Off the Wall

There was always going to be a debate over who would be the seventh sculpture inside the Sydney Cricket Ground precinct once it was known it would be a rugby league player.

It needs to be remembered that the statues at the SCG are chosen on the basis of the achievements of players - league, cricket, rules and union - at the SCG.

That  was undoubtedly a key factor in yesterday's  choice of Reg Gasnier...the second rugby league international  (after Dally Messenger) to have a sculpture/statue within the hallowed SCG precinct.

He was chosen over other worthy candidates such as John Raper, Graeme Langlands and Arthur Beetson.

I was privileged to see Gasnier at the end of his outstanding career. He remains, in my view, the outstanding centre of the post-war era.

The SCG was the scene of some of his greatest triumphs. Grand final victories for St George, and an outstanding test record including his history making appearance on the SCG in 1962 when, aged 23 years and 28 days, he became the youngest ever Kangaroos captain.

Gasnier played 36 tests for Australia, and made three Kangaroos tours of the UK and France.

He made his first grade debut for the great St George club in 1959, aged 18...within weeks he was chosen to play for NSW, and then just a few weeks down the track he was selected in the Australian team to play New Zealand.

His career ended far too early - on a cold damp December day in 1967 in a match between Australia and the French Hopefuls in Avignon when he broke down completely after being plagued by serious leg and knee injuries while on the Kangaroos tour, on which he was captain.

His great career ended at the age of just 28...and encompassed 125 matches for St George, 16 appearances for NSW, and 39 test matches for Australia.

What is not widely known is that had he not opted for a league career, he would most likely have played test cricket for Australia. When he opted for a league career with St George he was on the verge of selection in the NSW Sheffield Shield team having played for NSW against Fiji.

Reg Gasnier joined Clive Churchill, John Raper and Bob Fulton as the first rugby league "Immortals" in 1985.

In retirement he was an excellent broadcaster and writer on the game.

Yesterday he was at the SCG to be honoured, even though he has been in poor health following a stroke, and his pride was undoubtedly boosted by the appearance of his nephew, Mark, for the Dragons in the match against the Roosters soon after the unveiling of his sculpture.

Reg Gasnier is a worthy inductee. He remains one of the greatest league players of all time.

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