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Remembering the players who left us in 2021 – Part 1

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Roar Guru
5th January, 2022
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2021 was both a year to remember and a year some of us will want to forget. But before it’s too far gone, let’s take some time to remember some of the rugby league greats who left us for good in 2021.

Dave Bolton
Bolton was a ridiculously talented half, five-eighth or fullback who was one of the first English players to come to Australia to try his luck. He was a Wigan legend, notching up 300 games and 127 tries for the club. He represented the club in in four Challenge Cup finals, for two wins, and one Championship final victory.

He was one of the best players ever to come out of England and played 23 Tests for his country before heading to Balmain.

Bolton joined the Tigers in 1965 and played 78 games for the club over the next six seasons, the highlight of which was playing halfback for the club in the 1969 grand final, for which he was later awarded the retrospective Clive Churchill Medal.

Bolton controlled that game from start to finish, using every trick in the book, and led the young Tigers to victory against a star-studded South Sydney team, setting up the only try of the game and kicking two vital field goals along the way.

Bolton was the complete package, and just what you’d expect from an English half from that era. He was tough, and had to be, as he was always targeted by the opposition. He was also fast, elusive and very clever, and was a great field goal exponent.

After hanging up the boots in 1970 he coached Parramatta for a couple of years and then joined Tim Sheens at Penrith in an assistant coaching role.

Dave Bolton passed away in January 2021.

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Harry Cameron
Cameron was far from being a household name but he was certainly a very talented and hard-running centre. He had a four-year stint with the Roosters between 1971 and 1974 after joining them from Narrabri as a 23-year-old, and played 55 games in the top grade.

He partnered Mark Harris in the centres in their 1972 grand final loss to Manly, and played off the bench to replace John Brass for the Roosters two years later when they defeated Canterbury Bankstown in the decider.

He joined Wests Panthers in the BRL in 1975 and was a key part of their success in winning both the 1975 and 1976 BRL premierships under coach Ron Raper.

His form for Wests was good enough to attract the attention of the Queensland selectors, and he represented his adopted state against NSW in Games 1 and 3 of the 1975 series, and in all three games in the 1986 series. He also partnered Peter Leis in the centres for Brisbane in their famous 21-10 victory over the touring English team at Lang Park in 1975.

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Harry Cameron passed away in June 2021.

Kevin Dann
Kevin Dann was a player blessed with a lot of talent with barely a weakness in his game. An exciting player, he had the speed and footwork to score tries himself, the skill to put teammates into the clear, was a solid defender, and a noted goal kicker. He was one of the best fullbacks to ever play for the Panthers, a one-club stalwart, and a crowd favourite.

He was called into first grade at the age of 19 in 1977 and injuries eventually saw him leave the game behind at the age of just 25, but he managed to represent the Panthers 120 times with distinction during his career, even though the club itself was struggling for success.

Dann was at the peak of his form in 1980 when he became the Panthers’ first ever NSW representative when selected to represent NSW against Queensland in Game 2 of the 1980 interstate series, and many consider him unlucky to miss selection in both the first Origin game in July that year and the Australian team that toured NZ at the end of the season.

Kevin Dann passed away in February 2021.

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Peter Dimond
While certainly no giant by today’s standards, I doubt that there’s ever been a tougher outside back than Peter Dimond, who was an opponent’s worst nightmare. From his early days as a junior star in the Illawarra, to his ten years with the Western Suburbs Magpies, through to his final five years in the top grade in the Newcastle competition, I doubt if anyone got the better of Dimond.

Peter Dimond first made a name for himself with the Dapto Canaries in his late teens and was picked from there for Country Firsts at the age of 18 for their annual clash with Sydney in 1957. Just 12 months later, everything fell into place for Dimond.

He was snapped up by the big-spending Western Suburbs Magpies, was selected for NSW for both Games 1 and 2 of the interstate clash with Queensland, running in five tries, and then for Australia in the second and third Tests against the visiting English team, all before his 20th birthday.

Dimond enjoyed a ten-year career for the Wests Magpies, playing over 150 games and finishing with the most tries for the club, with 84 tries. Premiership glory eluded him, though, as this time with Wests coincided with St George’s 11-premiership run, and the best he could do was play in four losing grand finals, including back-to-back losses in 1961, 1962 and 1963.

Peter Dimond was at the top of his game when picked to tour with the 1963-64 Kangaroos and played in all six Tests on the tour, in a star-studded three-quarter line comprising Dimond, Reg Gasnier, Graeme Langlands and Ken Irvine, who scored 22 Test tries between them on the tour. He played his final Test match for Australia when selected to partner Johnny Greaves in the centres in the third Test against England in 1966 at the SCG.

Dimond left Wests at the end of the 1967 season and took up an offer to captain/coach South Newcastle, leading them to a premiership in 1968, before also playing with Maitland and then finishing his playing career as captain/coach with Murwillumbah Old Boys in 1973.

Peter Dimond passed away in April 2021.

Bob Fulton AM
So much has been written about the great Bobby Fulton since his passing that anything I write will be superfluous, so I’ll just focus on an overview his footballing achievements.

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Beginning life in England, Fulton was to become one of Australia’s favourite rugby league sons, playing 37 Tests for Australia, with a winning percentage of 67.5 per cent, scoring 26 tries, and captaining Australia on eight occasions.

He also played 17 games for NSW, crossing for 14 tries. For those unlucky enough not to see Fulton play, let’s just say that he was the complete footballer, both in attack and defence, and there hasn’t been another like him since he ceased playing 43 years ago.

Former rugby league great and one of the rugby league Immortals, Bob Fulton.

Former rugby league great and one of the Immortals, Bob Fulton (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Prior to gaining Australian selection in 1968, Fulton had established himself as one of the best attacking players in the game after joining Manly in 1966 as a 19-year-old centre or five-eighth from the Wests Wollongong team.

He went on to become Manly’s most famous player and their number one crowd favourite, playing 219 games across 11 seasons on the Northern Beaches, crossing for 129 tries, and kicking 57 drop goals. Such was his influence on the game he became the youngest player ever to captain a grand final team when he led Manly out against South Sydney in 1968, a game Manly lost narrowly by 13 points to 9.

He helped Manly to premierships in both 1972 and 1973 under the leadership of Fred Jones and was awarded the man of the match award in the 1973 decider when he crossed for two tries. He then captained Manly to another premiership in 1976, which turned out to be his final game for the club, as he transferred to Eastern Suburbs in 1977 for three years before retiring at the end of the 1979 season.

Fulton’s rugby league career didn’t end there, though, and the very next year he began his coaching career with the Roosters, guiding them to back-to-back minor premierships in 1980 and 1981, and to fourth place on the table in 1982.

He then took his clipboard home to Manly in 1983, taking them as far as the grand final in 1983 and then to their first premiership for nine years in 1987. He left Manly at the end of 1988 and was appointed as Australian coach the following year, a position which he retained for the next ten years and 39 Tests, of which Australia only lost six.

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He rejoined Manly as coach in 1993 and remained at the helm until 1999, guiding them to grand finals in both 1995 and 1997, and taking out the premiership in 1996.

After retiring from coaching he continued his involvement with the game as a commentator and also as a selector for both NSW and Australia. Bob Fulton was named as one of the four original rugby league Immortals in 1981.

Bob Fulton passed away in May 2021.

John Gleeson
John Gleeson was a top-flight half or five-eighth, and a Queensland legend who represented his state 25 times between 1961 and 1968, eight times as captain, leading the side to victories over the powerful NSW team in his last two interstate matches.

Gleeson played his entire club career in Queensland, beginning with his home town of Chinchilla, from which he represented South Queensland as a teenager alongside Test star Bobby Banks. He transferred to the All Whites in Toowoomba in 1959 and went on to represent Toowoomba in the Bulimba Cup competition.

He headed to the Wynnum-Manly club in Brisbane in 1963 and then to Souths Toowoomba for a season in 1965 after rejecting an offer to transfer to Newtown in the Sydney competition.

The following year, he was back in Brisbane with the Brothers club, who made the 1966 grand final only to be defeated 9-6 by Norths, while Gleeson finished the match sitting on the sideline nursing a broken jaw after receiving a high shot just before halftime.

Gleeson was a diminutive but tough player and was regularly targeted by the opposition, and he unfortunately suffered many serious head injuries in his career. Gleeson went on to win premierships with the Brothers in both 1967 and 1968, with the 1968 grand final being his swansong as a player at the age of 29.

John Gleeson also represented Australia with distinction between 1963 and 1968, went on both the 1963-64 and 1967-68 Kangaroo Tours, and played ten Tests and 22 tour matches for his country. He formed a great Australian halves partnership with Billy Smith until Gleeson eventually lost his spot in the team to the emerging star Tony Branson on the 1967-68 tour.

After retiring from the game, John Gleeson coached Gympie Brothers to premierships in both 1969 and 1970 and stayed involved in the game when he returned to his home town of Chinchilla.

John Gleeson passed away in December 2021.

Robin Gourley
Gourley began his footballing life playing rugby union in Ireland before coming to Australia as a 23-year-old in 1958. He first played rugby league in Toowoomba, before ending up at the Wagga Kangaroos in 1962 where his form earned him selection in the front row for Country in their annual clash with City.

Country defeated a star-studded city side by 18 points to 10 and Gourley was selected to play for NSW in the interstate series against Queensland.

His form in those games drew the interest of St George, who signed him for the 1963 season. Gourley was a big and fearless player and a wrecking ball in the forward battles, and he never took a backward step. After spending his early days in reserve grade, he became a regular in St George’s powerful forward pack in both 1965 and 1966 and was part of their premiership winning teams in those years.

He left St George in 1967 to pursue his passion for farming in the Narrabri area, became captain/coach of the local team, and was once again selected to play for Country against City in 1967.

Robin Gourley passed away in July 2021.

Dick Huddart
Dick Huddart was the real deal one of the best forwards to play the game during the 1950s and 1960s, and possibly the greatest running forward ever. He was a powerful runner, a punishing defender, and had a great turn of pace for a big man, as evidenced by his 126 tries in 358 first grade games.

He could, and often did, turn the tide of the game on his own.

After playing rugby union, he began his rugby league career with Whitehaven in 1954 at the age of 18 and made his top-grade debut two years later. In 1958 he became the first Whitehaven player to represent Great Britain when he was selected to tour Australia and NZ. Great Britain won the series and Huddart played in a total of four Tests on tour.

He transferred to the famous St Helens club when he returned from the tour and went on to play 209 games for the Saints over the next seven years, as well as another 12 Tests for Great Britain and one for England.

He was enticed to join the St George Dragons in 1964 and went on to play 78 games for the club over the next five years. He won a premiership with the Dragons in 1966 when he partnered Elton Rasmussen in the second row and scored a try in their 23-4 grand final victory over Balmain.

He left the Dragons at the end of the 1968 season and spent a couple of seasons as captain/coach at Dubbo in NSW, before closing the circle and having one more season with Whitehaven in 1970-71.

Dick Huddart passed away in August 2021.

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