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
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before