The game farewelled two Immortals, a number of greats and many well-known players, coaches, administrators and people associated with rugby league in 2021.
League historian David Middleton pays tribute to Bob Fulton, Norm Provan, Tom Raudonikis, Dennis Ward, Fred Jones, Ken McCaffery, Tim Pickup and Peter Dimond.
A full list of those who passed away in 2021 and details of their careers has been published in the 2021 League Annual.
1929 - February 6, 2021
A brilliant schoolboy footballer from Sydney’s eastern suburbs, McCaffery was one of Australia’s classiest players of the 1950s, a versatile performer who was equally at home at centre, five-eighth or halfback.
A member of two World Cup campaigns and a Kangaroo tourist in 1952-53, McCaffery represented Australia in eight Test matches and was vice-captain of Australia’s 1953 tour of New Zealand.
He later became a leading administrator with the NSWRL and Canterbury and was club secretary of North Sydney 1980-85.
Coached as a schoolboy by Easts’ Immortal Dave Brown, McCaffery played junior football with Waverley CYO before a rapid rise to first grade with Easts in 1948.
His preference for halfback pitted him against established Western Suburbs and Australian half Keith Holman and, seeing limited opportunities in rep football as a result, he decided to move to Toowoomba, for nothing more than the chance to be coached by the legendary Duncan Thompson.
McCaffery was an instant success, helping Toowoomba to victory in the Bulimba Cup and starring for Queensland in the interstate series.
He debuted for Australia on the 1952-53 Kangaroo tour but he did not don a Test jersey until 1953 when he played all three Tests at centre against the Kiwis.
He was a star of Australia’s 37-12 first Test win over the touring Great Britain side in 1954, scoring two tries, before a shoulder injury kept him out for the rest of the series.
McCaffery joined Brisbane Valleys in 1955, winning a grand final in his first season before returning south and joining North Sydney in 1957.
He played an important role in Australia’s World Cup triumph that season after Holman was injured in the opening game against New Zealand.
A knee injury forced his retirement early in 1960. He died on February 6 at the age of 91.
1941 - March 20, 2021
Fred Jones holds pride of place at Manly as the club’s first premiership-winning captain. A Brookvale junior, he played in the club’s President’s Cup team of 1959 before making his way to grade in 1960.
He was a first-grader at 19 and held the hooker’s job at the Sea Eagles for more than a decade, except for a season as captain-coach of Tumbarumba in 1964.
Rugged and durable, he was valued for his ball-winning ability and by 1971 he was installed as captain of a team hungry to break its premiership duck.
Fred Jones flicks it to Fulton
Jones endured years of disappointments with his Manly team-mates, losing grand finals in 1968 and 1970 (to South Sydney) and missing another grand final date with the Rabbitohs in 1969 after Balmain pipped them with a last-minute try in the preliminary final.
He made his representative debut in 1964 for Riverina against the touring French team but had to wait until 1967 to represent City Firsts before his big breakthrough into New South Wales and Australian teams came in 1968.
He was the number one hooker in the game that year, playing in three World Cup matches, including the final against France, won 20-2 by Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Fred Jones scores during the 1972 grand final
He made another World Cup in 1972 but was deputy to South Sydney rake Elwyn Walters and appeared only in minor matches on tour.
The grand final success that September was the high point of his career with the Sea Eagles as he hoisted the JJ Giltinan trophy after scoring a try in the 19-14 defeat of Eastern Suburbs.
He led a second title success in the brutal 1973 decider against Cronulla soon after his 32nd birthday but with another talented local hooker, Max Krilich, commanding attention, his days in the top grade were numbered.
He played on until 1975 before retiring after a then record 241 first-grade games and 298 games in all grades. He died in Sydney on March 20 at the age of 79.
1950 - April 7, 2021
On the field there were few more competitive or combative halfbacks than Tommy Raudonikis. Off the field there have been few more adored larrikins or greater characters and his passing in April at the age of 70 after a long battle with cancer cast a sadness across the game.
Remembering Raudonikis: Tommy's time in rugby league
Raudonikis was rarely out of the public consciousness from the time he arrived at Western Suburbs as a fresh-faced teenager in 1969.
He was a gritty performer for the Magpies in over 200 first-grade games and won the Rothmans Medal as the competition’s best and fairest player in 1972 but the premiership title he craved eluded him.
He had his best chance for a premiership after advertising guru John Singleton lured him to Newtown in 1980. The following year the Jets made the grand final against Parramatta and Raudonikis scored a try after half-time to put Newtown ahead.
But a victory wasn’t to be and Raudonikis’ 238-game career in the NSWRL came to an end in 1982 without a title to his name. He played a final season as captain-coach of Brothers in Brisbane in 1983 before pursuing a full-time career in coaching.
He guided Brothers and Ipswich in the old Brisbane competition before taking charge of Western Suburbs in 1995 and the New South Wales State of Origin team (1997-98).
75. Tom Raudonikis - Hall of Fame
Acclaimed as the finest halfback of the 1970s, Raudonikis played 29 Tests for Australia and 60 games altogether for his country. He toured with the Kangaroos in 1973 and 1978, played in World Cups in 1972, 1975 and 1977 and toured New Zealand in 1980.
His 24 games for New South Wales included the inaugural State of Origin game in 1980, in which he captained the Blues.
Tommy’s down to earth style was adored by supporters and he built a new audience through his appearances on Channel Nine’s Footy Show and on radio with 2GB.
He was inducted into the ARL Hall of Fame after being named one of the top 100 players of the century in 2008 and was named in Western Suburbs and Wests Tigers Teams of the Century in 2003.
1938 - April 21, 2021
When it comes to tough and aggressive wingers, Peter Dimond sits unequivocally at the top of the list.
In the third Test against Great Britain in 1963, Dimond dropped rugged British prop Cliff Watson with a short arm jolt as the teams were running back onto the field for the second half.
Dimond’s philosophy was to give as good as he got and it proved especially effective in a brutal era of the game that was devoid of video replays and bunker referrals. The law of the jungle often applied and team-mates were grateful Dimond was on their side.
The younger brother of 1948-49 Kangaroo Bobby Dimond, Peter grew up on the South Coast at Dapto and played first grade at 16 before heading to Sydney to join Western Suburbs in 1958.
He was an instant success in Sydney football, represented City and New South Wales after a handful of first grade appearances and was chosen to make his Test debut against Great Britain as a 19-year-old.
He went on to play 10 Tests, seven of them against Great Britain, with the 1963-64 Kangaroo tour the highlight of his career. He played all six Tests on tour, including the famous ‘Swinton Massacre’ when an all-Australian team won the Ashes on British soil for the first time.
Dimond scored twice in the 50-12 rout. He played 155 games for Western Suburbs and his record of 84 first-grade tries for the Magpies is likely to stand for all-time. He played in four grand finals for the club, each of them ending in defeat to the mighty St George team.
Dimond left the Magpies after a decade of service in 1967 and joined South Newcastle (1968-71) before a final season with Maitland in 1972.
He was named in Western Suburbs and Wests Tigers teams of the century in 2003 and in South Newcastle’s team of the century in 2010.
The father of former Illawarra and Cronulla forward Craig Dimond, Peter died on April 21, aged 82.
1946 - May 23, 2021
Named as one of the game’s original Immortals in 1981 along with Clive Churchill, Johnny Raper and Reg Gasnier, Bob Fulton continued to impose a major influence on the game during the next three decades.
Fulton farewelled in emotional state funeral
A brilliant individualist who achieved success at club and representative level, Fulton turned his talents to coaching in the 1980s and 1990s with similar results.
Born in Warrington in 1946, Fulton was adopted by a paternal uncle, George, a World War II POW, and his wife Olive and the new family sailed for Australia a few days after Bob’s fourth birthday.
They settled at Unanderra on the NSW South Coast where Bob’s sporting talents quickly became apparent. He played his first rugby league at Unanderra Public School and by 18 he was first grade five-eighth for Western Suburbs Wollongong.
On the recommendation of former Manly centre John Hobbs, Fulton was signed by Sea Eagles secretary Ken Arthurson in 1966 and, after making his debut in the opening round of the 1966 pre-season competition, Fulton never played anywhere except first grade for the club.
74. Bob Fulton - Hall of Fame
He achieved the highest representative honours as a player, appearing in 17 games for New South Wales, in 35 Test and World Cup matches for Australia and captaining the 1978 Kangaroos.
He holds a unique place in the game as the only player to win premierships and Ashes series as a player and coach.
Fulton won three grand finals as a Manly player; in 1972 when the Sea Eagles won their first title; in 1973, when he brilliantly scored both Manly tries; and in 1976 when he captained the club to the title in his last game as a Sea Eagles player.
He accepted a lucrative offer from media baron Kerry Packer to switch to Eastern Suburbs in 1977 and after three seasons transitioned into a coaching role with the Roosters.
He guided the club to the minor premiership and grand final in 1980 before making a homecoming to the Sea Eagles in 1983. Premierships followed in 1987 and 1996 and meanwhile Fulton had taken over as Australian Test coach in 1989.
He steered Australia to new heights of success in a record 40 Tests in charge. He won Ashes series in 1990, 1992 and 1994 and World Cup titles in 1992 and 1995.
He played a major role in securing the future of the ARL during the Super League war and continued official involvement in the game as a selector for New South Wales and Australia.
He died in Sydney on May 23 after battling prostate cancer at the age of 74 and was farewelled at a state funeral at Sydney’s St Marys Cathedral on June 4.
1948 - June 7, 2021
Tim Pickup took a different path to the top in rugby league than most footballers of his era. He grew up in the heart of Western Suburbs territory at Strathfield and played juniors with Enfield Federals before making Wests’ junior rep teams, including a Jersey Flegg side that won the competition in 1965.
Called up to grade before his 17th birthday, Pickup was unprepared to commit his future to the Magpies, so switched to rugby union and played first grade for Manly.
A desire to see the world took him to the United States and then London, where he played for a Sunday ‘pub team’ before being invited north to try his luck for St Helens.
After a handful of games with Saints’ second team, Pickup was snapped up by Blackpool Borough where he starred at fullback and had the opportunity to play against many of the biggest names in the British game.
By the time he returned to Australia he was a man in demand, and he joined North Sydney where he made a meteoric rise to representative class. He represented City and New South Wales before playing both Tests against New Zealand that year.
Pickup toured with the Kangaroos in 1973 and, after joining Canterbury in 1975, he represented Australia at the World Series.
He picked up a serious knee injury against England at the SCG and, after aggravating the injury soon after, he did not play again until 1977. He continued with the Bulldogs until 1979 but chronic knee trouble forced his retirement early that season.
He played 11 Tests for Australia. He later took on administrative roles as a director of Canterbury and was the first CEO of the Adelaide Rams.
He died on June 8 after a long battle with dementia, aged 72.
1931 - October 13, 2021
In physical stature, for his achievements in rugby league and for his standing in the community, Norm ‘Sticks’ Provan was a towering figure.
Remembering Immortal Norm Provan
An icon of the game for his unique contribution to St George’s premiership dynasty as much for his permanent image on the NRL premiership trophy, Provan’s name is likely to resonate for generations to come.
From modest beginnings in the NSW Riverina, Provan played junior football at Willoughby and Sutherland before making his first-grade debut for St George at 19 in 1951.
Over the next 15 seasons, Provan forged one of the great careers in club rugby league history. He featured in 10 grand finals, four as captain-coach, winning them all before bowing out in triumph after the epic 1965 decider against South Sydney.
In three of those grand finals he was judged man of the match and in 1963 his muddy embrace with Western Suburbs captain Arthur Summons became the enduring image of the game (known as The Gladiators), a symbol of sportsmanship and the basis for rugby league’s premiership trophies for 40 years.
The moment the trophy was born: Provan-Summons trophy embrace
Provan played 25 times for New South Wales and in 18 Tests for Australia. He toured with the 1956-57 Kangaroos and played in the 1954 and 1957 World Cups.
He resumed his coaching career on a standalone basis with St George in 1968, followed by later stints with Parramatta (1975) and Cronulla (1978-79), guiding all three clubs to the finals.
Teammate pays tribute to Immortal Norm Provan
He went close to a maiden premiership with the Sharks, losing out to Manly in a replay in 1978 after the grand final was drawn.
Provan enjoyed success in his business career, firstly with an electrical retail business and later with a holiday resort on the Sunshine Coast.
Named in Australia’s Team of the Century in 2008, Provan was inducted into the ranks of the Immortals in 2018. He died on the Sunshine Coast on October 13, aged 89.
1945 - December 11, 2021
For a brief period in the early 1970s, Dennis Ward was the number one halfback in the game.
He had formed a brilliant halves combination with Bob Fulton which took Manly all the way to a grand final appearance against South Sydney in 1968, before he won his Test spurs on a short tour of New Zealand the following year.
But just as his career was taking off, injury intervened and a knee cartilage injury was followed by a ruptured spleen, suffered in a club game in 1971, that led to a weekend in intensive care and a severe punctuation mark to his football aspirations.
He returned stronger than ever in 1972, playing a major role in the Sea Eagles’ maiden grand final success against Eastern Suburbs.
Match Highlights: Sea Eagles v Roosters
His performance in that game earned him retrospective recognition as man of the match and it also propelled him into Australia’s squad for the World Cup, where he figured in one of the most controversial incidents in Cup history.
In the final against Great Britain at Lyon’s Stade Muncipal de Garland Ward punted high for fullback Graeme Langlands to follow on and in one breathtaking movement, Langlands dived full length and caught the ball for a try, only for French referee Georges Jameau to disallow it for offside.
The match ended in a 10-all draw and with no addition after 20 minutes extra-time, Great Britain were declared Cup champions due to their superior preliminary record.
Television replays showed Langlands was clearly onside and Jameau later apologised for the error. Ward took on a captain-coach role at Wests Newcastle in 1973, toured with the Kangaroos later that season and played on until 1975.
He coached Wynnum Manly in Brisbane in 1977 and later took on coaching director’s role for the Queensland Rugby League. Ward died in Brisbane on December 11, aged 76.