THERE IS A TENDENCY to divide the great St George era into two periods: 1956–58 and 1959–66. This is because Reg Gasnier and Johnny Raper came to Kogarah in 1959. What was already the best side in the premiership now also featured two prodigiously talented rookies who would go on to Immortality.
In the seasons that followed, St George retained a happy knack of replacing outgoing veterans with newcomers who were just as good, in some cases even better. Kevin Ryan came in for Harry Bath, Ian Walsh for Ken Kearney, Graeme Langlands for Brian Graham, Billy Smith for Bob Bugden, Elton Rasmussen for Billy Wilson. Gasnier in the centres and Raper at lock were unique, irreplaceable.
In 1994, Never Before, Never Again author Larry Writer asked Gasnier to explain what set him apart …
‘One of the main reasons for my success in rugby league was my acceleration. From my first days as a lad in athletics, I had speed off the mark. On your marks … get set … go! I could motor from a standing start to flat out in a flash, and cover that first ten metres faster than most defenders could react. I also had a change of pace, and could think fast. I was always mentally alert and could think quickly, make a quick decision, and if I could think twice as fast as my opponent; say, decide to do something in a quarter of a second while he takes half a second to work me out, I’ve got two or three metres on him and that was enough to get me through the gap and looking for support. I was fast enough to run away from defences and if pressed by the cover defence I could go up a gear. I always liked to keep a little extra pace in reserve in case I found a speedy cover defender like Ron Coote bearing across at me. I could also kick — the grubber, the chip over the top — and I was fast enough to retrieve and be off before the defence could turn around.
‘I just think I was blessed with all the skills. They call them skills today, but in my day they were known as fundamentals. A lot of what I did in attack was done instinctively and this always gave me the chance to take opponents by surprise. You can pre-plan many things, call moves and everybody does what they know they have to do. But sometimes you have to react immediately and that’s where instinct comes in, and I could do the right thing without thinking. If you don’t know what you’re going to do, what chance does the defence have?
‘I loved setting up my outside men. Of course, I enjoyed scoring tries, especially in front of a big crowd, but if I had players to beat and unmarked men outside me, I always gave them the ball. If there’s just a fullback between you and the tryline, it’s silly to try to sidestep him and risk bombing the try if you can draw him and put your support over the line. Take the defence, unload and your mate’s over unimpeded. I was never a hog.’