Famous deeds, names mark NRL golden age

GREAT players and history-making teams made the post-World War II period the most productive in the first 100 years of Newcastle Rugby League.

Newcastle produced an amazing 28 players who represented Australia, from Clive Churchill in 1948 through to Allan Thomson in 1967.

Churchill, Brian Carlson, Les Johns and John Sattler became household names in the world of rugby league.

Churchill, a Central Newcastle product, was universally known as "The Little Master" because he was regarded as a smaller version of the great Dally Messenger, who carried the nickname of "The Master".

Playing only a handful of games for the club because the brothers at his school, Marist Brothers Hamilton, banned him from playing with Central juniors, Churchill was discovered playing at a Country Week carnival in 1947.

He started playing in Newcastle in 1948 but departed mid-season and, after serving a 28-day suspension for changing clubs during the year, he starred for South Sydney.

By the end of the season he was picked to represent Australia and, in all, played 34 Tests, including Kangaroo tours in 1948-49, 1952-53 and 1956-57.

Churchill, like league pioneer Messenger, would be later honoured as one of the Immortals of the game.

Col Maxwell became Newcastle's third Test captain, after Wally Prigg and Ron Bailey, when he led the 1948 Kangaroos to England.

Newcastle players had a mortgage on the Test captaincy at the time.

Keith Froome took over from Maxwell to captain Australia in two Tests in 1949.

Churchill played 24 Tests as skipper between 1950 and 1955, and Carlson was bestowed the captaincy from 1959 to 1961.

Carlson was a product of the Northern Suburbs club and helped the Bluebags to a premiership win over Maitland in his first season of senior football, in 1951.

The following year he played for NSW Country, NSW and Australia. He went on to play 17 Tests in a distinguished career.

Carlson was considered one of the finest utility backs to play for Australia and seemed equally at home at fullback, wing or in the centres.

In 1954 he suffered a ruptured kidney and two broken ribs and was advised to retire, but he moved to Queensland and continued playing.

He was representing Blackall in the Queensland country competition when he gained selection in Australia's 1957 World Cup squad.

Johns was never crowned captain of Australia but was considered one of the finest players of his time and played 14 Tests between 1963 and 1968.

Incredibly, Johns did not play his first senior rugby league until 1962, for South Newcastle, and that year he represented Newcastle in their amazing victory over the touring Great Britain team.

The following season he joined Canterbury in the NSW Rugby League competition and made his debut for Australia at the end of the year.

Sattler made a name for himself as one of the toughest and most intimidating players the game has seen, and he forged those skills as a kid growing up in the Coalfields at Kurri Kurri.

It is rugby league folklore that Sattler played 75 minutes of the 1970 grand final for South Sydney with a smashed jaw as the Rabbitohs defeated Manly 23-12 in a bloody encounter at the SCG.

Sattler made his Test debut in 1967 and, while he only played four Tests, it is generally accepted he would have captained the Kangaroos at the 1970 World Cup but for his broken jaw.

Sattler grew up in the Coalfields area that dominated Newcastle Rugby League in the post-war era.

Kurri Kurri lost back-to-back grand finals in 1948 and 1949 before Cessnock saluted the following year when they defeated Central Newcastle 19-12 in the decider.

Maitland and Cessnock lost grand finals in two of the next three years before the Pumpkin Pickers' dominance came to the fore.

Maitland played in seven consecutive grand finals from 1954 to 1960, winning a hat-trick of titles from 1956 to 1958 and losing three to fellow Coalfields club Cessnock.

Cessnock defeated Maitland in 1954 and again in 1955, when floodwaters ravaged the Lower Hunter town.

Internationals Frank Stanmore and Ian Johnson captain-coached the 1954 and 1955 teams respectively before Manly and NSW prop Fred Brown took over in 1956.

Brown created history by guiding the Pickers to their first hat-trick of titles before they lost to Northern Suburbs (13-12) and Cessnock (33-5) in the next two deciders.

West emerged as powerhouses in the early 1960s after they were given permission to build a leagues club in Hobart Road, opposite their home ground at the Alfred Harker Memorial Ground.

The Rosellas, who had not claimed a premiership since 1922, secured the title in 1961 and played in three more grand finals up to 1967.

Representative matches overshadowed club football to a large extent in the 20-year era.

Newcastle created their own slice of history in 1954 when they defeated Great Britain twice at No.1 Sportsground.

The home side scraped through 11-10 on May 22 as Great Britain were preparing for Tests against Australia, and defeated them 28-22 on August 22 before they left.

Never before had a Newcastle team played a touring side twice on the same trip and, as a result, they created history by beating them both times.

Great Britain exacted revenge in 1958 when they won both matches in Newcastle, defeating the Novocastrians 35-16 on May 24 and 30-23 on August 17.

Those losses were the inspiration behind what will long be remembered as one of the greatest days in Newcastle Rugby League.

The 1962 Newcastle team defeated Great Britain 23-18 in front of 22,750 fans at No.1 Sportsground, which is a feat unlikely to be repeated because the region now boasts a National Rugby League side.

A classy blend of Newcastle players including Johns, Sattler, Don Schofield and Neville Hannah survived the bullying tactics of the British to record their first victory over an international team since beating New Zealand in 1956.

Great Britain had two players sent off for foul play and several others cautioned.

The tourists lost hooker John Shaw after he used a "rabbit killer" punch to the back of Schofield's neck, and prop Jack Wilkinson when he hit halfback Hannah with a high tackle.

Wilkinson's high shot sparked an all-in brawl that included Hannah's non-playing brother Les who jumped the fence when Neville was hit.

Newcastle scored four tries in the first half of the match and held on for dear life as Great Britain clawed their way back into the game in the second half.

Johns, who was described by veteran league journalist George Piggford as having a magnificent game except for his kicking, landed only four goals from 15 attempts.

He did, however, score all of Newcastle's second-half points, which proved the difference between the teams.

Johns, though, was in Sydney playing for Canterbury and Australia when Newcastle's defining moment as a rugby league region took place in 1964 at the State Cup.

Newcastle's representative side won 15 matches straight from 1963 to 1965, including victories over South Africa and France, three country championships and the State Cup.

The State Cup provided Newcastle with the chance to play some of the greatest club sides in the history of the game. And they beat them all.

After defeating North Coast, Southern Division and Western Division to take the country title, Newcastle downed South Sydney 29-14 in the first State Cup match.

They followed that with a 6-0 win over North Sydney in the quarter-final to set up a salivating semi-final with St George.

St George were widely regarded as the best club side in the world, and they were midway through winning their ninth of a record 11 straight NSWRL premierships.

The Dragons side included internationals Reg Gasnier, Graeme Langlands, Brian "Poppa" Clay, Eddie Lumsden, Johnny King and Elton Rasmussen.

Newcastle defied the odds to upset the stars 5-3 and qualified for the final against Parramatta, the third side Newcastle had to tackle that had made the NSWRL semi-finals in Sydney.

A crowd of 22,176 packed into No.1 Sportsground, the third largest in Newcastle Rugby League after matches against Great Britain in 1954 and 1962.

Hooker Allan Buman was the only player to take part in every match of the 1964 season and, like the other 12 players on Saturday, August 29, he was hailed a hero after they beat Parramatta 14-7.

The victorious starting team was: Johnny McLaughlin, Bob Horne, Dave Brown (captain), Bob Moses, Jim Perry, Gerry Edser, Billy Giles, Terry Pannowitz, Brian Carlin, Allan Thomson, Bob Heaney, Allan Buman and Jim Morgan.

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