League legend Jack Rayner dies age 87

The grand old gentleman of Australian rugby league, South Sydney great Jack Rayner, passed away at the Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick, at midnight Friday aged 87.

A feared Kangaroos forward who led South Sydney to five premierships in six years between 1950-55, Rayner was renowned for his sportsmanship and for his dignified manner.

He has been long regarded as one of the game's most respected elder statesman and throughout his life was the embodiment of the Australian tough but fair attitude.

Clive Churchill said of Jack Rayner in the book True Blue: "He was a brilliant tactician. I never saw a better forward in cover defence on the blind side than Rayner. Jack was the crankiest forward I played with but what a grand fellow he was."

Rayner played five Tests on the 1948-49 Kangaroo tour, 16 games for NSW (1947-54) and 195 games for Souths.

His six years as captain-coach included five premierships and one of the most controversial grand final defeats in the game's history, the 1952 loss to Western Suburbs.

Incredibly, he came to the premiership late in life and in true Rayner style.

While Serving in New Guinea, the lad from Coraki near Lismore played some army football matches and made a promise to army mate and former Souths international Eric Lewis that he would at least try out with the Rabbitohs after the war.

In 1946, Rayner turned up at Redfern to keep his word and play with a South Sydney team that had won just one game the previous year.

He broke an ankle early in that first season, restricting his appearances while Souths endured the only winless season in the club's premiership history.

But in 1947 he was fit and captained them to nine wins, setting Souths on the road to one of the greatest eras in the club's history.

NRL chief executive David Gallop said rugby league had lost a true legend.

"Being with Jack was always a privilege and he and his wife Lola held a special place in the hearts of staff who had organised events around the centenary and the National Museum Exhibition," Gallop said.

"He represented an era that makes us all proud to be Australian."

Australian Rugby League chief executive Geoff Carr said Rayner's passing would be felt deeply by all who followed the game.

"It's been a week in which we have farewelled two great legends of rugby league," he said.

"It's sad for everyone but we can also look back on a sport that is lucky to have been represented by the likes of Jack Rayner and Jack Gibson."