RUGBY LEAGUE IN THE 1950s and ’60s was rugged and brutal in a way that modern league players and fans can only imagine. Never Before, Never Again has many stories of wild affairs. The St George champions of this era were not just highly skilled; they needed to be tough, brave and resilient to survive in a game where head butts and stiff-arms were dealt out on a regular basis.
The 1958 and 1959 grand finals were both peppered with violence: in ’58, Saints battered Wests from the kick-off, in response to the Magpies’ strong-arm tactics that had proved successful in the major semi-final; a year later, Harry Bath and Rex Mossop conducted a private war that culminated in the pair being sent off late in a game the Dragons won 20–0. But for sheer violence, arguably the ugliest game of the 11 years occurred in 1966, when Souths decided to ‘turn it on’ at the Sydney Showground. Kevin Ryan told Larry Writer about one moment he remembered from the match, which involved the Rabbitohs forward John Sattler …
‘Ian Walsh reeled out of the scrum with his eye opened up, and I said, “What happened?” And he said, “Sattler got me.” I said, “Look, I’m sorry, it shouldn’t have happened. I’m the prop here, and that kind of thing doesn’t happen when I’m around.”
‘So next scrum we packed down and I dropped my arm to throw a short left at Satts. I can still see his reaction. He saw me and pulled right out of the scrum and wouldn’t pack in.’