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St.George mourns Robert Stone's passing

R2K website
1 August 2005

Robert Stone, the Executive Officer of the St.George District RLFC, has passed away today after a long battle against cancer. While Robert's passing was not unexpected, today's sad news will be difficult for the St.George community to come to terms with as he was one of the Club's favourite sons and a true gentleman.

Robert began his long association with St.George in 1974 when he was graded as a 17-year-old lock. He experienced immediate success at the Dragons with a third grade premiership that year.

Following his 1 st Grade debut in 1975, he won a reserve grade premiership in 1976 before starring for ‘Bath's Babes' in the 1977 1 st Grade premiership triumph over Parramatta. The 1977 Grand Final replay produced one of the most memorable moments of his career when he scored a spectacular runaway try.

The 1977 victory meant that Robert had recorded premiership victories in all three grades. In 1980 he gained higher honours when used as a replacement forward in the inaugural State of Origin match.

At the end of the successful 1985 season, Club Administrators failed to renew Robert's contract in one of the most unpopular decisions in Club history. This decision coincided with the abandonment of Kogarah's Jubilee Oval as the Dragons' home ground.

Robert played 281 Grade games for St.George, including 147 1 st Grade matches.* His tally of 281 Grade appearances places him behind only Billy Smith (297) and Norm Provan (283).

In 2000, after the first year of the St.George joint venture with Illawarra, Robert was appointed Executive Officer of St.George District RLFC.

His appointment came at a time of great instability for the Dragons. Dragons' CEO Brian Johnston had resigned, Anthony Mundine had retired, David Waite was sacked and supporters were rallying for the Sydney Football Stadium home games to be returned to Kogarah. His appointment brought stability to the Club as he focused on reviving the St.George juniors and preserving the St.George identity and history.

When the return to Kogarah campaign reached its peak in 2002, Robert's positive influence contributed significantly to St.George-Illawarra's decision to return to the venue for the 2003 season. He spoke at the R2K Kogarah Oval Information Night and urged supporters to maintain their goal of returning to Kogarah.

He was responsible for keeping the 2003 upgrade of Kogarah on track and was so personally involved that he was referred to as ‘Bob The Builder'. In 2004 his continued work on Kogarah was rewarded when the Federal Government pledged an $8 million upgrade.

Robert will be immeasurably missed by all those associated with the St.George Leagues Club, the St.George District RLFC and the St.George-Illawarra Dragons. He won the respect and admiration of St.George supporters and it would be appropriate for the hill at Jubilee Oval to be named in his honour and for his memory to be preserved in the next extension of the Jubilee Oval Legends' Walk.

R2K would like to extend its sympathy to the Stone family and the St.George District RLFC of which Robert was made a life member in 1984. While Robert has now marched to eternity, it is hoped that the 2005 Saints can march into the history books with a premiership to help honour the greatest St.George Administrator since Frank Facer.

Rugby League community mourns the passing of Robert Stone
Written by: Steven Williams

The rugby league community today is in mourning following the passing of St George Dragons legend and Football Club Chief Executive Robert Stone.

The former front row forward has been battling a number of malignant tumors since 2003 before passing away quietly this morning.

A rugged forward with pace, Robert Stone debuted in first grade in 1975 as an 18-year-old. He was part of a ruthless St George pack which won the 1977 premiership, Stone scoring a memorable runaway try in the Grand Final replay.

Robert Stone played 281 all-grade games for St George. He won a premiership in all three grades (thirds in 1974, seconds in 1976 and firsts in 1977). From 1975-1985, he played 170 first grade games,* crossing for 26 tries.

A New South Wales representative, Stone played in the first State of Origin match in 1980. In 1984, Robert Stone was the Dragons' captain 15 times out of 24 appearances that year.

Robert Stone congratulates Coach Nathan Brown in late 2003

He became captain-coach of Picton before returning to St George as an administrator, eventually becoming Football club CEO in 2001.

Robert Stone was instrumental in the push to have the Dragons return to Kogarah Jubilee Oval in 2003. With the reconstruction deadline approaching, 'Stoney' was spotted shovelling gravel near the western grandstand.

Robert Stone epitomised the great spirit and dedication of the St George community.

While pondering the scale of works that had been completed at Kogarah Oval, Stone said, "We thought we had no chance of getting through it. Not only was it a community project, and it was marvellous to see the community coming behind us, but I am sure that God is a Dragon."

Sincere condolences to the family and many friends of Robert Stone.

Funeral services will be held on Wednesday, 3 August at St John Bosco parish in Engadine at 12:00pm, followed at 1.30pm by a service at the Woronora Crematorium.

Dragons in depths of grief as Robert Stone - very reluctantly - loses cancer fight
By Roy Masters
Sydney Morning Herald
August 2, 2005

It's an overused expression to say of a passionate follower of a football club that red-and-green or blue-and-white blood courses through his veins. In the case of St George fans, it is literally so, since everyone is born with red-and-white blood corpuscles.

But can there have been a person who bled more for the Dragons than their chief executive and former prop Robert Stone, who died yesterday at 6am at the age of 49?

For 17 months Stone was suffering from brain cancer yet continued his duties at Kogarah, where he was responsible for the operations of the St George football club, as opposed to the combined entity with Illawarra.

He attended the Oki Stadium match against Cronulla and watched Friday night's match against Sydney Roosters on TV.

On full-time, he did a thumbs-up and lapsed into a coma the following day.

"Stoney", as he was universally known, played 147 first-grade games* in 12 years with the Dragons, including the 1977 and 1979 premierships.*

He was also a member of the first NSW State of Origin team and drove to the 25th-anniversary function with a collapsible wheelchair in the boot. He considered it a temporary nuisance, insisting he would recover.

There has been a trend in rugby league to honour the terminally ill during their lifetime.

It's an eminently sensible idea in the most pragmatic of sports that the honoree sits there in the company of his former teammates, listening to the eulogies wash over him. But you couldn't do it for Stoney because he simply didn't believe he was going to die.

In any case, he was far too busy organising functions, such as first-grade reunions and testimonials, for others.

He scored the opening try in the '77 grand final replay with Parramatta, romping 20 metres, but teased teammates at reunions that he had received the ball in the in-goal and run the length of the field. He took a turn during the last reunion in May, sitting in his wheelchair on "Stoney's slab", a concrete block at Oki where former greats gathered.

The entire stadium could have been named after him, given the efforts he made to have it renovated and ensure the Saints would stay at Kogarah.

He worshipped the ground where he was graded in 1974 and played until the end of the 1985 season, when the Dragons moved to the SCG, seeking the corporate dollar, which was then almost non-existent.

The St George committee had kept the move to the SCG secret. One training night, aware that a newspaper was going to break the story the following day, the committee instructed me, as coach, to inform the three grades.

The players gathered, I spoke, and Stoney alone exploded, branding the move counterproductive. He was right, of course, but the law in those days was that coaches coached, players played and officials administered.

Of all the duties required of a coach, dropping players is the worst. Stoney made the task horrendous. A schoolteacher, he insisted on detailed explanations for his relegation and always had logical alternatives.

One night, to avoid the debates I nicknamed "Yaltas" because they lasted as long as the post-World War II conference at the Black Sea resort, I instructed the club doctor to find something wrong with Stoney's knee, rather than drop him. When the doctor ruled him out, Stoney shook his head in amazement, insisting he had been playing with the same sloppy knee for years.

A decade later, when I confessed, Stoney revealed he had already extracted an admission from the doctor.

He cared for his family with a love which few can compare. When new land was being opened up in the Sutherland region, Stoney drove his car to the block he and wife Anne had chosen and he slept in it through the long, cold winter night to be at the head of the queue.

It is a particularly sad time for the Dragons. Mitchell Wykes, the 22-year-old son of the Dragons' Jersey Flegg team trainer Chris Wykes, suffered a fatal heart attack during a game of touch football with neighbouring kids at the weekend.

It's so "Stoney" that he would miss the funeral of one of the St George family, only because he's at his own. His funeral is at noon tomorrow at St John Bosco Catholic Church in Engadine.

Robert Stone is survived by Anne, daughters Melissa and Belinda, son Michael, mother Iris and brother Peter. He'll be missed by all who ever dared love the red and whites.

Stone now a Saint forever
Daily Telegraph
August 4, 2005

Last goodbye ... Robert Finch, Craig Young, Randall Barge, Bruce Starkey, Graeme Wynn, John Jansen and Glen Anthony carried Robert Stone out of church yesterday to The Saints Go Marching In.
WHEN Robert Stone finally realised brain cancer was the one opponent he would never overpower he gathered his family together and told them his farewell was to be a celebration and not a time for tears.

His friends and family did their best to make good Stone's last wish yesterday, honouring the Dragons forward who passed away on Monday morning aged just 49.

They released red and white balloons towards the heavens and told stories of their friend, father, colleague, teammate and hero who lived his few short years to the full and made friends wherever he went.

But as tough men such as Craig Young and Steve Edge fought back tears inside the St John Bosco Church at Engadine yesterday, there was no escaping the grief. Because the world is a poorer place today with his passing.

Stone's lifelong friend and Dragons teammate Randall Barge told the standing room- only crowd of his mate's early days growing up in Blakehurst, of a kid who could walk at eight months and swim by his first birthday.

Of those idyllic, dreamy summer days at Kiama and Culburra, of forged sick notes to get out of class, of surfing with the Cronulla Nippers and playing schoolboy rugby for NSW.

And of the 1962 league grand final when the Dragons beat the Magpies and six-year-old Stoney jumped the SCG fence to run alongside Norm Provan with Stoney's dad Harry trying to catch his little boy.

"The crowd has gathered to cheer you on," Barge told his dear departed buddy.

"The siren has sounded but the light will never go out."

His former colleagues at schools in Blakehurst, Engadine and Padstow Heights where Stone taught school, recalled him as a man who made everyone laugh but whose practical jokes never hurt anyone.

And how, as he battled a relentless and awful disease, he never complained.

Steve Edge, Stone's former teammate, paid tribute to a Dragons legend who played in winning grand final teams in all three grades and who scored a remarkable try in the 1977 decider against the Eels in a team known as coach Harry Bath's Babes.

But he revealed how Stoney would always hide in the bushes when the Dragons went on runs through the Royal National Park and how he would always get out of push-ups by saying they played up with his blood pressure.

He remembered Stoney's running battles with Parramatta's Ray Price and Graham "Shovels" Olling and how in the lead-up to the 1980 State of Origin, Stoney was the only one enthused when Tommy Raudonikis revealed his plan for the cattle dog call that would signal an all-in brawl.

And he recalled how Stoney and Rod Reddy were pelted with lolly teeth by misinformed Parramatta fans during the phantom biter crisis of the late '70s.

Stone was a great footballer who played 281 games for the Dragons over 11 years* but to his family he was more importantly a great father and husband.

He met his wife Anne on August 8, 1975, and was her best friend until the day he died. His most memorable tries were scored against his kids, Melissa, Belinda and Michael in the backyard.

He survived cancer long enough to see the Dragons draw a record crowd against the Sharks at Oki Jubilee Oval last week and was the man credited with getting the Dragons back to Kogarah.

Steve Edge summed up his mate's life: "Robert Stone was a true saint in every way."

Worth remembering: when an ethos of love over money was set in stone
By Roy Masters
Sydney Morning Herald
August 6, 2005

As red and white balloons rose slowly above the vast congregation gathered outside the Engadine church to honour former St George forward Robert Stone, who died this week, comedian Brian Doyle made one of his pithy observations.

"I've seen less people at a game," the Dragons stalwart said.

Stone's captain, Craig "Albert" Young, stood beside the hearse, inconsolable, sobbing in the giant heaving way he played football.

"It finally hit me," he said later. "It wasn't until we put him in the hearse that I realised he was gone."

After all, Albert had seen Stoney surrender only once. On an end-of-season trip, Stoney put a giant, slimey frog down the back of Rod "Rocket" Reddy's shirt. Rocket hated frogs and retaliated by sprinkling itching powder through all Stoney's clothes, including towels and bed sheets.

Stoney was one of those rare players who wore pyjamas and within minutes was furiously scratching. He showered and it made no difference. After three days and no sleep, he finally pleaded: "Will someone shoot me?"

The funeral was held on Wednesday, only two days after he died, in order for the 2005 first grade team to attend the service. They flew to Townsville the next day and played the Cowboys last night. Some of the team were inside the church, others outside. None could have missed the sight of Young, now the club's recruiting officer, devastated and distraught.

Nor could they have ignored, despite their dark glasses, the scenes of past players embracing, comparing hairlines and waistlines, bound forever by blood spilt in past battles.

Many had not seen each other for 20 years, yet it were as if 1985 was yesterday. If ever there was a message conveyed that rugby league is not played just for $300,000 a year but for the life-long friendships it cements, it was outside St John Bosco church.

Stoney would have played for nothing in 1987 had the Dragons allowed him. He had played 281 games in all grades, just short of Norm Provan's 283 and within reach of Billy Smith's 297. He pleaded with the officials for another season but they were intransigent.

Stoney always believed it was to stop him breaking Smith's record. It wasn't. Football officials rarely look back, always forward.

The club committee believed Stoney would block the way for young props coming up, such as Paul Osborne. Stoney argued they weren't ready to move out of under-23s, and he was right.

Props take the longest to develop and "Ossie" didn't star until he moved to the Raiders years later. But Stoney was convinced the committee was trying to preserve Smith's record.

Considering Billy had driven the team bus into a pond outside the winery of Penfolds, the club sponsor, and was barred from the club, it would have been a remarkably charitable act by the committee. Club president Danny Robinson delivered the message Stoney's career as a Dragon was finished and Stoney retaliated by opposing Robinson, who ran the licensed club, at the forthcoming annual general meeting.

It was akin to a member of the Swiss Guard taking on the Pope, or a croupier ordering Kerry Packer out of a casino. A record turnout attended the AGM. Stoney lost by one vote.

He tended to lose big ballots by one. Folklore has it he missed a Test against New Zealand because a NSW selector sided with Queensland when they chose little-known Queenslander Rohan Hancock. A 3-2 vote despatched him to reserve grade in 1985, the year the club had three teams in the grand final.

He then did what almost everyone does when shown the door at St George - he went away for 10 years. He was captain-coach of Picton and coached Wests' reserve grade team.

Eventually, in August of 2000, realising the club needed to maintain its original identity in the merger with Illawarra, officials decided to appoint a chief executive of the Kogarah-based Dragons. The committee invited Stoney to take the post and it was Robinson who made the official offer.

In the final weeks of Stoney's life, he had frequent visitors to the home he shared with wife Anne and family.

One person was there daily, spooning him soup and holding a coffee mug to his lips. He ordered builders to remodel the house and had ramps for wheelchair access installed.

The person? Danny Robinson.

Dragons Mourn Loss of Club Legend Robert Stone
Dragons Official website
8 August 2005

The St George Illawarra Dragons, the St George Football Club, the St George Leagues Club and the game of rugby league and its' supporters are deeply saddened at the loss of Club legend Robert Stone.

After a tenacious battle with brain tumors Robert Stone (49) passed away at home peacefully last Monday morning in the company of his extended family; in particular wife Anne and children Melissa, Belinda and Michael.

A life member of the St George Football Club, Robert played 281 games for the Dragons; third in the alltime list of longest serving players behind only Norm Provan (283) and Billy Smith (297).

A former captain of the Club, Robert, played in grand final winning teams in all three grades – under 23s (1974), reserves (1976) and first grade (1977) and represented City-Country (1977) and New South Wales (1980), including the first State of Origin match.

On August 7, 2000 Robert was appointed Executive Officer of the St George Football Club and subsequently joined the Board of the St George Leagues Club.

During his tenure in the job he focused on junior rugby league in the St George District, the rejuvenation of Kogarah Oval as an elite rugby league venue and community asset and contributed significantly to the continued march of the Dragons. In all of these activities his leadership qualities were outstanding as were his qualities as a person.

Key people from the "Dragons family" have today expressed their condolences to the Stone family and have shared their admiration and praise for Robert. These include: Warren Lockwood (Chairman St George Illawarra Dragons), Peter Black (Chairman St George Football Club), Danny Robinson (General Manager St George Leagues Club), Peter Doust (Chief Executive Officer St George Illawarra Dragons) Immortals John Raper, Graeme Langlands and Reg Gasnier and former team-mates, Coach Nathan Brown and player representatives including captain Trent Barrett, Jason Ryles and Mark Gasnier.

"Robert was a truly unique individual with so many wonderful qualities", said Dragons Chief Executive Officer Peter Doust in encompassing the thoughts of all at the Dragons.

"He was inspiring, committed, passionate, tough, funny and caring, a friend to all that had the pleasure of knowing him.

"We are all going to miss him greatly, our thoughts are with his family and we will never forget him".

The funeral will be held at 12 noon Wednesday, August 3 at St John Bosco Church, Engadine followed at 1.30pm by a service at the Woronora Crematorium.

As a mark of respect the Dragons Football Office will be closed on Wednesday and the players will wear black armbands in their match against the Cowboys this Friday night.

Robert Stone in action for the Dragons

NSW Legislative Assembly Hansard


Page: 17762

Mr KEVIN GREENE (Georges River) [5.22 p.m.]: On Wednesday 3 August I attended the St John Bosco Catholic Church at Engadine for the funeral of well-known sporting administrator and former State of Origin and St George rugby league great, Robert Stone. I am sure that the church could hold over 1,000 worshippers, but like hundreds of others who attended the funeral, I am yet to see inside it. That indicates how many people came to pay their respects to a much-loved husband, father, teacher, coach, administrator and tough-as-they-come rugby league forward.

Eulogies were delivered by long-term friend Randall Barge, his premiership winning captain, Steve Edge, the St George Illawarra Dragons chairman, Warren Lockwood, and a teaching colleague, and there were touching tributes from his children. Together they outlined a magnificent rugby league career that included 281 games for his beloved St George—the third highest in the club's history—and representation in the first State of Origin game in 1980. I think Robert is the only player to have won premierships in all three grades for St George, including membership of Bath's Babes—the famous 1977 team that defeated Parramatta in the first replayed grand final. Mention was also made of his often-recalled try in the replayed match when he broke from the scrum to sprint away and score under the posts. Robert also played in St George's last premiership team in 1979.

A large number of Robert's team-mates and current St George players attended the funeral. I also saw many well-known rugby league identities who were representing many eras of the game and various National Rugby League clubs. Robert had been heavily involved with the New South Wales Primary Schools Sports Association [PSSA] rugby league, including coaching the State team. The PSSA was represented, and also in attendance to pay respect on behalf of the Kogarah Municipal Council were the mayor, Michael Platt, and the council's general manager, Gary Sawyer. They too were standing outside the church, as was the Federal member for Barton, Robert McClelland, and his wife, Michelle. It would be easier to list those who were not at Robert's funeral rather than those who were, such was the stature of Robert Stone in the community.

As well as outlining Robert's playing career beginning with his days at the Marist Brothers school at Kogarah, which was well represented at the funeral by students and teachers, and his extensive teaching career, speakers also noted his recent role as executive director of St George Rugby League, in particular his work as Bob the Builder when he oversaw the extensive renovations of Jubilee Oval and the return of his beloved Dragons to their spiritual home. Robert was passionate about everything related to St George, and that passion came out in his hands-on involvement in the redevelopment project. One of the features of that work is the Legends Walk outside the ground. It was opened in March last year two days after Robert's first operation to remove a brain tumour. He was released from hospital and went straight to the opening, which took place in the pouring rain—a demonstration not only of his passion for St George but also of his enormous courage and strength. These characteristics, of course, would be demonstrated on many occasions throughout the ensuing 16 months.

The last time I spoke with Robert was at the West Tigers game, when he arrived in a wheelchair. By that stage he was really battling, but still refused to concede. His wife, Anne, and his children, Melissa, Belinda and Michael, were with him, looking after his every need and clearly demonstrating their obvious love and affection for their respected husband and father. This was also obvious at the funeral service: while Robert was well-known to the rugby league world as a tough and uncompromising rugby league forward, more importantly he was a loving husband and a generous father. The respect he earned on the football field from his peers was nothing compared to the love he received from his family.

While mentioning the commitment of Robert's family throughout his illness, I should also comment on the support given to him by the St George Illawarra Dragons. I went to my first St George game in 1966 when St George defeated Manly at Jubilee Oval. Like many others, from that time I have red and white eyes. However, at the West Tigers game and at the funeral service, as well as at the Parramatta game, I had never been prouder to say that I was a St George man. At the West Tigers game all the officials I was with were thinking of Robert and looking after him. At the funeral service it was obvious that the St George family had lost one of its own. I know that throughout Robert's illness the club was very supportive of both Robert and Anne, particularly in the last months. At the Parramatta game during the half-time break the club showed a tribute video to the crowd which must have played for over five minutes. The crowd stood in silent homage—a fitting tribute to a departed hero.

Sport can be seen as many things. One thing that Robert Stone's passing reinforced in my mind is that true sporting teams are like family. Robert spent a lot of his time as an administrator, making sure that former players were still a part of the club and the St George family. The family lost a great man with Robert's death at the young age of only 49. To Anne, Melissa, Belinda and Michael, we share your loss and thank you for sharing your husband and father with not only the rugby league world but most importantly with the broader St George community. Robert Stone was a great administrator of the game, he was a great rugby league player, and also devoted his life to looking after the needs of many young people. He will be sadly missed. Again I say to Anne, Melissa, Belinda and Michael, we share your loss and thank you for letting us be part of your husband's and father's life.

Although a former St George Coach, Roy Masters was the coach of Western Suburbs in 1979. The majority of sources show that Robert Stone did not play in the 1979 grand final.

Some media reports have Robert Stone as making 147 first grade appearnaces while have it as 170 appearances. He played 147 matches in the run-on side plus 23 matches coming on as a replacement, allowing for a total of 170 appearances.

Robert Stone played 281 all-grade games over 12 seasons (1974-1985), including 1974 when he played third grade only. He played 11 seasons in first grade (1975-1985).