Rugby league's Anzac heroes

Picture if you will Mark Gasnier decked out in khaki, wading through a swamp in a steaming tropical jungle or Anthony Minichiello in the cockpit of a Spitfire flying reconnaissance over the Pacific. It is just as hard to imagine Jamie Soward parachuting behind enemy lines or Mitchell Pearce manning a machine gun nest. But those were the type of scenarios that confronted the sporting public in the 1940s as their footballing idols left their boots and jerseys in the locker rooms and enlisted in the services.

It would have been no different in World War I when the very players who were so familiar to legions of supporters signed up with the AIF to join the "big game" overseas.

Leading rugby league players have served in major conflicts from the Boer War to Vietnam. Many have been decorated as heroes, some were captured and incarcerated in Prisoner of War camps and, tragically, many were wounded and killed.

It was for this reason that former Roosters' CEO Bernie Gurr approached his Dragons' counterpart Peter Doust a decade ago to propose an annual Anzac Day clash between two of the game's most traditional clubs.

It was an opportunity to remember the deeds of all Australians who have served in overseas conflicts but especially those rugby league players who made the ultimate sacrifice in times of war.

The history of both outfits is rich with stories of former players who served in the armed forces.

Daniel Frawley, the Eastern Suburbs winger in the club's first premiership match in 1908 and later a member of the First Kangaroos, served with an Australian regiment in South Africa during the Boer War.

Easts' other original winger, Johnno Stuntz, who scored four tries in that first game, later enlisted in the AIF only to be killed by machine-gun fire at Bullecourt in France in 1917.

Easts lost centre Bob Tidyman, a Test player in 1914, who was reported missing in action near the scene of heavy fighting near Boulogne in the winter of 1916. His body was never recovered although personal effects, including a NSW Leagues Club ticket with his name on it were later found where he was believed to have fallen.

Members of the club's trifecta of premiership wins from 1911-13, Harold Corbett, Percy White, Tom Bruce and Ernest Gowenlock all fell on French battlefields before the end of World War I.

Many well-known Roosters players also served in the second World War, among them former internationals Wally O'Connell and Ferris Ashton.

Hooker Harold 'Nick' Dalton, who made a couple of fleeting appearances in the top grade for Easts in 1939 and 1941, died of wounds in New Guinea, where he served with an Anti-Aircraft Regiment.

George 'Bluey' Carstairs played in the centres in St George's first team in 1921 and became the club's first Kangaroo tourist later that year. He was a veteran of World War I and later served in the second World War where he had the unnerving distinction of reading his own obituary, which appeared in newspapers in 1940.

Saints suffered tragic losses in World War II. Centre Len Brennan, who played 40 top grade games in the early 1930s was a Flight Sergeant with the RAAF and was aboard a Wellington bomber which disappeared on a raid to Pantellaria, Italy in 1943.

Jack Lennox, a centre in the club's first grand final team in 1930, was captured by the Japanese during the fall of Singapore early in 1942. He was originally sent to the notorious Changi prison but was later transferred to work on the Burma-Thailand railway. He died in a prison hospital in December, 1943.

Jack Simpson, a halfback from Brisbane who played with the club in 1936, served with the RAAF's 460 Squadron and was killed in an accident aboard a Lancaster bomber in England in 1944.

And Spencer Walklate, a prop from the NSW North Coast, was reported missing in action off Muschu Island in New Guinea in 1945 when he escaped the Japanese with three members of his "Z" Special Unit commando force aboard a raft.

The memories of those who fought and those who died will be honoured in a special ceremony before the Roosters and the Dragons square off at the Sydney Football Stadium on Monday afternoon.

Lest we forget.