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League legend Ron Roberts was recently laid to rest in a Tweed Heads cemetery. Aged 75, he passed away without much media attention but had a great innings and a life-time of achievement.
A St George man, Ron?s passing was marked by black arm bands as the Dragons team took the field in their match against Newcastle on June 13. His funeral on the previous Wednesday (11/06/03) was attended by friends and family from all over Australia and abroad.
In a short career which spanned 1949-1951, Ron Roberts played 51 matches for St George and scored 51 tries. He was the competition?s leading try scorer in 1949 and 1950. Those statistics alone should be enough to indicate that Ron Roberts was an extraordinarily talented player.
But his career was overshadowed by a single try he scored in 1950. His effort against Great Britain won the Ashes for Australia for the first time since 1920 and won Ron Roberts sporting immortality. It was a true milestone in League history and was rated by 1980s Rugby League Week poll as the ?single greatest moment in the game?s history?.
So heralded was this event, that it has obscured an otherwise spectacularly successful career from a winger who played just three spirited seasons with the Dragons.
A big man possessing real speed, Ron Roberts hailed from the Waratah-Mayfield club in Newcastle. He came to Saints in 1949 playing 19 games in what was to prove a sensational debut year. In that premiership winning season, Roberts scored 25 tries for Saints including two in the Grand Final. In the same year he scored eight tries in four matches for New South Wales, one for Sydney against Country, and eight more tries in five matches for Australia during a tour of New Zealand. In what must have been one of the most brilliant debut seasons on record, Ron Roberts scored no less than 42 tries.
In 1950, Ron was again selected for Australia who had the task of wresting the Ashes from the powerful Great Britain side. In the third and deciding Test, the Sydney Cricket Ground was a quagmire. But the weather didn?t dampen the spirits of the crowd who flocked to the SCG and by 10am, it was a sell-out with 47,178 people in attendance.
In atrocious conditions, both sides grafted out little territory and with 14 minutes to go, it was just 2-all. Halfback Keith Holman ignored the mud underfoot and sent the ball wide in an effort to break the deadlock. With quick hands that defied the conditions, the Australians suddenly had an overlap. Ron Roberts caught a long floating pass and set sail for the try-line, scampering 30 yards through the slosh to crash over in the corner. Roberts had just scored the only try of the match to give Clive Churchill?s Australia a 5-2 win and an Ashes victory for the first time in 30 years.
It was a sensational moment that brought the house down. There were scenes of hats and umbrellas being thrown into the air. There were men kissing the SCG mud while others made souvenirs of corner posts, flags and buckets. The pandemonium wasn?t just restricted to the mob as a touch judge claimed the ball. The father of Australian Rugby League, James Giltinan expressed his joy that he had lived long enough to see Australia win back the Ashes. Aged 84, J.J. Giltinan passed away a few weeks later. The end result was that Australia had turned around a generation of loss and Ron Roberts was elevated to legendary status.
Half a century later, in the new millennium, I sat at my computer writing a profile on the exploits of Ron Roberts. I later received an email from a young woman who claimed to be a ?distant relative? of Ron Roberts. She asked for any photos of Ron because she heard that he was ?quite a good looking bloke in his day?. For a player who was all but forgotten by most, it was heartening to know that some folk were still interested enough to ask after this dashing and prolific wing three-quarter. I obliged the writer with a picture and sent a note of thanks. As it turned out, she didn?t know Ron Roberts at all? she was just a fan.
Older St George fans will tell stories of the long-striding winger and how they relished every one of his tries. But history will inevitably remember Ron Roberts as ?the Saint who won the Ashes.?
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