This week saw the sad passing of the great South Sydney Rugby League legend, John Sattler, one of the toughest footballers to have ever pulled on a jersey, a true gentleman of the sport who was loved and respected by all.
Nearly 10 years ago, I had the great pleasure of joining Satts and the red-and-green South Sydney faithful at the old Redfern Town Hall for the launch of Glory, Glory, John’s autobiographical account of his life and times as the rough-and-tumble rugby league prop forward who came to be known to all as ‘Gentleman’ John Sattler. The book launch, MC’ed by his son Scott – himself a premiership-winning icon of the game – and introduced by life-long South Sydney tragic Ray Martin, was a raging success, not least of all because of the engaging reminiscences of the great man himself. Satts regaled the roomful of rabid Rabbitohs fans with stories of South Sydney’s golden years, when he led his team to four premiership victories between 1967 and 1971, and played four tests for Australia, three of them as national captain.
Even in the more robust times of the 1960’s and 70’s, some of Sattler’s sporting feats were the stuff of sporting legend. In the 1970 Sydney rugby league grand final, he played 70 minutes of the game with his jaw broken in two places. Determined to stay on the field, he told no one about the injury until half time, and even then declined treatment and refused to take an early shower. He went back on for the second half and played his heart out until the full-time siren sounded. When Souths won the game, 23-12, Satts held aloft the Giltinan Shield, delivered the acceptance speech, and then took himself off to hospital to have his jaw wired up.
In February 2008, John Sattler was named in the list of Australia’s 100 Greatest Players of all time. But Gold Coasters will remember just as well the sporting legend’s life after rugby league, when he ran a series of Queensland pubs, including the old Queens Hotel at Southport. His honesty, courtesy and good humour endeared him to all who had the pleasure of his company, and underscored his tag as Gentlemen John. May he rest in peace.
Chris Nyst, Lawyer, Novelist and Film Maker