - later going on to kick an unbelievable field goal after the full-time bell which won them the game. It's no wonder today there is a prestigious medal named after him - the Clive Churchill Medal for man-of-the-match in NRL grand finals.

Churchill was a man of courage, toughness and he had a genuine character that made him unlike any other player out there.

Clive Churchill passed away 9 August 1985, at age 58.

Dally Messenger

Legendary Australian rugby league player Dally Messenger circa 1908.
Legendary Australian rugby league player Dally Messenger circa 1908.

The early years of the 20th Century marks the dawn of Rugby League and one of Australia's biggest sporting superstars Herbert Henry Messenger. Nicknamed "Dally" and "The Master", this rugby league icon toured England twice, first as the guest of the New Zealand Rugby League and the second as the star member of the First Kangaroos.

One of the most popular sporting personalities to this day, Messenger played Premierships from 1911-13, the Kangaroo Tour from 1908-09 and was Australian Captain in three tests. In 2008 he was appointed Australian Rugby League Team of the Century and New South Wales Team of the Century and in 2018, The National Rugby League named him as an Immortal of the game.

A supreme goalkicker of his day with lightning ball passing skills, freakish agility and virtuous commitment to the game, Messenger was the original champion.

"He is a true football genius, whose powers have been developed and ripened by the almost unique experience he has had." said J C Davis, Editor of The Referee newspaper, July 1911.

Dally Messenger passed away 24 November 1959, at age 76.

Arthur Summons 

Arthur Summons in London in 1963.
Arthur Summons in London in 1963.

Arthur Summons was a dual-code rugby international player, a fly-half with Gordon Rugby Union during the mid to late 1950s, and played 10 tests with the Wallabies before moving over to Rugby League in 1960 - which in 1961, 1962 and 1963 his Wests side made finals.

He captained the Australian national rugby league team in five undefeated test matches from 1962 until 1964 and at one time he was captain and coach, which speaks volumes about the leadership and talent of this football legend.

In 2008, Summons made the list of Australia's 100 greatest players between 1908 and 2007, which was commissioned by the NRL and ARL to celebrate the code's centenary year in Australia. In the same year, the Western Suburbs Magpies celebrated their centenary by inducting Summons and six others into the club's Hall of Fame.

Aside from the stats, away from the field, he was an idolized and respected man. Matty Jones said "...he was a beautiful man, just a class act. I've never meant a nicer, more well meaning man in Rugby League".

Arthur Summons passed away 16 May 2020, at age 84.

Steve Rogers

Steve Rogers.
Steve Rogers.

Steve Rogers played Rugby League during the 1970s and 1980s with Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks and St. George Dragons teams.

Inductee number 78 in National Rugby League Hall of Fame, they said "Steve Rogers was a brilliant and stylish centre who was credited with having one of the best defensive techniques in the game. With the ball in hand he was magical; he had speed and brilliant footwork and comparisons with Reg Gasnier were inevitable."

With a string of milestones including grand final appearances in 1973, 1978, Rothmans Medal 1975, Dally M Medal 1981, Dally M Lock of the Year 1981 and his role as Australian Captain for 2 tests, Rogers was a gun! After his retirement, he was named one of the five "immortals" of the Cronulla club, later becoming Cronulla's CEO until his passing.

Steve Rogers passed away 3 January 2006, at age 51.

Graeme "Changa" Langlands

Graeme Langlands is assisted from the field during the 1975 grand final.
Graeme Langlands is assisted from the field during the 1975 grand final.

Graeme Langlands, or "Changa" as he was known, was a fullback and goal-kicker in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. When Langlands retired in 1976, he was the most-capped player for the Australian national team with 45 international appearances from 1963 to 1975. Added to all this, he captained his country in 15 Test matches and World Cup games.

In 1999, Langlands was added to the National Rugby League Hall of Fame's ''Immortals'' list.

"He was one of the greatest competitors who ever played the game. Playing on the same side as him was inspirational." Arthur Beetson

Graeme Langlands passed away 20 January 2018, at age 76.

By Kirsten Jakubenko

Sources:

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tommy_Raudonikis 
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DwnMH11IHQ 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Beetson 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reg_Gasnier 
  • https://www.sportsonline.com.au/Product/12870_12/Reg-Gasnier,-St-George-Dragons-Immortal,-Legends-Series-Career-Tribute,-Framed,-Personally-Signed.aspx 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clive_Churchill
  • https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/churchill-clive-bernard-12317 
  • https://www.nrl.com/hall-of-fame/immortals/herbert-dally-messenger/ 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dally_Messenger 
  • https://www.nrl.com/hall-of-fame/players/steve-rogers/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Rogers_(rugby_league)