St George Dragons Rugby League History
1967, Rugby League was a different game.
tackles became a thing of the past with the introduction
of the four tackle rule. Originally an English modification,
the new rule allowed four attacking plays and at the completion
of four tackles, a scrum was packed. The defending team
was given the best chance of winning the ball by being
allowed feed the scrum on their loose head prop side.
Following the controversial rule change, coaches and players
irreversibly changed their game plans. Kicks became commonplace
as attacking teams desperately tried to find touch down
field rather than be trapped with the ball. There were
more scrums and with that, scrum penalties became a monotonous
blight on the game. The traditional 'softening up period'
was gone and replaced with a game where possession changed
there were supporters of the limited tackle rule that
pointed to the new game being faster and often swinging
from one end of the field to the other.
four tackle rule led to a completely new game of Rugby
League and one that was the cause of much debate in its
first year. In particular, it has often been blamed for
the demise of the St George powerhouse during this period
and that the Dragons couldnt adapt to the new game
- a claim which isnt backed by research and is probably
1967, the St George Dragons were the defending premiers
and had just won a world record 11 premierships in a row.
But it was a vastly different world to the one that saw
the Dragons beginning their dream run in 1956. Back then,
Robert Menzies was Australian Prime Minister and the Melbourne
Olympics was delivering stardom to Betty Cuthbert and
Dawn Fraser. Ken Rosewall was winning Wimbledon and rock-and-roll
was shocking parents in America. By 1967, there was Vietnam,
protests and the Beatles released Sergeant Peppers Lonely
Hearts Club Band.
was during this that the radical limited tackle rule came
into being. This coincided with an end to the Dragons
reign and gave rise to claims that the new rule was designed
to stop St George. While its true that their forwards
dominated while retaining possession for long periods,
the St George of 1967 also adapted to playing under the
four tackle rule. They still finished as minor premiers
and scored more tries than anyone else. The Dragons had
every chance to make it 12 premierships in a row.
there were other factors going against them;
core players in the team were one year older and some
were having trouble backing up from representative duties.
Injuries were taking their toll with key players taking
the field on pain killers while others were nearing retirement.
Journalist Mike Gibson wrote,
a lot of them
were looking more than just year older when we saw them
rampaging last year.
the player depth was thinning. Lower grade players, tired
of waiting for their chance, found better spots with other
clubs. Additionally, there were two new teams in the competition,
Penrith Panthers and Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks and this
gave more opportunities to players coming onto the open
market. In a nutshell, Saints had lost key players, mainly
forwards, and left it too late to find replacements. The
reality being that the club was losing more key players
than it was gaining.
Souths were on the rise and their young team of future
greats were a year older.
factors plus a series of internal disputes were to weigh
heavily on Saints in 1967. In particular, club officials
were to rue their lost opportunity to keep Kevin Ryan
who, as captain-coach of Canterbury-Bankstown, would introduce
many of the Dragons' training techniques. Ryan's Canterbury
would be there in the semi-finals to narrowly defeat St
George and finally end their premiership run.
four tackle rule, having completed its first season, was
still being hotly debated in the boardrooms and public
bars of Sydney. A number of players despised the rule.
Reg Gasnier didnt mince words when he simply said,
I hated it.
hooker, Ian Walsh wrote, I didnt like the
four tackle rule. Under it, Rugby League became a game
of chance and took much of the long-term strategy out
of the game.
argument continued until 1971 when the rule was changed
again with an extension to six attacking plays. Although
the critics continued to debate the issues, it seems that
this final six tackle modification silenced the antagonists
forever and gave us the game we have today.
CAN'T MAKE IT 12 IN A ROW
The end of the dynasty
DEPLETED DRAGONS STILL
Saints had always prided itself on it's recruitment drive. This
had been the cornerstone of their growing success for almost 30
years but in recent times, the club's commitment to nurturing
new talent had taken a number of falls. By the early 60s, the
club had reached the pinnacle of sporting achievement and with
that a certain amount of relaxation had crept into ranks of the
administrators. Players leaving the club was nothing new but in
earlier years, there was a strong reserve grade and the club had
replacements trained and ready up to a year prior to the changeover.
By 1967, the club's strength had descended to shallow depths.
The Dragons were written off, however, the champion side out-stayed
all to become minor premiers for the 11th time in 12 seasons.
SAINTS HUMBLED BY PENRITH
Penrith Park, 23 April 1967: St
George suffer their first loss in 1967 in an embarrassing defeat
to League newcomers, Penrith. Saints' have been suffering from
a number of off field problems which no doubt contributed to the
24-12 round four loss.
SAINTS CRUSH BERRIES
Sydney Cricket Ground, 27 May 1967: St George have
responded to their critics with a resounding 26-8 victory over
Canterbury Bankstown. In recent weeks, hooker and skipper/coach,
Ian Walsh was experiencing a drop in form and often found
himself on the losing end of the scrum count. In short, his head
was on the chopping block. A pre-game meeting sparked the team
into action and the round 10 match became a turning point in Saints
1967 campaign. The following week, Saints thrashed Newtown 42-7.
DENIS PRESTON SEASON'S TOP POINT SCORER
Denis Preston was the 1967 competition's top point scorer
with six tries and 73 goals (164 points).
SAINTS LOSE FIRST SEMI-FINAL
Sydney Cricket Ground, 2 September 1967:
Throughout 1967, Saints kept their title defence on track.
This was despite a growing injury toll. John Raper
and Graeme Langlands were playing on pain killers
and Brian Clay had a damaged knee cartilage, an injury
which eventually put him on the operating table. If it wasn't
for the efforts of Billy Smith and Reg Gasnier,
it is likely that Saints would have lost several more games
in 1967 and may have failed to qualify for the semi-finals.
Smith played on pain killers for much of 1967 and Gasnier
was coming back from injury. 'Gaz' was a full yard slower
following his horrific cruciate ligament injury which put
out of action for most of 1966. However, he found new strength,
setting up plays and putting others into gaps. He also increased
his defensive workload.
In an exciting encounter, the Dragons lost
their first semi final, going down to Souths 13-8 on September
2nd. In front of 51,915 spectators, Saints scored two tries
to one and won the scrum count but in reality, the Souths
pack out played the injury-ridden Dragons.
NSWRL First Grade
4 in semis)
p = Season Premiers
| AFTER 22 ROUNDS
Points For 437
(1st best attack)
Points Against 267
(4th best defence)
Points For 19
Points Against 25
| Points For 456
6 field goals
Points Against 292
9 field goals
Ground, 9 September 1967: Saints needed to beat Canterbury on September
9th to make it into the grand final.
PRELIMINARY FINAL FULLTIME:
Saints 11 Canterbury Bankstown 12
Scorers (St George) Tries: John King 1
Goals: Denis Preston 4
Referee: C Pearce
The match set the pace for future confrontations when the neighbouring
clubs put on one of the best Rugby League matches in living memory.
The match began with Saints winger, Denis Preston, opening the
Dragon's account with a penalty goal. A short time later, the injured
Brian Clay, playing in his final (200th) game made a half break
and set up John Raper who in turn set up Elton Rasmussen.
Rasmussen found Johnny King who scored near the uprights. Preston
converted and added further points with a penalty goal. After 20 minutes,
Saints led 9-0 and looked as if they would go with it. But the Berries
struck back and scored a try. From the kickoff, Preston kicked out on
the full and Canterbury kicked a penalty goal from halfway. Suddenly
it was 9-7.
Soon after, Saints'
1967 hopes took a nose dive when Graeme Langlands had to
leave the field with a groin injury, reducing the Dragons to 12 men. John
Raper tried to fill the gap but he too was struggling. The day before,
he was in a car accident and only a few weeks before that he was in
a hospital bed in traction. In the 1967 final, he was wearing a special
corset which kept his back rigid.
(775 Kb) Click on the speaker to hear Graeme Langlands recall
the 1967 final.
Canterbury's new skipper, ex-Saint Kevin Ryan rallied his troops,
letting everyone on the SCG pitch know what was already evident, Saints
were finished! A number of St George players were looking to their team
mates in an effort to find out who was going to win the match - an attitude
unheard of in the previous 10 years.
Canterbury scored again and at half time they held a slim 10-9 lead.
started the second half well and 14 minutes in, Preston kicked a penalty
goal which put Saints back in the lead, 11-10. But then the referee,
Col Pearce penalised the St George front row for not packing
down properly in the scrum. This trivial penalty turned into two points
for former St George lower grader, George Taylforth when he kicked
a goal from halfway putting Canterbury ahead 12-11.
With 20 minutes to go, Saints' remaining 12 players united and rallied
in an effort to save the match. Reg Gasnier, struggling with
a calf injury and centre partner, Billy Smith, doped up
with pain killers played their hearts out, tackling and running themselves
to the point of exhaustion.
With the valor of champions, Gasnier and Smith threw their all into
the final dying moments of the St George dynasty.
But it was not enough.
At fulltime, with no further scores added, it was a victorious Canterbury
12, defeating a gallant St George 11.
In an act of sportsmanship, St George formed a guard of honour and congratulated
the victors. Afterwards, in the dressing room it was different story
with grown men weeping uncontrollably.
After a long while, they sang with pride, 'We are the St George Boys'.
Then with quiet resolved, they packed up their gear and departed.
'POPPA' CLAY RETIRES
A Newtown junior and captain coach
of Griffith, Brian 'Poppa' Clay (pic right) came
to Saints in 1957. Originally selected at lock and found himself
in that year's Australian World Cup side.
He was moved to five eighth in 1958 and soon gained
a reputation as a fearless defender and excellent ball distributor.
'Poppa' toured with the 1959-60 Kangaroos and played in all
1962, he broke his arm and only came back in 1963 in Reserve
Grade where he guided the seconds to a Grand Final win.
In first grade, he played in no less than eight
Grand Final wins (1957-61 and 1964-66).
'Poppa' retired from Rugby League at the end of 1967, playing
his 200th grade match for St George. In first grade, he played
183 games, scoring 33 tries.
One of Australia's great captain coaches
announced his retirement from Rugby League following the 1967
final. Hooker, Walsh had the thankless task of leading the Dragons
to the 1967 final loss but is credited with leading St George
to their 13th Grand Final win in 1966. 'Abdul' played in 25
Tests for Australia and in five winning Grand Finals for St
George. In all, Ian Walsh played 94 games for the Dragons from
1962-1967 and scored four tries.
front rower went on to be a successful car salesman and later
made a name for himself as a sports writer before finding more
success as a marketing director with a printing firm
(2261 Kb) Click on the speaker to hear Ian Walsh recall
the 1967 final.
'Abdul' came back to football in 1994 as a City
REG GASNIER RETIRES
late 1967, in a Kangaroo tour match against a French Hopefuls
in Avignon, the champion centre, Reg Gasnier (pic left)
limped from the field. In an earlier match against Great Britain
he had broken his leg. He never played Rugby League again.
Afterwards, Gasnier was offered more money than ever before
to play with Saints in 1968. But after some consideration, he
chose to retire, citing family and business as the governing
reasons behind his decision.
the Magic Dragon' played for the Saints between 1959-1967 and
never played first grade for any other club. Generally regarded
as a player who comes along once in a lifetime, 'Gaz' burst
onto the representative scene in 1959, the same year he started
playing first grade. He scored three tries for NSW and did the
same for Australia against New Zealand. As if to make a habit
of it, Reg scored another hat trick of tries for Australia in
the first Test match against Great Britain. In 1962, he became
the youngest ever player to captain Australia at just 22 years
of age. In 1963, he also scored three tries in one match against
Great Britain and on the same tour scored a double in the 'Swinton
Massacre' to secure the Ashes. The most heavily marked man in
Rugby League, he was the season's leading try scorer in 1960
(25), 1963 (24) and 1964 (18).
(490 Kb) Click on the speaker to hear Reg Gasnier recall
the 1967 final.
In all, Gasnier played 36 Tests for Australia
and played 131 games for St George in first grade. He played
in six Grand Final winning sides.
In nine seasons, Reg Gasnier made 125
appearances for the Dragons, scoring 127 tries and 20 goals
A true local junior, Reg was born in Kogarah
in 1939. Widely regarded as the greatest centre to play Rugby
League, Gasnier went on to ABC commentary work and later became
a successful marketing manager for a Sydney packaging firm.
A Rugby League Immortal.
NORM PROVAN RETURNS
AS NON-PLAYING COACH
Norm Provan was
urged back as non-playing coach for one season and had some success
with Saints finishing in third position on the ladder.
But in the end, Saints were unable to match it with new front
runners, the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
SAINTS DEFEATED BY SOUTHS IN FINAL
Cricket Ground, 14 September 1968: Saints failed in their
attempt to become premiers when they were defeated by Souths
in the preliminary final, 20-8. Both sides scored two tries
each with penalties going the way of Souths.
Saints had earlier beaten the Jack Gibson coached Easts
side in the minor semi final, 17-10. Souths went on to win the
Grand Final beating Manly 13-9.
SEVEN DRAGONS IN WORLD CUP
not being able to re-claim their crown, Saints had seven representative
players in the World Cup squad of 1968: Johnny Raper
(c), Billy Smith, Graeme Langlands, Elton Rasmussen,
John Wittenberg, Johnny King and Tony Branson.
Hawthorne (pic above left): Wallaby international and champion
utility back was signed by Saints in 1968 on a reported $30,000
Tony Branson (pic above right): Originally from Nowra,
Tony was selected as Kangaroo five eighth before being was signed
to Saints following an $8,000 transfer fee.
John Wittenberg: Experienced forward from Wide Bay who
played with Toowoomba in 1961. A Queensland and Australian representative,
Wittenberg was previously blocked by the QRL from playing with
St George forcing the prop to sit out the 1967 season and forfeit
his spot in that years Kangaroo squad.
Apisai Toga: A giant Fijian forward, Apisai was signed
in December 1967 after playing two seasons with the Rochdale
SEASON'S TOP POINT SCORERS
Winger Stan Gorton was the season's top try scorer with
22 tries in 24 games. Hailing from Cairns, Stan first came to
Saints in 1966 before cementing a spot in first grade in 1968.
Denis Preston was again the competition's top scorer
with seven tries and 84 goals (189 points).
(top 4 in semis)
p = Season Premiers
| AFTER 22 ROUNDS
Points For 416
(1st best attack)
Points Against 320
(8th best defence)
Points For 25
Points Against 30
| Points For 441
28 field goals
Points Against 350
31 field goals
GO DOWN IN SEMI-FINAL
Cricket Ground, 30 August 1969: St George completed 22 rounds
of football in 3rd position thereby qualifying for the
semi finals. In a close match they were defeated 19-10 by Manly-Warringah
thus ending their 1969 campaign. Souths & Balmain would
eventually fight out the Grand Final with underdogs, Balmain
JOHN RAPER CAPTAIN
COACH IN 1969
Retires to end playing days with Wests Newcastle.
Raper is remembered as THE greatest lock forward of all
time. Some say that he is the greatest player of all time.
As a young boy, 'Chook'
lived with his well known sporting family in Revesby. Some writers
have laid claim that Raper was a Canterbury junior. In fact,
Johnny Raper spent much of his younger years in Newtown while
attending St Josephs Public School.
At 18, he signed with Newtown after the Bluebags supplied Raper
with a false address in order to side step the strict residential
regulations of the day. While at Newtown, Raper played lock,
five eighth and centre before being signed by Saints. Initially,
he was reluctant to join St George but after being offered more
money than he expected plus seeing the professionalism of St
George, John Raper decided to become a Dragon. However, he still
had to qualify as a St George resident.
After moving into the district, John had to sit out an entire
year of competition football. He resumed playing in 1959 and
in that year played for NSW and the Kangaroos. It was Saints'
unbeaten year and Raper played centre in the 1959 Grand Final
and on tour.
In all, Johnny Raper
played in 33 Tests touring with the Kangaroos 3 times (1959,
1963 and 1967) as well as representing Australia in two World
Cups (1960 and 1968). He was captain of Australia in 1968 and
holds the record of the most Test matches against France with
In the second Test at Swinton and in front of 30,843 people,
Australia thrashed Great Britain 50-12. Dubbed the 'Swinton
Massacre', Australia scored 12 tries. Johnny Raper played a
blinder, destroying the Brits and having a hand in 9 tries but
ironically was unable to score for himself. The dominance of
Raper prompted former player and highly respected League commentator
Frank Hyde to describe it as the greatest 80 minutes
of football by any one player.
field, Raper had a reputation as one of the game's characters
and 'mucked up' often. On field, he was an all round footballer.
Regarded as the best cover defender in the game, Raper was also electrifying
in attack just wide of the ruck. Very little got past him and
very few could stop him.
played in eight Grand Final wins for St George including one
where he played five eighth in 1962.
In 1969, with the St George ranks depleted,
Raper took over as captain-coach of the Dragons and steered
his team to the semi finals.
At season's end, the 30-year-old quit Sydney football to play
for Wests Newcastle as captain-coach. Although Raper will never
play for Australia again, he is to gain further selection in
the Country and NSW teams. He continued playing until 1972 by
which time he was with Kurri Kurri. He would later take up coaching
of Cronulla and eventually become an Australian selector.
Raper's record with Saints: 1959-69, 180 games, 47 tries, 4
goals, 149 points.
NSWRL First Grade
(top 4 in semis)
p = Season Premiers
| AFTER 22 ROUNDS
Points For 411
(2nd best attack)
Points Against 323
(5th best defence)
Points For 10
Points Against 19
| Points For 421
17 field goals
Points Against 342
19 field goals