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.

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)

Newcastle winger is in Argentina having chemotherapy

Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise

Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

March On Cancer™ - Local Marketing and Promotions Volunteer

This is an unpaid voluntary role.: Cancer Research UK: We need motivational vo...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Maths Teacher - Evening session

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: I am looking for a qualified experi...

Teaching Assistants

£50 - £85 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Rapidly developing and growing ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week