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Vale: NRL in Memoriam 2019

The rugby league world said a final farewell to many players, coaches, administrators and people associated with the sport in 2019.

Quentin Pongia

1970-May 18, 2019

Pongia was a powerful front-rower from Christchurch who was signed by Canberra coach Tim Sheens after he had debuted for the Kiwis against Papua New Guinea in 1992.

Pongia proved a huge success with the Raiders, playing 74 games, including the 1994 grand final win over the Bulldogs. He had later stints with the Warriors, Sydney Roosters and St George Illawarra and also spent time as player-coach at Chatillon in France and with Wigan in the English Super League. Pongia played 35 Tests for the Kiwis between 1992 and 2000 and competed in the 1995 and 2000 World Cups.

Quentin Pongia carts the ball up for New Zealand in 1993.
Quentin Pongia carts the ball up for New Zealand in 1993. ©NRL Photos

Sheens credits Pongia and fellow New Zealander John Lomax with “saving” the Raiders after the club lost Brent Todd, Glenn Lazarus and Sam Backo in the early 1990s.

“From day one, ‘Q’ was a colossus,” Sheens told Wide World of Sports. “He was so competitive on the field that he gave us that hard edge again and a year later, he was in the team that won the grand final.”

Pongia was appointed welfare officer of the Manly Sea Eagles in 2017 before being diagnosed with bowel cancer. He passed away at Greymouth at the age of 48.

Ken McCrohon

1932-September 30, 2018

Born in Tingha, McCrohon played his early football with Armidale and represented Country Seconds against City and Northern Division against Puig-Aubert’s touring French side in 1951 before heading to Brisbane’s Western Suburbs in 1954. He helped Wests to a 35-18 grand final victory over Brothers in his first season and in 1956 played the first of seven interstate matches for Queensland.

He was Australia’s fullback in the first Test against the touring New Zealand side of 1956 but despite Australia’s 12-9 victory in a tryless match at the SCG, McCrohon lost his place to Newtown’s goalkicking ace Gordon Clifford for the second. McCrohon was signed by Redcliffe as player-coach and helped guide the Dolphins through their formative years in the Brisbane competition until his retirement in 1962. He is No. 1 on the Dolphins’ heritage register and was named on the bench in Wests Brisbane’s Team of the Century. McCrohon died in Brisbane at the age of 86.

Bryan Orrock

1929-January 26, 2019

Orrock was regarded as a “strong and dependable forward” who emerged from the Mascot CYO team in the South Sydney juniors to play 51 first grade games for the Rabbitohs from 1950-52. He played in grand finals in 1951 (a 42-14 defeat of Manly) and in 1952 (22-12 loss to Western Suburbs), when he and Wests prop Hec Farrell were sent from the field by referee George Bishop for fighting.

Orrock played a season with Boorowa in the Riverina and with Souths team-mate Ernie Hammerton, helped the town win the famous Maher Cup trophy for only the second time. Orrock moved to the St George district in 1954 and played 54 games in five seasons with the Dragons and shared in grand final triumphs in 1956 and 1957.

He played five interstate games for New South Wales (1955-56) and toured Great Britain and France with the Kangaroos in 1956-57, playing the third Test against Great Britain at Swinton and the second Test against the French at Bordeaux.

After leaving the Dragons, Orrock played out his career as captain-coach of Condobolin. He died on the Central Coast aged 89.

Ray Laird

1941-February 2, 2019

Laird was a fullback renowned for his “straight running with an elusive swerve” who rose to Test honours in 1970 following an injury to Graeme Langlands. Laird had little opportunity to shine in an Australian team swamped 28-7 in the second Test at the SCG and was dumped for Sydney Easts goalkicking specialist Allan McKean for the decider. Younger brother of former Test five-eighth Graham Laird, Ray played junior football in Mackay before moving to Toowoomba in 1961 to further his rugby league education.

He played four seasons with the Newtown club and appeared in nine Bulimba Cup games for Toowoomba and played the first of 21 games for Queensland (including 18 interstate) in 1963. Laird died at Mackay at the age of 72.

Jim Paterson

1935-May 15, 2019

A lock or second-rower, Paterson was regarded as one of North Queensland’s all-time great players, a long-term Queensland representative and Australian Test forward of the 1950s and 1960s.

He toured Great Britain and France with the 1959-60 Kangaroos and was named in the North Queensland Team of the Century in 2008. 

He pulled on a Queensland jersey for the first time in 1958 and played 24 games for the Maroons until 1966, including 20 interstate games. Paterson debuted for Australia against the touring New Zealand team of 1959 before his selection with the Kangaroos later that year. He played 20 games on tour, but his only Test appearance was the first Test against France in Paris (a 20-19 win). He went on to play eight Tests. Paterson died in Townsville at the age of 83.

Nick Yakich

1940-May 28, 2019

Although born at Innisfail, Yakich was raised in Sydney, attending the same school as future Test star Ken Irvine. Like Irvine, Yakich was best known as a lightning fast winger. He won four consecutive Australian Beach Sprint championships with the North Narrabeen club, and was signed by Manly in 1960. He scored 52 tries in 73 first grade games for Manly until 1966.

Manly stalwart Nick Yakich.
Manly stalwart Nick Yakich. ©seaeagles.com.au

Chosen for NSW in 1965, Yakich scored three tries in the opening two interstate matches and was selected to tour New Zealand with the Australian team that year but was unable to oust Irvine or Mike Cleary from the Test side. Yakich died at Warriewood, aged 79.

Noel White

1923-June 20, 2019

White emerged from Kurri Kurri to win a place in Australia’s line-up for the third Test against England in 1946. After representing Country Firsts and New South Wales, White was called up for the final Test when Cowra winger Edgar Newham was forced out with a knee injury.

The first Test was drawn 8-all before England won the second 14-5 in Brisbane to retain the Ashes. Australia’s best hope was to square the series, but as it turned out England’s famed Indomitables proved superior, winning 20-7. White knocked back offers to join Sydney clubs Balmain, Newtown and Eastern Suburbs to stay in Kurri but after passing surveying examinations in February 1947 his supervisor forced him to make a choice between work and football.

White chose football and took up an offer to move to Townsville in 1947 and represented Queensland the same year. Encouraged to move south in 1948 to improve his Kangaroo hopes, White joined Brisbane Wests but broke down with a serious knee injury playing for Queensland versus The Rest early in the year and was forced to retire at the age of 24.

Until the time of his death at Stockton on June 20, 95-year-old White was the Kangaroos’ oldest living player.

Tony Paskins

1929-August 16, 2019

A classy, goalkicking centre, Paskins played close to 250 games with Workington (1948-55) and helped the club to an 18-10 victory over Featherstone in the 1952 Challenge Cup final at Wembley. He also represented Other Nationalities 11 times. Paskins returned to Australia in 1955 and played 53 games for Eastern Suburbs until 1958 before taking up a captain-coach role at Oberon in the NSW central-west until 1962.

From there he represented Country, leading them to famous wins over star-studded City opposition in 1961-62 and was selected as captain of NSW in three interstate games in those years. He returned to Sydney as captain-coach of Manly in 1963-64.

His last major role was coach of Eastern Suburbs in 1973. Paskins died at Tuncurry at the age of 89.

Eddie Lumsden

1935-October 6, 2019

Lumsden made his name as a champion winger for St George during the club’s golden era of success from 1956 to 1966. Originally from Kurri Kurri, he moved to Sydney in 1955 to play for Manly but was forced to return home after four games over an eligibility dispute. He returned in 1957 to link with the Dragons and stayed 10 seasons, scoring 136 tries in 158 games and playing in nine grand finals.

Eddie Lumsden seen in training at the old SCG No .2 prior to a representative match in the 1960s.
Eddie Lumsden seen in training at the old SCG No .2 prior to a representative match in the 1960s.

He missed the 1960 decider with a knee injury. Lumsden played 19 games for NSW, including 17 interstate matches and played 15 Tests for Australia from 1959-63. He toured with the Kangaroos in 1959-60. Lumsden retired after the 1966 grand final before taking up selection roles for Country, NSW and Australia.

He was named as one of Australia’s Top 100 players in 2008, earning him automatic induction into the game’s Hall of Fame in 2018.

Lumsden died at St Leonards on the day of the NRL grand final, aged 84.

Doug Ricketson

1930-December 18, 2019

The father of Roosters legend Luke Ricketson, Doug played 60 top-grade games for Easts between 1960-1963.

He played at centre for Easts in the 1960 grand final against St George.

In 1964, Doug represented NSW Country Firsts.

In 1967, he played three games for Penrith in their debut season in the NSWRFL premiership before a knee injury brought about an end to his career.

Doug spent 12 years playing and coaching throughout NSW. This included stints at Temora, Foster-Tuncurry and South Lismore. 

He represented NSW Country in 1964 and retired at the age of 37. 

He then spent 10 years coaching athletes at Waverley College.

The Ricketson name is synonymous with the Roosters, with Luke playing 301 games between 1991-2005 and winning a premiership in 2002.

Victor Spink

A second-rower for Newtown in two first-grade games in 1968, who was a notorious figure in Sydney’s underworld, a career criminal who was convicted in the 1990s of drug importation and linked to the Jockey Tapes scandal that emerged from an Australian Federal Police investigation into a race-fixing network on Sydney tracks the same decade. Spink died in Sydney on January 7, aged 76.

Bob Heaney

A front-rower who joined Balmain from Lakes United in Newcastle, playing 23 first grade games in 1956-57, including the 1956 grand final against St George. Heaney returned to the Newcastle competition in 1958, joining Maitland and representing Country Firsts in 1959 and Newcastle against touring teams from New Zealand (1959) and France (1960). He died at Belmont on January 13, aged 82.

John Payne

A second-rower for Wests, Valleys, Easts and Norths in the Brisbane competition and for North Sydney (1970-72), Manly (1973) and Parramatta (1974) in Sydney. Payne represented Queensland in five interstate matches in 1975-76 and in one game against touring English champions St Helens in 1976.

He was a non-playing reserve for Australia in a World Series match against France in 1975. Payne played in Brisbane grand finals for Valleys in 1969 and Easts in 1976, when he scored Easts’ only points (a field goal) in a 16-1 defeat. He passed away in Brisbane on February 21, aged 74 after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease.

Billy J Smith

A veteran broadcaster, television host and commentator from Brisbane, who called the game for 4IP and Channels Seven and 10 in Brisbane in the 1970s and 1980s. His career in the media spanned five decades, while his calls included the first State of Origin game in 1980 and games in the early years of the Brisbane Broncos.  Smith, aged 73, died on February 27 following a fall at Caxton Street after a day out with friends.

Steve 'Bear' Hall

A prominent player from western NSW who was a centre for Walgett, Coonamble and Dubbo Macquarie in the 1970s and 80s before taking on captain-coach roles at Mendooran and Dubbo CYMS. He later coached Country Seconds, Group 11 and Western Division and numerous junior representative teams and became a dedicated indigenous development officer for over 26 years.

Hall managed indigenous touring teams that visited Papua New Guinea, Tonga, New Zealand, England, France and Italy. He passed away on March 2, aged 64 after battling cancer.

Steve 'Beaver' Reilly

A prop who played lower grades with Manly before joining South Sydney in 1973 and playing 17 first-grade games (1973-74). He died at Bilgola Beach on March 23, aged 68.

Brian Smart

A life member and lifetime servant of the Eastern Suburbs Tigers club in Brisbane. Smart started out as a fullback in junior ranks but made his mark as an administrator, serving as club secretary from 1974-2004. He was a founding director of Easts Leagues Club and a director from 1974-2004. He was a life member of the club and the Brisbane Rugby League. Smart died in Brisbane on March 28.

Ted Allard

A winger noted for his speed, who played two first grade games for Balmain in 1962. An Eastern Suburbs junior, Allard toured New Zealand with the Paddington Technical School in 1954, which made history as the first schoolboy team to cross the Tasman. He played lower grades at Easts before joining Balmain and later played lower grades at Western Suburbs, playing in the club’s winning third grade team of 1967. He died in April, aged 78.

Peter Armstrong

A hooker for St George in 52 first grade games (1957-58, 1961-64) and in six first-grade games for Newtown (1965). A loyal clubman who won lower grade titles with the Dragons in 1957 (third grade) and 1962-63 (reserve grade), Armstrong played in winning first grade grand finals in 1961 (v Western Suburbs) and 1964 (v Balmain). Armstrong later served on the NSWRL Coaching Panel and as chief executive of Cronulla (1994-95) and Gold Coast Chargers (1998). He died at Tweed Heads on April 7, aged 73.

Alfie Walker

A five-eighth for Canberra in four first-grade games (1986-87) and a popular figure with local clubs at Crookwell, Goulburn and Boomanulla. An older brother of dual-international Andrew Walker, he died after suffering a heart attack at Goulburn on Anzac Day, aged 53.

Lindsay Drake

A lock or second-rower in 45 first-grade games for Manly (1970-71 and 1976-79) and in 53 games for St George (1972-75). Rated the fastest forward in the game in the early 1970s, Drake played in losing grand finals for Manly in 1970 and St George in 1975 and represented NSW in one interstate game in 1971. He died at Mona Vale on June 21, aged 69.

Eric Barnes

A lock for North Sydney in 48 first grade games (1962-66) and in 21 games for Cronulla in 1967. Barnes played in the Sharks’ maiden first grade game against Eastern Suburbs in 1967. Barnes died at Coffs Harbour on June 27, aged 78.

Doug Jones

A lock who joined Western Suburbs from North Newcastle in 1958. He played 28 first grade games for Wests in 1958 and 1960, including the 1958 grand final against St George. Jones died at Port Macquarie on June 29, aged 81.

Peter Leis

A centre with Redcliffe, who played 261 first grade games in the Brisbane competition between 1966 and 1981, with the exception of a single season with Wests Brisbane in 1970. He played in grand finals in 1973, 1973, 1977 and 1981. Leis was named in Redcliffe’s Greatest Dolphins Ever line-up in 2008. He played nine games for Queensland, including seven interstate games (1974-77) plus games against Great Britain in 1974 and 1977. Peter passed away at Dayboro on July 12, aged 71, after a lengthy illness.

John Chalk

A tireless administrator for Balmain, Wests Tigers, NSWRL, ARL and NRL in a 55-year association with the game. Chalk started as a ballboy with Balmain in 1955 and served the club as a player, manager and selector, before joining the club’s board in 1985. He was a long-standing chairman of Balmain, the first chairman of Wests Tigers in 2000 and served as both ARL and NSWRL chairman between 2010 and 2012. Chalk died in Sydney on August 2, aged 74.

Doug Blinkhorn

A winger for North Sydney in 14 first-grade games in 1961 and 1962. A nephew of legendary South Sydney and North Sydney winger Cec Blinkhorn and younger brother of Jack (60 first-grade games 1956-59) and Harold (72 first-grade games 1956-62). Doug died on August 10, aged 81.

Doug McKinnon

A prop for North Sydney who played 24 first-grade games between 1957 and 1961. The eldest son of former Norths prop and club president Harry McKinnon and brother of North Sydney, Manly and Kangaroos prop Don McKinnon. He died on the Central Coast on August 20, aged 84

Richie Powell

A prop for South Sydney in 97 games between 1958 and 1967. Powell made his first grade debut in 1958 but did not play in 1959-60 due to complications from a shoulder injury. He was named Sun-Herald player of the year in 1964, holding off Johnny Raper and Reg Gasnier, who finished equal second. Powell died on August 20, aged 80.

Ron Lovett

A five-eighth for Newtown in four first grade games in 1956 and in 15 games for South Sydney in 1960. Lovett represented City Seconds in 1960. He died in August, aged 83.

Peter Moscatt

A hooker, who joined Eastern Suburbs from Queanbeyan, playing 69 first grade games between 1969 and 1975 before rejoining Queanbeyan for a final season in 1976. He played in the Roosters’ grand final loss to Manly in 1972 and also spent almost two years in England with Leeds in 1966-67. He held leadership roles with the Rugby League Players’ Association from 1992-99. He died in Sydney on August 23, aged 76.

Hugh Hazard

A long-serving club doctor for Canterbury and later Australian teams. Hazard was Canterbury’s doctor from 1975 to 2008 and chief medical officer of the NRL from 1998 to 2010. He was also head medico of Kangaroos teams and worked with NSW State of Origin and Country Origin teams. He was the author of the first rugby league anti-doping policy for the NSWRL, the first professional sporting body in the world to introduce such a testing regime. He died on October 2 after battling cancer, aged 77.

Dr Hugh Hazard.
Dr Hugh Hazard. ©NRL Photos

Mike McClennan

A fullback for New Zealand in one Test against Australia in 1971 and in 11 tour games on the Kiwis’ tour of Great Britain and France the same year. He coached Mt Albert and Northcote clubs to five title victories in the 1980s. McClennan coached St Helens 1990-93 and coached Tonga at the 1995 World Cup. He was the father of Warriors and New Zealand coach Brian ‘Bluey’ McClennan. Suffering advanced dementia, McClennan disappeared from a rest home in Orewa, North Auckland on October 16. His body was discovered in dense bushland on October 22. He was 75.

Ken McCracken

A winger for New Zealand in seven Tests (1961, 1963-64). He toured Great Britain and France with the Kiwis in 1961 and Australia in 1963. He scored a crucial try that enabled the Kiwis to defeat Australia 16-13 in the third Test in 1963. He was the father of former Kiwis representative Jarrod McCracken. He died on October 28 after battling prostate cancer, aged 78.

Hugh Waddell

A Scottish-born front-rower, who joined Manly from Leeds in 1989 and played 12 games for the club. He toured Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand with Great Britain in 1988 and played in the third Ashes Test when the Lions won their first Test on Australian soil since 1974. Waddell died suddenly on November 1, aged 60.

Bob Smithies

A Lancashire-born fullback, who joined Balmain from Dapto, playing 58 first-grade games from 1969 to 1971. He played in the Tigers’ 1969 grand final win over South Sydney and after returning to Dapto in 1972, joined Hull KR, playing 55 games until 1975. He represented City Seconds in 1969 and Sydney in a 1970 World Cup selection trial. He died in early November, aged 71. 

Ray Preston

A prolific try-scoring winger for Newtown, where he scored 109 tries in 113 games from 1949 to 1956. He also played with Macksville in 1957 and in 17 games for Parramatta in 1958-59. He played in losing grand finals for Newtown in 1954 and 1955, both against South Sydney. In 1954, he scored 34 tries in 21 games, an all-time record for Newtown and second only to Dave Brown’s 1935 total of 38 with Eastern Suburbs.

Newtown legend Ray Preston.
Newtown legend Ray Preston. ©newtownjets.com

Preston represented City Firsts in 1949 and 1954. He died on November 15 at Penrith, aged 92.

Jeff Fyfe

A lock for Easts Brisbane, who was hero of the club’s 16-15 grand final win over Valleys in 1972 after kicking the first and only field goal of his career. He played for Easts from 1969 through to 1974 before retiring at age 25 due to work commitments. He won Brisbane’s Rothmans Medal as the competition’s best and fairest player in 1974. He died on July 19, aged 70, after battling dementia.

Hugh O'Doherty

A hooker for Ipswich Railways, Valleys Brisbane and Gatton in the 1960s and 1970s, who played two interstate matches for Queensland in 1970-71. Hugh passed away on July 29, aged 71.