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Vale: NRL in Memoriam 2018

The rugby league world was saddened by the passing of several servants of the game in 2018.

Pat Devery

Tweed Heads-born Devery starred for Balmain, NSW and Australia in the 1940s before earning legendary status at Huddersfield in the north of England. A classical five-eighth with brilliant handling and passing skills, Devery came to notice during World War II after he had joined the Navy as a radio operator. After one game in reserve grade in 1944, he was elevated to firsts and helped steer Balmain to a premiership title in his first season. Navy obligations limited him to just 38 first grade games in four seasons with Balmain, yet he played in three premiership-winning teams (1944, 1946, 1947). Devery starred in the representative arena for City, NSW and Australia, figuring in all three Ashes Tests in 1946. He signed a three-year contract for £1300 plus match pay and guaranteed work as a teacher with Huddersfield and at the end of the 1947 season joined a growing exodus of Australian players to England, which would eventually lead to the re-introduction of an overseas transfer ban. Devery played 223 games in eight seasons with Huddersfield, played a leading role in the club’s Championship victory in 1949 and played centre in a Challenge Cup Final victory over St Helens in 1953. He returned to Australia in 1955 and coached Manly for two seasons before taking on a coaching role at Lithgow. Devery was named five-eighth in Balmain’s Team of the Century in 2003. He was Australia’s oldest living international player until his death in Portland on December 17, 2017 at the age of 95.

Graeme Langlands

Graeme "Changa" Langlands taught himself how to sidestep during his childhood in Wollongong. It became an asset that would carry him to the top of the rugby league world in a magnificent career for St George, NSW and Australia and to the ultimate recognition as an Immortal of the game. If he was overawed arriving at St George in 1963 after the club had won seven straight titles, he didn’t show it, making an instant impression as the Dragons turned seven into eight. Langlands represented Australia for the first time, slotting into the centres in three Tests against New Zealand before playing centre and wing against South Africa. He made the first of three Kangaroo tours later that season. Langlands played in three more winning grand finals for the Dragons, became a mainstay of the Australian team, and captain of the 1973 Kangaroos. The following year he became the first player to score 100 points in Anglo-Australian Tests. But after the high of 1974, Langlands experienced the lows of a record 38-0 defeat to Eastern Suburbs in 1975 and an unwanted place in grand final folklore after a pair of white boots he wore as a favour were highlighted by his poor performance. A painkilling needle intended to numb a groin injury rendered his whole leg virtually useless. Ongoing injuries forced his retirement after 227 first grade games, early in the 1976 season. Langlands experienced mixed fortunes in his post-football life, operating a bar in the Philippines and dabbling in coaching but a failed business arrangement left him financially crippled. He died of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease on January 20, aged 77. 

Peter Diversi

Born in Bega, he displayed early talent in the far South Coast town before joining Wollongong’s Western Suburbs club for the 1951 season. A year later, the 19-year-old was on the move to North Sydney where the lock progressed rapidly, earning selection for City Firsts and NSW after only a handful of first grade games and earning a reputation for his deadly tackling. Diversi was forced to wait until the deciding Test of the 1954 Ashes series before earning his national call-up. In a thrilling Test, Australia fought back from an 8-0 deficit to win 20-16 and Diversi scored a strong try on debut to aid the comeback. Later that year Diversi played in the inaugural World Cup in France, figuring in all three Australian games. The first Test of Australia’s 1955 series against the touring French team was Diversi’s last in green and gold. For the next two seasons he played at Gundagai as captain-coach before returning to Sydney with Manly in 1958. He played 65 games for the Sea Eagles, including the 1959 grand final against St George. Diversi retired in 1965 after playing two seasons with Kurri Kurri. The uncle of Parramatta legend Ray Price, he died at Gosford on January 22, aged 85.

Steve Folkes

The death of Steve Folkes in late February came as a huge shock and was mourned by the Canterbury club, where he had made an indelible impact as player, trainer and coach. In fact, the lightweight lock or second-rower made a hands-on contribution to all six premiership titles won by the club since 1980. He played in grand final victories in 1980, 1984, 1985 and 1988, was head trainer in 1995 and coached the Bulldogs to their most recent title win in 2004. Always supremely fit, Folkes was a tenacious defender who played all 245 of his first grade games with the Bulldogs between 1978 and 1991, stepping aside for a single season in 1990 after a 24-game stint with Hull FC. Folkes played nine State of Origin matches for NSW, including a 3-0 triumph in 1986, represented Australia in five Tests and toured with the Kangaroos in 1986. He spent 11 often challenging years at the helm of the Bulldogs’ first grade side. Folkes was named Dally M Coach of the Year in 2004. In 2009, he applied his training in strength and conditioning to take on a role with the West Indies cricket team before returning to rugby league as assistant coach at Wests Tigers (2011) and St George Illawarra (2012-13) before coaching the Jillaroos (2014-16). Folkes died at his Sydney home on February 27, aged 59.

Former Bulldogs and Jillaroos coach Steve Folkes.
Former Bulldogs and Jillaroos coach Steve Folkes. ©NRL Photos

Cliff Watson

Cliff Watson made a huge impact on the Cronulla club in a short time in the early 1970s after joining fellow English import Tommy Bishop. A front-rower who established a reputation for toughness and aggression on three tours to Australia with Great Britain teams (1966, 1968 and 1970), Watson added starch to a young Sharks pack when he arrived in 1971. They made it all the way to the 1973 grand final, where a formidable Manly team stood in their path and the Sharks went down 10-7, but Watson’s standing as one of the game’s toughest warriors was enhanced. Watson had already forged a career of outstanding quality, playing in 373 games for St Helens (1960-71) and in 30 Tests for Great Britain. He died at Miranda on May 2, aged 78.

Lance Thompson

A hugely popular figure, Thompson’s sudden death in August rocked former teammates at St George, St George Illawarra and Cronulla, the three clubs where he played for 14 seasons in the top grade. A Hurstville United junior and Australian Schoolboys representative in 1994 and 1995, Thompson was 17 when he debuted in the top grade in 1995 and remains the youngest player to wear the famous Red V in a first grade game. The tenacious second-rower he played in front of 107,999 in the 20-18 grand final loss to Melbourne in 1999. Thompson had also felt the anguish of grand final defeat with St George in 1996. After 132 games with the joint venture outfit, Thompson linked with neighbours Cronulla, and played 38 games across three seasons (2006-08). Thompson also played five games for City Origin. He died at Cronulla on August 23, aged 40.

Lance Thompson in action for the Dragons.
Lance Thompson in action for the Dragons. ©NRL Photos

Kevin Roberts

A halfback or five-eighth, he played 99 grade games for South Sydney, including 13 in first grade (1960-65). He controlled 272 first grade games as a referee, including three grand finals (1983-85) and oversaw six State of Origin games and six Tests until he retired early in the 1988 season. A policeman with over 40 years of service, "Bilko" was named halfback in the NSW Police Team of the Century in 2008. He died on January 2, aged 76.

Graham Lena

A five-eighth for Brothers Brisbane in the early 1970s, who represented Queensland in one interstate game in 1971. Originally from Murwillumbah, Lena played his early football with Ayr Colts after his father moved north for work. He played with the All Whites club in Toowoomba and at Ingham before joining Brisbane Brothers in 1970. The following year he won the Courier Mail’s Best and Fairest award, helped Brisbane to victory over Toowoomba in the final of the Bulimba Cup and travelled to Sydney with the Queensland team. He played his only interstate game at the SCG opposite Tom Raudonikis (a 17-15 loss). A series of knee injuries forced Lena to retire in 1974, aged just 26. He died in Brisbane after battling pancreatic cancer on January 6.

Kato Ottio

A Papua New Guinea Test centre, he died tragically in Port Moresby after suffering heat stroke following a training session alongside the PNG Hunters team. Ottio reportedly went close to NRL selection with the Canberra Raiders after scoring 29 tries from 23 games with feeder club Mounties in 2016 and being named in the NSW Intrust Premiership Team of the Year. He had signed a two-year deal with English club Widnes and was preparing to travel there only days later. Ottio played six Tests for the Kumuls including all four at the 2017 World Cup. He was 23 when he passed away on January 9.

Len Diett

A five-eighth for North Sydney in 46 first grade games from 1962 to 1966, he represented the Wallabies in two Tests before changing codes. Diett played one interstate game for NSW in 1964 and played finals football with Norths in 1965 when the Bears made it as far as the preliminary final against South Sydney. After five seasons with Norths, Diett moved to the United States to resume his rugby career with the University of Oregon. He died in Ballina on January 13, aged 78.

John Ferguson

A five-eighth for Eastern Suburbs in 1958 and 1961, he debuted in an Easts team that included Jack Gibson, Terry Fearnley and Tony Paskins under coach Dave Brown, playing six games in 1958 before returning to play another two in 1961. He died on January 29, aged 80.

Robert Cowie

A prop for Parramatta and Eastern Suburbs, he appeared in 10 first grade games between 1981 and 1983. He debuted at the Eels under Jack Gibson in 1981 but transferred to Easts the following season. Cowie played eight times for Easts before injury forced premature retirement. He died in January, aged 57.

Brian Batty

A highly respected rugby league correspondent for England’s national Daily Mail newspaper in a 30-year career that included countless visits to Australia with touring Great Britain teams. His articles also appeared in Rugby League Week and he was both charming host to visiting media and a welcome guest when abroad. He died on February 2, aged 87.

John McMartin 

A rugged and durable hooker for Parramatta and Cronulla in 259 first grade games that spanned 14 seasons. McMartin made his top grade debut with Parramatta in 1966. After 167 games with the Eels, he was lured to the Sharks where he played in the drawn grand final of 1978 against Manly before injury ruled him out of the replay. Rated by Sharks coach Norm Provan as ‘the best hooker never to represent Australia’, he played one game for City Firsts and one interstate game in 1975. He died on February 13, aged 73.

Dev Dines

A Western Suburbs centre who was the subject of an elaborate plot by the Magpies to ensure he qualified for the 1952 grand final; won 22-12 over South Sydney. It was revealed years after the game that Wests secretary Lou Moses had conspired with a club official and even Dines’s wife’s grandmother to prove Dines was residentially qualified, even though he fell well short of the one month qualification period. According to author Gary Lester: “Wests would have lost the premiership had Souths known of the ruse and protested”. Dines played 58 first grade games for the Magpies in the 1950s and turned out for Mareeba in North Queensland and Maitland. He died in Tamworth on March 2, aged 87.

Ben Haslam

A tall back-rower with an exceptional change of pace, who played 54 first grade games in three seasons for North Sydney (1952-54) and represented Country Seconds (1948), City Firsts (1952) and City Seconds (1953). Haslam played with Central Newcastle before and after his stint with North Sydney and spent a season with South Newcastle in 1957. He died at Wallsend on March 27, aged 90.

Sir Eric McClintock

A fullback for the University rugby league club in five first grade games in 1936. Although he would go on to a career in the upper echelons of Australian public service and as chairman of Woolworths (1980-87), McClintock retained vivid memories of his brief time with The Students. Demands of study and work meant his league career was over before his 18th birthday. Knighted in 1981 for service to exports and industry, he was the last surviving University player. He died on March 27, aged 99.

Gordon 'Nipper' Goldsmith

A prop for Balmain in nine first grade games 1960-61, he later coached Balmain’s lower grades, guiding third grade in 1967 and reserve grade from 1968-74. He died on April 3, aged 85.

Darrell Eastlake 

A booming commentator in Channel Nine’s coverage of State of Origin in the 1980s, whose catchcry of "HUUUGE" is both fondly remembered and regularly mimicked. Eastlake began a career in broadcasting in the 1960s and called rugby league for NBN Newcastle before joining the Nine Network in 1982. Eastlake died on the NSW Central Coast on April 19, aged 75.

Legendary commentator Darrell Eastlake.
Legendary commentator Darrell Eastlake. ©NRL Photos

Brian 'Chicka' Norton

A second-rower or prop for North Sydney and St George in a first grade career of 91 games that spanned the seasons 1968 to 1975. He took charge of North Sydney's first grade team midway through the 1985 season. He guided Norths to a play-off for fifth in 1986. Norton died on April 22, aged 75.

Bob Abbott

An administrator who served the Cronulla club from its entry into the NSWRL in 1967 and later joined the executive committee of the NSWRL before becoming general manager of the ARL secretariat in 1983. He was deputy chairman of the Sharks in 1967. Co-manager of Australia’s World Series team to England in 1975, Abbott later played a pivotal role in moves to establish the game in Fiji in the early 1990s. He was honoured with an Order of Australia Medal in 1990. He died on April 25, aged 90.

Terry Mackenroth

A former Queensland deputy premier and treasurer and long-time independent director of the Queensland Rugby League. Mackenroth was appointed to the QRL board in 2006 and among many accomplishments, played a key role in the establishment of the ARL Commission in 2012. Mackenroth spent 30 years in Queensland parliamentary life before lending his experience to the QRL from 2006 until he stood down in late 2017. He died on April 30, aged 68.

The Broncos hold a minute's silence for Terry Mackenroth.
The Broncos hold a minute's silence for Terry Mackenroth. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

Merv Lees

A centre for St George in 56 first grade games from 1953 to 1958. Lees scored 35 tries in his 56 first grade games, represented City Firsts in 1956 and played five games for NSW, including the notorious abandoned international against Great Britain in 1954 when referee Aub Oxford walked from the field in protest at incessant fighting. Lees died on May 11, aged 85.

Neville Hornery

An uncompromising second-rower, who played 49 games for Western Suburbs and Canterbury (1968-72), spent five seasons with Wynnum Manly (1973-77) and then wound down his career with several country clubs including Booval Swifts in the Ipswich competition. He died in Cairns on May 15, aged 70.

Tom Hadfield

One of New Zealand’s greatest and most prolific scoring wingers. In 17 Tests from 1956 to 1961 he scored 15 tries, including one sequence of 12 tries in nine Tests. In all, he scored 30 tries in 40 appearances for his country. He toured Australia in 1956, 1957 (World Cup) and 1959, England in 1960 (World Cup) and Britain and France in 1961. He was selected in New Zealand’s Team of the Century in 2007 and was inducted into the NZRL Legends of League in 2010. He died in Auckland on May 16, aged 83.

Fonda Metassa

A crowd-pleasing winger for Norths Brisbane from 1957 to 1969, interrupted by a brief stint with South Sydney in 1960-61. Known as the "Golden Greek", he played in six grand finals for five wins with Norths and was a prolific try scorer. After tasting his first premiership success in 1959, Metassa headed south for two seasons with the Rabbitohs, before returning to Norths and winning consecutive titles in 1962-63-64 and adding a fifth in his final season. He died on May 26, aged 80.

Gerald Ryan

NZRL chairman from 1997 until 2001, having already served as chairman of the Auckland RL and Auckland Warriors club. He was later chairman and patron of New Zealand Universities and Tertiary Students RL. Ryan began his rugby league involvement as a player with the University club in Auckland in 1957. A NZRL life member, he was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2011. He died in Auckland on May 26, aged 87. 

Fred Nelson

A second-rower or prop for South Sydney in 82 first grade games (1956-61), who also played 14 games for Manly in 1962. Nelson represented City Seconds and NSW in 1959, and played for City against Country in a Kangaroo tour trial later that season. He died on June 11, aged 84.

Ray Beaven

A sidestepping five-eighth for Eastern Suburbs, Canterbury and Tumut, who toured New Zealand with the Australian team in 1961. In 1961 Beaven was a key figure in a Country Firsts side that downed City and after impressing for NSW, he was the only specialist five-eighth named in the Australian team to tour New Zealand. Injuries to both groins restricted him to four appearances on tour (no Tests), with halfback Arthur Summons taking over at five-eighth and Barry Muir playing halfback. He died in Tumut on June 13, aged 81.

Sir Laurence Street 

A former chief justice of NSW, who was a long-serving chairman of the NSWRL, ARL and NRL judiciary appeals committees. His first connection with the game came in 1983 when he chaired a Royal Commission into accusations that former Premier Neville Wran had directed the NSW judiciary to drop charges against NSWRL president Kevin Humphreys. He later accepted an invitation from NSWRL boss John Quayle to head the game’s judiciary appeals committee and he held the position with the NSWRL, ARL and NRL from 1990 until 2010. He died on June 21, aged 91.

John Ross 

A five-eighth for Parramatta in 33 first grade games (1951-52 and 1955) and over 100 grade games for the club. He died on June 28, aged 86.

Bruce Smith

A lock for Balmain in five first grade games in 1947, who gained prominence at Thirroul on the NSW South Coast. Smith achieved a career highlight when he captained Southern Division to an 18-11 victory over the touring Great Britain team of 1950. He captained Southern Division against France in 1951 and played in a combined Monaro-Southern Division team against the touring New Zealand team of 1952. Smith represented Country Seconds in 1950, Country Firsts in 1952 and played for Country against City in a selection trial for the 1952-53 Kangaroo tour the same year. He died on June 30, aged 91.

Alan Scott

A centre or second-rower for South Sydney and Manly in 52 first grade games from 1960 to 1969. An Alexandria Rovers junior, Scott debuted in first grade for the Rabbitohs in 1960 before spending the next four seasons with the Sea Eagles. He played second row alongside Bob McCarthy in the Rabbitohs’ 1967 grand final win over Canterbury. He died on July 15, aged 79.

Phillip Orchard

A match-winning try against Australia at Carlaw Park in 1969 launched the Test career of this powerful winger. He holds the record for most (40) tries in his 47 games for the Kiwis, including 15 in his 21 Tests. On the 1971 tour of Britain and France he scored eight tries in five Tests and a record 27 tries in all. Inducted into NZRL Legends of League in 2001, Orchard was selected in the New Zealand Team of the Century in 2007 and Wellington’s Team of the Century in 2012. He died in Rotorua on July 29, aged 70.

David Schiemer

A centre for Canterbury in nine first grade games in 1953 and 1954. A member of a notable footballing family from Coolah in the central west of NSW. He died at Manly on July 31, aged 85.

Laurie Moraschi

A centre or fullback in 72 first grade games for Balmain (1966-68) and North Sydney (1970-72). Moraschi played his early football at Griffith and represented Riverina against France in 1964, Country Seconds (1964) and Country Firsts in 1965, when he was named inaugural winner of the NSW Country Player of the Year award. He represented NSW in one interstate game the same year. Moraschi played mostly in the centres for Balmain and in 1966 he played in Balmain’s 9-8 win over the touring Great Britain team and in the grand final against St George (23-4 loss). Moraschi walked away from the game in 1969 in support of teammate Dennis Tutty’s stand against the NSWRL’s transfer payments system. He returned in 1970, with North Sydney. Moraschi died on August 12, aged 75.

Bob Lenon

A halfback for Manly in 26 first grade games from 1957 to 1961. Graded in 1955, the younger brother of first grade hooker George Lenon, Bob played 97 lower grade games in seven seasons with the club and later coached in the Sea Eagles’ lower grades. He died at Cromer on August 13, aged 81.

Bruce 'Digger' Edwards

A nomadic front-rower who played 26 first grade games for Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs in 1950, 1952 and 1956, amid stints at Toowoomba (1951), Robertson (1953) and Bowraville (1954). Edwards won a premiership with Easts’ reserve grade team in 1949 and represented Monaro against the American All Stars in 1953. He died at Brighton-le-Sands on August 20, aged 88.

John O'Sullivan

An outside back who played 10 Tests and 18 other matches for the Kiwis between 1971 and 1975 and was in Auckland teams which beat Great Britain in 1974 and Wales in 1975 and reached the 1975 Amco Cup semi-finals. A New Zealand selector between 1991 and 1993, he died in Christchurch on September 14, aged 68.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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