KEVIN RYAN WAS A rugby union Test forward and an amateur boxer with an ambition to go to the 1960 Rome Olympics before he signed with St George. Injuries at the wrong time meant he didn’t play as much Test football as his ability and reputation deserved, but he was a massive mainstay for the last seven seasons of the Dragons’ winning streak, never more so than in the 1965 grand final, when he was a dominant man of the match against Souths in front of that record 78,065 crowd at the SCG.
In Never Before, Never Again, Ryan recalls the influence Harry Bath had on his career, and explains the virtues of one-on-one defence ...
‘I thank Harry Bath for helping me settle into my new code. Apart from the odd bush match, I had never played an organised game of rugby league in my life. Harry had just hung up his boots after the 1959 grand final and he was coaching second grade and working as a cellarman at the club. I’d go sit with him and talk league and learned a lot from him. He blooded me. He taught me how to run onto the ball, which was foreign to me then. And in defence I had to forget about the mauling rugby union style of tackling and learn how to take on an opponent man to man.
‘Bath instilled in me that it was my responsibility, and mine alone, to put my opponent out of business. That’s why I’ve never been an advocate of gang tackling. It’s a waste of time; most of the time you hurt your own teammate, not your opponent. And because no one in a gang tackle has to make the physical and intellectual commitment — that man is mine and he’s hitting the deck ball and all — the attacker often fights through half-hearted defence.
‘Players today across the board are bigger, fitter, faster, more skilful than we were, much more so, but there is not enough ball-and-all tackling. Today, there’s too much pseudo scientific rubbish talked. Like sliding defence. Unless someone makes that intellectual commitment to take his man and stop him in his tracks, the other side will be sliding all right — over for a try!’