RUGBY LEAGUE WAS AND remains, in the words of Johnny King, a ‘tough game played by touch men’. Few footballers in the sport’s history embodied this reality more than two great Saints, Ken ‘Killer’ Kearney and Billy ‘Bluey’ Wilson.
In Never Before, Never Again, Kearney told author Larry Writer about a day Bluey wanted to get square …
‘Rugby league was tougher then, much more violent, with no video citing and more lenient referees, anything went. And there were no replacements, so we all had to play hurt. I played on for weeks after breaking my jaw and if I had a bung leg, which was often, I’d wrap my good leg in bandages so the opposition would kick the hell out of that and leave my injured one alone.
‘Billy Wilson once broke his forearm stiff-arming some fellow. It was before half-time and at the break he sat down beside me in the dressing sheds and said, “Killer, I think I’ve broken my arm.” I looked, and saw that it was snapped, gone. I told him he couldn’t continue in the second half but he looked at me as if I was mad. The one concession he’d make was to play on the wing.
‘For some reason he held a fierce grudge against the guy on whose head he’d broken his arm, and felt obliged to get square. Though in intense pain, he played out the game, determined, he told me, “to catch up with that bastard and give him some more”.
‘Billy Wilson never backed down in his life, no way in the world. Merv Lees was tough like that, and Raper, too.’