Reg Gasnier: Rugby league player hailed as one of the greatest to play the game and one of the original four ‘Immortals’

Reg Gasnier, who has died a day short of this 75th birthday after a long illness, was quite simply one of the greatest players the game of rugby league has ever seen. “Puff the Magic Dragon”, so called after the Peter, Paul and Mary song in recognition of his only professional club, the St George Dragons in Sydney’s southern suburbs, was just about everybody’s idea of the perfect centre. He was strong and elusive, with silky ball skills. What his contemporaries always referred to, however, was his devastating turn of pace. Although his career lasted a mere eight years, he left an indelible mark on the code.

Gasnier was one of the four inaugural inductees into The Immortals, seen in Australia as the four greatest players ever. The others were Clive Churchill, Bobby Fulton and his team-mate with St George, New South Wales and Australia, Johnny Raper. Others were added later, but it is a measure of his status that no one would have disputed his right to be one of the originals.

Few players have made an impact comparable with Gasnier’s debut season in 1959. He had been playing since the age of 15 with the local club, Renown United, often against full-grown men. He not only established himself in the all-conquering St George side, but scored a hat-trick for NSW on his debut and another against New Zealand in his first Test series.

He missed the Grand Final victory that season through injury, but played in the next six as the Dragons’ domination of the Australian domestic scene continued. In total he scored 127 tries in 129 games for the club, plus 13 in 16 for his state and 26 in 36 in Tests. He was also regarded as an equally good provider of tries for the wingers outside him.

For all that, it is arguable that he will be remembered at least as vividly in Britain, so compelling was his form on Kangaroo tours. In 1959-60 he scored three tries in the first Test against Great Britain at Swinton, which Australia won 22-14. A contemporary account described the key try like this: “[Eric] Ashton and [Billy] Boston were dumbfounded as sheer pace and marvellous acceleration took the young centre past them to touch down wide out.”

That was as good an example as any of the way that even the very best found it impossible to suppress Gasnier. Great Britain still managed to win that Ashes series – the last time, to date, that they have done so.

In 1962 Gasnier was captain of his country for the first time when the Lions paid their return visit, but it was generally agreed that the extra responsibility had come a little too early to a player who was still only 22 when he was appointed. The 1963 tour to Europe saw him at his best – he scored a hat-trick in the first Test at Wembley and another two in the 50-point massacre at Swinton.

The 1967-68 tour was a less happy experience. Gasnier, this time the Kangaroos’ captain-coach, broke a bone in his leg in the first Test defeat by Great Britain at Headingley. Two months later he attempted a comeback on the French leg of the tour but then broke down and announced his retirement after the game. It was a sad and sudden end to a glittering career.

Ever since his retirement, Gasnier has been the standard by which lesser players have been measured. Frank Facer, the man who signed him for St George, had no doubts where he stood in the history of the game: “I don’t think those who have seen him play will watch another genius like him for years to come… if ever.”

Gasnier worked extensively as a commentator for ABC, but suffered a brain tumour in 1995. 

Reginald William Gasnier, rugby league footballer: born Sydney 12 May 1939; married Maureen (one daughter, one son); died Sydney 11 May 2014.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most