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Opinion

The greatest grand finalists of the 1950s

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Roar Guru
21st October, 2021
17

This is the first article in a series where I’ll name who I think were the best players to play in a grand final in each decade, beginning with the 1950s.

The criterion I have used:

•The player must have actually played in at least one grand final in the decade in question
•The player is only considered for selection in one decade, even if he played in grand finals in more than one decade
•The player’s form in the decade is taken into account.

Ten teams played in the competition in the 1950s, and of those, six played in a grand final at some point, with South Sydney winning five premierships to just edge out St George as the decade’s dominant team.

In the 1950s:

•Souths won five premierships and were runners-up once
•St George won four premierships and were runners-up once
•Western Suburbs won one premiership and were runners-up twice
•Manly were runners up on three occasions, while Newtown and Balmain were runners-up twice and once respectively.

Canterbury-Bankstown, Parramatta, Eastern Suburbs and North Sydney all failed to reach a grand final.

There were some wonderful players running around in the ’50s, and here’s my pick of the best of the best who made it to the biggest game of the year. All references to grand finals played relate only to this decade.

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Fullback: Clive Churchill (South Sydney)
Rugby league Immortal Clive Churchill takes the fullback role in a no-contest against fellow Test stars in Brian Graham from St George, Gordon Clifford from Newtown, and Balmain great Keith Barnes. Churchill appeared in four grand finals and won every one of them.

Wingers: Ian Moir (South Sydney) and Eddie Lumsden (St George)
Both Moir and Lumsden played three grand finals, winning each one of them, and both scored five tries in the process. Johnny Graves from the Rabbitohs was unlucky to miss out.

Centres: Greg Hawick (South Sydney) and Dick Poole (Newtown)
Hawick won two premierships from as many starts and was a regular inclusion in both the Australian and NSW sides. Dick Poole didn’t taste premiership success with Newtown, but was one of the best centres of his era, playing for NSW on ten occasions and for Australia 13 times, and he both captained and coached the national team.

Five-eighth: Brian Clay (Newtown and St George)
Clay tasted defeat with Newtown in both 1954 and 1955 before joining St George and winning premierships in 1957, 1958 and 1959.

Halfback: Keith Holman (Western Suburbs)
Although he played in two losing grand finals, and didn’t enjoy the same level of success as Saints’ four-time premiership winner Bobby Bugden, Holman was in a class of his own as a half back in the 1950s, with 25 games for NSW and 35 internationals for Australia.

Lock forward: Les Cowie (South Sydney)
Played in all of Souths’ five grand final victories and was one of the best locks in the game during his career.

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Second row: Norm Provan (St George) and Jack Rayner (South Sydney)
Provan is a Rugby league Immortal and played in five grand finals for St George, losing the first and winning the next four. Jack Rayner was a South Sydney legend who was captain-coach of their side in six grand finals, winning five.

Front row: Billy Wilson (St George) and Dennis Donoghue (South Sydney)
Wilson was a rough and tough operator who played in four grand finals for the Dragons, winning three. Donoghue was another hard man who played in all six grand finals contested by Souths in the ’50s, winning five.

Hooker: Ken Kearney (St George)
Kearney was No.1 hooker in the game in the 1950s, played in five grand finals for St George and won four. He was their captain-coach in 1957, 1958 and 1959. He also played 17 games for NSW in the ’50s and 31 times for Australia, nine times as captain-coach.

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Reserves
Ernie Hammerton (South Sydney)
A hooker who won five premierships from six grand finals.

Roy Bull (Manly-Warringah)
Legendary front rower who played in three grand finals, 21 games for NSW and 27 internationals for Australia.

Harry Bath (St George)
One of the best forwards of all time who played in three winning grand finals for the Dragons.

Henry Holloway (Newtown)
A knockabout international forward who played in two grand finals for Newtown.

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