Rex Mossop: Rugby league player who became a love-him-or-loathe-him commentator

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The Independent Online

Rex Mossop was a rugged forward for Australia in both rugby codes.

His career included a stint in England with Leigh, but he became more famous – some might say notorious – after he retired from playing. In many ways, The Moose, as he was known for his head-down running style, was the Australian equivalent of Eddie Waring. Like him, he dominated television coverage of rugby league for decades. Like him as well, he polarised opinion and invited ridicule with his knockabout approach and the indignities he inflicted on the English language. Mossop's speciality was the tautology and variations upon it. "I don't want to be incredulous," he said, "but I don't believe it." When The Moose was on the gantry, players invariably made "forward progress."

Mossop was spotted by Manly rugby union and thrown straight into their first-grade pack at the age of 16. In 1949, he toured New Zealand with the Wallabies and the following year he played in two Tests against the touring Lions. Although an international transfer ban prevented British clubs from signing Australian rugby league players, it did not cover union. In 1951, Mossop accepted a handsome offer from Leigh and moved to the north of England. He played 98 games in three seasons, but the claim to fame of which he was most proud was that he was the first person in Leigh to have a shower installed, explaining to a baffled local plumber that yes, he really did want a tap coming out of the top of the bathroom wall.

His best playing days were to come, over a decade back in Manly, this time with the seaside suburb's rugby league club. He played for the Sea Eagles 129 times and 12 times for Australia in Tests and World Cup matches. His no-frills approach could perhaps be best summed up by his sending-off in the 1959 Premiership Grand Final, when a feud with St George's Harry Bath, which had simmered since their time in England, erupted after Mossop trod on his head.

Soon after his retirement in 1964, he gave up his other job as a car salesman and began to front Channel 7's coverage of the game in Sydney. Controversial, confrontational and bombastic, his style was loved and loathed in equal measure. The most extreme example of the latter view came when he was pelted with fruit after a telecast. He was characteristically unfazed by the experience.

Nor did he limit himself exclusively to rugby league. Just as Waring had It's a Knockout, Mossop had a starring role in an on-screen agony-aunt show called Beauty and the Beast. He was the beast, doling out advice that was nothing if not direct and to the point.

He also became embroiled in leading protests against attempts to establish a nude beach near his home on Sydney's North Shore, making a citizen's arrest of one underdressed sunbather and coming up with one of his classic later quotes when he declared that genitalia, male or female, should not be shoved down the public's throats. It was a typical Mossopism, but, when it came to rugby league, beneath the deliberate or accidental comedy there was a deep feeling for the game – and for the no-holds-barred way in which he believed it ought to be played.

He was eased out of his job in favour of younger commentators with different, more modern ideas in 1991, and in his latter years suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

Rex Peers Mossop, rugby league player and commentator: born Sydney 18 February 1928; married 1951 Joan Bell (two sons); died Sydney 17 June 2011.

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