From the time the St George Dragons joined the NSWRL First Grade competition in 1921, both the Balmain Tigers and the Wests Magpies have enjoyed a storied rivalry with the Dragons. Of the Dragons famous 11 straight premierships, seven were won against either Balmain or Western Suburbs. When Illawarra joined in 1982 it grew as over the next decade as the newly relocated Magpies fought for control over the Southern Highlands with Illawarra, a typical stronghold of junior footballers.
As the only two joint-venture clubs, Wests Tigers and the St George Illawarra Dragons have their own history and rivalry, intensified by two preliminary final matches which preluded either side’s inaugural premiership victories, and a number of classic games over the past 13 years.
For the Tigers, the 2005 premiership victory was sweet, but to many it was the preliminary final victory of the previous week which stands level and possibly above this. Wests were the ultimate underdogs, a team of rookies and misfits who were taking on the international-ladden Dragons, the hot favourites to take out the title. It was just Wests Tigers’ day, as they out-enthused St George Illawarra 20-12 to book their place in the the decider.
That loss was seen as the poster child for St George Illawarra’s years of disappointment, but in 2010 those demons were exorcised in an equally epic preliminary final. Despite the Tigers best efforts, the Wayne Bennett coached Dragons edged in front late and notwithstanding a penalty claim directly prior to Jamie Soward’s winning field goal, the Dragons advanced to the decider and finally grabbed the premiership their fans had waited for since 1999.
In 2013 however, it is the history and legacy of the 1963 NSWRL Grand Final which is celebrated, 50 years onwards. Seen as one of the most controversial deciders in history, the St George Dragons claimed their eighth straight premiership with an 8-3 victory. A number of decisions by referee Darcy Lawler are to this day questioned by Magpies supporters and players, including two disallowed tries to Wests and a controversial match-winning try to Johnny King. The match included rugby league legends such as Graeme Langlands, Reg Gasnier, Ian Walsh, Johnny Raper, Peter Diamond, Noel Kelly and coach of the century Jack Gibson in his playing days.
But despite all the controversy on the field, this game is remembered for one enduring image, taken by John O’Gready, of opposing captains Norm Provan of St George and Arthur Summons of Western Suburbs. For just a second the two embrace post-match, both mud-sodden, in a display of camaraderie that some feel is lost from the game. That image now graces the top prize in the game, the Telstra Premiership Trophy, as a representation of history and legacy in the game.
It is that history and legacy that is celebrated on Sunday at the Sydney Cricket Ground when the Wests Tigers, celebrating their Western Suburbs Magpies tradition in black and white jumpers, take on the St George Illawarra Dragons. It is an 80+ year history that will come out at Sydney’s most historic sporting venue.
Jim Beam Smooth Move of the Week:
Titans half Albert Kelly's tackle bust, line break, chip kick and re-gather to score!