2020 was both a year to remember and a year we all want to forget. Before it’s too far gone, let’s take some time to remember some of the rugby league players who left us for good in 2020. 1. Paul FisherA Souths-Sunnybank junior and a very accomplished and highly regarded player in the Brisbane competition, Paul Fisher was equally at home at either halfback, hooker or fullback. He was selected in the Queensland residents team in 1992 under coach Paul Vautin. After a brief stint with the London Crusaders, he was signed by the Cronulla Sharks in 1995, where he went on to play 76 games for the club over the next four seasons, including nine in first grade. Paul Fisher passed away in January 2020. 2. Brian JamesBrian James was a former GPS Rugby star who joined the Dragons in 1961 from the St George Rugby Club. A hard runner and a professional sprinter blessed with lots of pace, he made his first grade debut in Round 10 of 1962, but struggled for regular first grade opportunities with the Dragons, who at the time had outside backs of the calibre of Graeme Langlands, Johnny King, Reg Gasnier, Eddie Lumsden, Bruce Pollard and Billy Smith. After five years with St George, he made the move to South Sydney and immediately became a regular first-grader, playing in the 1967, 1968 and 1969 grand finals – winning premierships in both 1967 and 1968. He was one of the best wingers in the game during his time at Souths and was selected to play for both New South Wales and Australia in 1968. He retired at the top of his game at the age of 26 in 1969 to pursue his employment goals. Brian James passed away in January 2020. 3. Mark HarrisTo describe Mark Harris as “blockbusting” doesn’t do the man justice. He was one of the biggest players to go around in his day – easily the biggest centre – and backed up his considerable size with a good turn of pace. He was playing in Papua New Guinea when he was recruited by the Roosters in 1970 and was an instant success story at Easts, going on to represent both New South Wales and Australia that year. He and John Brass formed the best centre pairing in the league until Brass’ retirement in 1976. In what is now an all too familiar story, Harris tried his hand at gridiron in 1973 and played seven games in Canada for the Montreal Alouettes before he became disenchanted with his role as a “kick-off” specialist. He then returned to rugby league with the Roosters and was selected for Australia in 1974, going on to represent his country in four World Cup campaigns. After ten years and nearly 200 games with the Roosters, Harris moved to North Sydney in 1980 for the final two years of his top-level career. Mark Harris passed away in January 2020. 4. Greg HawickGreg Hawick was a South Sydney junior, Rabbitohs legend and life member of the club. He was arguably the greatest utility player of all time, being selected for Australia at lock, half, five-eighth and centre, all positions he played when required for the Rabbitohs. He made his first grade debut for Souths in 1950 and stayed for seven years, before moving on to play for Wagga Wagga, North Sydney and then back to Wagga Wagga, where injury eventually ended his career in 1963. He was a very good, if occasional, goal kicker, and once kicked 15 goals in a match for New South Wales against Queensland. During his stint with South Sydney, he played in winning grand finals in both 1950 and 1954, but missed further premierships in 1951, 1953 and 1955 due to injury. He was selected in Australian touring sides in both 1952 and 1953 and also represented Australia at the 1954 and 1957 World Cups. Greg Hawick passed away in February 2020. 5. Don AdamsDon “Bandy” Adams was a nuggety fullback or winger who played virtually his whole career in the Newcastle competition for the Maitland Pickers, where he led the club to seven successive grand finals, winning three premierships. It was from the Pickers that he was selected as a 21-year-old to play for Country Firsts against City Firsts in 1955, running in two tries. He then went on to play three games for New South Wales that year, scoring three tries for his state. 1956 saw him on the wing again for Country Firsts, and he was then selected in each of the three Tests against New Zealand that year, scoring five tries in the series. At the end of the year, he was chosen for the 1956-57 Kangaroo tour to England and France and played one Test against England and one against France. His last representative match came in 1958, where he once again represented Country Firsts. After his 11 years with Maitland, he had stints as captain/coach with Gloucester, Scone and Muswellbrook in country New South Wales. Don Adams passed away in March 2020. 6. Tony BransonIn 1967, one of my all-time favourite players, the previously unknown 20-year-old Tony Branson, went from Nowra Warriors first grader, to playing for Country Firsts, to New South Wales representative, to Kangaroo tour selection and Ashes victory, playing five Tests for his country on that tour. Branson was a tough and robust five-eighth in the Brian Clay mold, and played his best football in the heavy going. Following his successful Kangaroo tour, Branson was signed by the St George Dragons in 1968, where he stayed until his retirement from the big-time at the end of the 1973 season. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images) Although he was selected in later years for both New South Wales and Australia, he never really recaptured his early form. The main reason for this was that in the same year he was signed by the Dragons, they inexplicably also signed high-profile rugby union Test five-eighth Phil Hawthorne, and then primarily played Branson in the unfamiliar role of centre. Tony Branson passed away in April 2020. 7. Arthur SummonsArthur Summons was a true legend of the game in every respect. An inductee into the National Rugby League Hall of Fame, he coached the Kangaroos nine times and played nine Tests for his country, winning five from five as captain. He also represented the Western Suburbs Magpies with great distinction and played seven times for New South Wales. Summons was a dual international, having played ten Tests for the Wallabies before he moved to rugby league, was as tough as they come and blessed with both great footwork and a never-say die-attitude. He led Western Suburbs to three successive grand final appearances – all losses – against St George. A photograph taken of him with opposing captain Norm Provan at the end of the 1963 grand final was the inspiration for the Provan-Summons Trophy that is still handed to NRL premiers today. Arthur Summons passed away in May 2020. Former rugby league players Norm Provan (left) and Arthur Summons (AAP Image/Paul Miller) 8. Noel KellyOnce upon a time, before David Smith, trial by video and the match review committee, a breed of fearsome enforcers roamed the rugby league paddocks, fighting to gain the ascendency for their team and to protect their smaller teammates. Enter Noel “Ned” Kelly, the most fearsome of them all. Apart from being one of the toughest players to ever take the field, Kelly was durable and had plenty of ability to go with it. He was equally adept at either front row or hooker and always won more than his fair share of the ball when he had the number 12 on his back. Beginning his career in Queensland, he has the rare distinction of being a member of an all-Ipswich Australian front row, when he packed down with Dud Beattie and Gary Parcell in a Test match against France in 1960. Pity the French! Kelly’s list of achievements is breathtaking: National Rugby League Hall of Fame inductee; member of Western Suburbs Magpies, Queensland and Australian teams of the 20th century; 30 matches for Australia; five matches each for New South Wales and Queensland; nine seasons with the Western Suburbs Magpies; the first front-rower to be selected on three Kangaroo tours. He played 111 first grade games for Wests, and probably would have played a few more but for his 17 send-offs. Noel Kelly passed away in June 2020. 9. Ross WarnerRoss Warner came from Tamworth to join the North Sydney Bears in 1964, and liked it so much that he stayed and played for the next 12 seasons, notching up around 200 first grade games for the club before retiring from the game in 1974. Warner played in an era when hookers really earned their meagre match payments, and winning possession in the battleground that was a scrum was all-important. There were none better at this than Ross Warner, a tough and skillful player who never took a backward step. Anyone who could survive 12 years in first grade as a hooker in the mid-’60s to mid-’70s certainly had something going for them. Warner was selected for New South Wales on three occasions, for City Firsts twice, was also selected as a reserve for a Test match, and was deservedly both named in Norths team of the century, and made a life member of the club. Ross Warner passed away in August 2020. 10. Gary ParcellLike Noel Kelly, Gary Parcell played in an era where no quarter was asked for, nor given on the field and what happened on the paddock stayed out there. Parcell was not a player to be trifled with and combined mobility with bruising defence. Unlike Noel Kelly, Parcell never felt the urge to leave his home town and his beloved Ipswich Brothers, not only playing his whole career there, but also winning selection for both Queensland and Australia from the south Queensland club. A farmer from the small rural town of Hillsville, just south of Ipswich, he made his first grade debut for the Brothers at the age of 18 in 1952. In 1956, like his father Perc Parcell before him, he was selected for Queensland, locking the scrum behind second-rower Don Furner (mentioned later on). Three years later in 1959, he was joined in the front row by hard men Dud Beattie and Noel Kelly, when they were part of the last Queensland side to win an interstate series against New South Wales before the advent of State of Origin. 1959 was a big year for Parcell, and he went on to be selected in the 1959-60 Kangaroo Tour and made his Test debut in the first Test against England at Swinton. Parcell went on to play nine more Tests for Australia and 14 games for Queensland. Gary Parcell never left his beloved Hillsville, where he passed away in November 2020. 11. Don FurnerDon Furner is probably best remembered these days as a coach, Australian selector and the man who got Wayne Bennett’s astounding coaching career underway. He coached Australia 15 times, Fiji three times and the Roosters and the Raiders for a total of 222 first grade games, taking both clubs to the grand final. He also coached several country teams, including both Queanbeyan and Junee. Before that though, he was a real journeyman, playing for many clubs across New South Wales and Queensland. It was while he was playing in Queensland that he first came to the fore as a player, and was selected to play for his adopted state on seven occasions across the 1955 and 1956 seasons. He was also selected for the 1956–57 Kangaroo tour to England and played his one and only Test against England in the second Test at Bradford. Don Furner passed away in February 2020. 12. Ian SommerIan Sommer was a Fortitude Valley Diehards stalwart who played alongside True Blues legends including Wally Lewis, Bryan Niebling and Ross Strudwick. He joined the club in 1975 as a winger, but by 1977 had made a successful transition to the forwards, where he proved to be a very tough competitor. Sommer retired at the end of the 1981 season, but maintained his involvement with the club. He was also very active in the surf lifesaving movement. Ian Sommer passed away in February 2020. 13. Adam MaherAdam Maher was as tough as they come on the field, and began his career in Brisbane with the Easts Tigers. He joined Cronulla in 1994 along with fellow Easts Tigers players Paul Green, Andrew Neave and Geoff Bell, and stayed for the next three seasons. He moved to England in 1998, playing for Rochdale Hornets, Gateshead Thunder, and finally Hull, where he played 100 first grade games in his four-year stint. Adam Maher passed away in February 2020. 14. Clarrie JeffreysClarrie Jeffreys was a very good hooker/forward whose first grade career spread over a remarkable 16 years. He made his first grade debut with Balmain in 1953, but left the Tigers for Newtown in 1958, where he stayed until his retirement at the end of the 1968 season. Following his retirement, he became a coach, starting off in the lower grades at Newtown and then coaching their first grade side for three years from 1974, following the resignation of Jack Gibson. Clarrie Jeffries passed away in August 2020. 15. Don Regan“Don who?” I hear you say. Well, Don Regan was a rugby league legend in the Liverpool region, both for his commitment to the game and his community work in general. Don was a tough and skillful second-rower who made first grade with the Parramatta Eels in 1949, as Eels player number 36, and had five years with the club in the top grade, off and on. Following his retirement, he became a junior coaching institution in the Parramatta juniors, and was probably the first coach to successfully introduce the “no dickheads policy”. If Don said something wasn’t on, it wasn’t on! If more of today’s young and entitled players encountered a coach like Don Regan early in their careers, the world would be a better place. I’m proud to say that Don was my coach for a couple of seasons. Don Regan passed away in July 2020. 16. Laurie FaganLaurie Fagan was a clever halfback in the early ’60s, an era of great halves in rugby league. He played for the Balmain Tigers from 1958 until 1966, when he eventually lost his place to English international David Bolton. Fagan then joined the Penrith Panthers in 1967 for their inaugural season in the league and scored their first-ever first grade try. 1962 was a big year for Fagan – he was selected to partner Jimmy Lisle in the halves for NSW, and in the same year he won the Sydney Morning Herald player of the year award. He was also named as Penrith’s player of the year in 1970 and was inducted into the Tigers Hall of Fame in 2008. Laurie Fagan passed away in September 2020. 17. Bill McCarthyThe older brother of Souths legend Bobby McCarthy, Bill McCarthy also played for the Rabbitohs and was a powerful second-rower with a fiery streak. Bill McCarthy came from the famed Chelsea United club and was graded by Souths in 1961 at the age of 18, playing his first match in third grade against Parramatta. He made his first grade debut in 1962 and went on to play 13 first grade games for the club over the next three years, including one game in 1964 when both the McCarthy boys ran out in first grade together. He shifted to Moree in the Group 5 competition in 1966 and was chosen to play for Northern Division against the touring British Lions, a game won by Northern Division in a brutal encounter in Tamworth. In 1968, McCarthy returned to Sydney to play with Newtown and had three first grade games for the club. Bill McCarthy passed away in July 2020.
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