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The game salutes former Balmain second rower Dennis Tutty on Monday 13 December as it marks the 50th anniversary of the day he gave birth to player rights by having a win over the Rugby League powerbrokers.

In an historic decision on 13 December, 1971, the full High Court of Australia ruled the NSWRL’s transfer system invalid.

The system had been challenged by Tutty, who showed considerable fortitude to pursue the action which cost him two years of his career and a premiership with Balmain in 1969.

“He took on Goliath so to speak, and he won,” RLPA boss Clint Newton told nswrl.com.

“Fortunately for all Australian sport he did – not just for athletes but for codes as well because in my view there is no way sport in this country would be what it is today without Dennis standing up and taking on the regime.

“He did it on the premise of fairness and that’s what sport is about. It paved the way for codes to have a greater equalisation of competitions via freedom of choice.”

NSWRL chief executive Dave Trodden applauded Tutty’s stance born out of a “strong personal perspective”.

“He’d been wronged, and in his view – due no doubt to the strong morals from his working-class background – you stand up for yourself and fight for your rights,” Trodden said.

“He unlocked proper renumeration for all rugby league players. He asserted the rights of the individual player over the collective rights of the game.”

An Australian Test player in 1967 in his fourth year with Balmain, Tutty wanted to be placed on the club’s transfer list in 1968, when his contract expired.

But under the NSWRL rules at the time, a player was tied to his club and could not sign elsewhere unless released by transfer or by the club removing him from their list of registered players.

Even if a player was off-contract, a club simply had to list him as a “retained” player and he could not play for a rival club - as Tutty, Laurie Moraschi and Peter Jones found out.

While all three players stood down, Tutty was the only one to take legal action against the NSW governing body.

He sat out the 1969 and 1970 seasons, returning to play in 1971 for match payments while his case went before the High Court.

"They were probably the best earning years of my life but I had to wait the third year and go back and play, which I was allowed to do on match-to-match basis so it was virtually three years for my life's earnings," Tutty told NRL.com in 2018.

The RLPA introduced the Dennis Tutty award in 2008 for leadership, service and dedication to rugby league.

Newton is a former winner (2013) with the 2021 honour going to the Melbourne Storm prop, Christian Welch.

“What Tutty did is far from insignificant. He created generational change. And to be honest, the annual RLPA award is the least we can do for a man to ensure his legacy continues on for the next 50 years and beyond,” Newton said.

“I can’t speak highly enough of Dennis. He didn’t just lose two years of his career, I would suggest he lost a bit of his soul during that period.

“When there’s something you have a bone-deep belief in, and the other party just doesn’t see that injustice, that’s the part that would have hurt.”

Tutty moved to Penrith for three seasons in 1972, before a year with Eastern Suburbs (1975) and a final stint at Balmain (1976).

He now lives in Yamba, loves his surf boat competition, watching the footy, and having a beer.

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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