ONE OF THE MOST amazing events to occur during St George’s 11-year winning streak came after the first grand final win in 1956, when Saints dismissed coach Norm Tipping, replacing him with captain Ken ‘Killer’ Kearney. The move is unprecedented in elite Australian rugby league, and there are very few other examples in the history of major sport across the planet of a club or franchise rewarding a winning coach or manager with the sack.
But the move worked. Kearney went on to create a dynasty. In Never Before, Never Again, he talked about how he approached the task …
‘They knew what their responsibilities were as St George players. They had to be professional in every way. That meant being at training, ready to go, at 5.30 on the dot. They had to be superbly fit and be able to play in pain because there were no replacements allowed. They had to perform their job to perfection on the field. I made sure that every player knew what we were up against and what he had to do when he ran on to play each week. And off the field, [Frank] Facer and I insisted they be worthy and reputable representatives of the club.
‘I recognised it was vital that we all got along well together and went to picnics and pubs and parties and restaurants as a group, but when I took over in 1957 the boys were drinking far too much and it was hurting their form. I cut that out, as much as I could.
‘Before I took over, they’d do half an hour’s training and then spend two hours up at the Royal Hotel at Carlton. I let them know early that if they wanted to drink to excess and play up they would not be in my side. Johnny Raper [who transferred from Newtown to St George prior to the 1959 season] was the only exception. He was the worst larrikin, but the best trainer of the lot. He was a rarity because drinking didn’t affect his performance.