Steve Rogers

Brilliantly gifted rugby league centre
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The Independent Online

For some reason lost in the mists of time, Steve Rogers, the great Australian rugby league Test centre of the Seventies and Eighties, was known throughout his career as "Sludge". No nickname could have been less well suited to a player of his brilliant gifts.

Fast and incisive in his younger days, he developed into a skilled technician and a dominating defender and was always an accomplished goalkicker. Compared unfairly and prematurely in his youth to Australia's greatest-ever in the position, Reg Gasnier, it can be said of him that Rogers largely lived up to that impossible billing.

That was despite some dreadful luck with injuries, especially towards the end of his career. Even his early progress suffered some notable interruptions. Signing for Cronulla as an 18-year-old in 1973, he played in their first Grand Final and was selected for that year's Kangaroo tour, but broke his jaw in France without playing in a Test.

A knee operation cut short the 1974 season, but Rogers was voted the best player in the country the following year and was in Australia's World Cup squads in 1975 and 1977. In 1978, he toured Europe again and captained Cronulla in another Grand Final.

He continued to be a major figure in the game, playing in the 1979 Ashes series and the inaugural State of Origin match for New South Wales in 1980, before captaining his country against France in 1981. He was at his best with the 1982 Kangaroo tourists, forming a devastating centre partnership with Mal Meninga as the team that became known as the Invincibles made history by winning every game.

As a tourist, Rogers was notable for two things: the unflagging quality of his play and his devotion to the card-school. Sightseeing held few attractions for him, but he was a popular and friendly presence at the team hotel.

Meninga, one of the few Australian centres who could be mentioned in the same breath, called him "a great character, well respected within the team, who reached really great heights in his career". Mick Cronin, another with whom he formed a potent centre pairing for Australia, and his 1982 team-mate, Rod Reddy, both chose the same description for him - "The Complete Player".

After the 1982 tour, Rogers's career at club level was dogged with bad luck. In 1983, he switched his allegiance to St George, the club that had passed up the chance to sign him as a teenager, but his two seasons there and his attempts to win a Grand Final were plagued with injury. When he did play, it was often at loose forward, where the loss of his cutting edge of pace did not prevent him from being a text-book cover-defender.

His return to Cronulla lasted just one match, with his jaw being broken in an illegal tackle that became the subject of a protracted court case.

Even worse was his attempt to revive his career in England in 1985. His début for Widnes lasted just 12 minutes before he broke his leg and, this time, his career was over. Its landmarks were impressive enough - 21 Tests and a club record of 1,253 career points for Cronulla - but it was for the manner in which they were achieved that Rogers has been so warmly remembered. His was a rare combination of grace and toughness.

Nor was he finished with rugby league. He coached in Queensland and in Darwin and became the football manager with the short-lived Perth-based club the Western Reds. His heart was still with Cronulla, however, and, after the Reds folded, he returned to the seaside suburb to become football manager and later general manager of the Sharks.

He was well respected in that role, but his life contained more than its share of personal tragedy, with both his parents and his first wife, Carol, all dying of cancer within a short time of each other.

His family also brought him a good deal of happiness and satisfaction, with his younger son, Mat, following in his footsteps by playing with distinction for Cronulla and even threatening his point-scoring record. When Mat won the first of his five caps for Australia, he and Steve became one of the very few father-and-son combinations to represent their country.

Mat switched codes to play rugby union for the New South Wales Waratahs and to become a dual international. It was he who broke the news this week that his father had been suffering from depression in the weeks leading up to his death from what had at first been assumed to be a heart attack. It is now believed that Steve Rogers took his own life.

Dave Hadfield