This is the 26th article in the ongoing series where we remember some of the forgotten players from your favourite club.
The Western Suburbs Magpies were one of the league’s foundation clubs and were renowned for playing their football hard and tough. Opposition players knew that a visit to Wests home grounds at Pratten Park, Lidcombe Oval and Orana Park would probably result in a loss of some skin and more than a few bruises.
Following the Super League war the Magpies merged with the Balmain Tigers, resulting in 1999 being the final season in the top grade for the Magpies. During their 92-year history of the club 1039 players turned out in the black and white, and there were club legends aplenty. Players like Tom Raudonikis, Keith Holman, Noel Kelly, Peter Dimond, Barry Bryant, Dave Barsley, John Donnelly and Jim Cody all played over 100 games for the club.
It’s over 20 years since the Magpies ran out onto the field, so how many of this team of Wests players do you remember?
1. Wayne Simonds
Simonds had lots of pace and played over 130 games in his ten-year career in the top grade. He made his first-grade debut for the Magpies in 1988 and played 82 games for the club over the next six years. He then spent some time at Parramatta, South Queensland and Adelaide before retiring in 1998.
2. Warren Boland
Diminutive, quick and with great positional play, Boland came to the Magpies from Balmain in 1979 and went on to play 97 games for the club over the next five years, many of them as captain. He’s probably the only Wests player of his era with a university degree, and he successfully pursued a career in the media following his retirement from the game.
3. Roy Ferguson
One of the toughest centres to play the game, Ferguson has the distinction of playing 100 games for each of two clubs during his career. He made first grade with Magpies in 1964 and played 101 first-grade games for them over the next eight years. St George’s Graeme Langlands was tired of playing against the hard-tackling centre so encouraged him to join the Dragons in 1972, where he went on to play another 100 games in the top grade.
4. Ron Gibbs
Has there ever been a more destructive player than Ron ‘Rambo’ Gibbs? He played 188 top-level games for five clubs in his nine-year career and his opponents would have breathed a sigh of relief when he retired from the big time at the end of the 1991 season, which he spent with the Magpies, playing 16 games. He is now unfortunately suffering from the effects of his many concussions.
5. Des Drummond
Drummond was an absolute legend. Just listen to this: he played for nearly 22 years, making his debut at the age of 18 and retiring at the age of 39. He played 568 games at the top level, scoring 252 tries. He played 29 Test matches for England and Great Britain, scoring nine tries. Unbelievable! Among these games he had nine appearances as a guest for the Magpies in 1986 during the English off-season.
6. Andrew Willis
A versatile back, Willis played 60 games for the Magpies across the 1993 to 1997 seasons before returning to the junior leagues. One of the highlights of his career was launching a 50-metre field goal to win a game against North Sydney in 1996. This was his one and only field goal in his first-grade career.
7. Mick Neil
Neil made his first-grade debut for the Magpies in 1983, the year after older brother Alan left Wests to join the Roosters. Wiry, determined and a great defender for a little guy, Neil played nearly 50 games for the club over the next four years before heading to Balmain, where he ended up playing in back-to-back losing grand finals.
8. Bruce Gibbs
Gibbs was one of those guys you didn’t want to meet in a dark alley – or on a football field for that matter. A rough and tough player, he was ideally suited to the Wests ‘fibro’ image of the day, and he took no prisoners. He came to the Magpies in 1978 via Newtown and went on to play 45 first-grade games for the club over the next three seasons.
9. Ken Stonestreet
After playing for Easts in 1966 when they infamously didn’t win a single game, Stonestreet couldn’t get to the Magpies quick enough in 1967, going on to play 124 games for the club over the next six years. He also played one game for New South Wales. Back in the day when scrums were a contest Stonestreet was one of the best going around. Sadly, he passed away in 2015.
10. Lee Crooks
Crooks is another English legend who played with the Magpies. A tough and skilful forward who was also a very accomplished goal kicker, Crooks played an unbelievable 526 games at the top level in his 18-year career after making his first-grade debut at the age of 17. He also played 20 Tests for England and Great Britain, making his Test debut at the age of only 19. He came to the Magpies in 1985 and played 29 games for the club over the next two seasons.
11. John Elford
Hailing from Smithtown in northern NSW, Elford was a hard-running and skilful player and a destructive defender. Beginning life as a winger, he joined the Magpies in 1966 and played 116 games for the club in an injury-interrupted career over the next 11 years. He also played four Tests for Australia and one game for NSW.
12. Bob Cooper
The towering Bob Cooper was a weapon on the paddock and one of the most feared forwards of his era. He made his first-grade debut for the Magpies in 1977 and played 76 games for the club over the next six years. He would have played many more but for a string of suspensions, including a 15-month suspension for his part in a brawl against Illawarra in 1982. He also played in the inaugural Origin match for NSW in 1980.
13. Graeme O’Grady
Small and nuggety for a forward, O’Grady made up for his lack of size with skill, good defence and a great kicking game. He made his first-grade debut for the Magpies in 1974 and went on to play 95 games for the club over the next six years. In all he played a total of 224 first-grade games and one Origin game for NSW in his 12-year career.
14. Des Hasler
Manly legend and current-day coach, Hasler was a journeyman in his playing days, racking up over 300 first-grade games for five different clubs in his 16-year career. Capable of playing all over the paddock, he spent his final season with the Magpies in 1997, playing 21 games in the season. He also played 12 games for Australia together with 12 Origins for NSW.
15. Neil Tierney
A huge front-rower, Tierney came from the Brisbane competition to St George in 1990 and then joined Wests for two seasons in 1994, playing 19 first-grade games for the club. He also played three Origin games for Queensland.
16. Steve Blyth
A big hard-running forward and noted defender, Blyth hit the big time with Wests in 1976 and played 47 games for the club across the next three seasons before heading to Newtown in 1979.
17. John Baker
A hard-as-nails utility forward, Baker was a bit of an institution at the Magpies and played over 100 first-grade games for the club across the 1968 to 1973 seasons.