The above photo is of St George’s captain Norm Provan and Western Suburbs halfback Arthur Summons after the 1963 Grand Final at the Sydney Cricket Ground. St George won the game 8-3 in horrendous conditions that became iconic of this grand final. The photo was quickly branded the “gladiators” as praise to the two men who resembled as such.
This ended up being the Dragons 8th consecutive premiership as there dominance over the New South Wales Rugby league (NSWRL) continued. Wests believed that this was their best chance of winning the premiership having beaten St George twice during the regular season (8-5 and 12-5) and then again in the Major Semi 10-8. However when it came to grand final day, the inclement weather took away the ability of the Wests outside backs to display their pace (which had been there weapon throughout 1963), the field resembled a world war 1 battlefield more than the hallowed turf of the SCG.
The shot was snapped by by Herald Sun photographer John O’Gready as both men walked off the field. The photo was originally not going to be used before being slapped on the front page of the Herald Sun and winning various awards. Interestingly enough, Summons said years later that the iconic photo was actually of him complaining to Provan about the poor standard of refereeing. Many sports journalists and Western Suburbs fans believed the referee Darcy Lawler bet on the game as evident by the 18-7 penalty count to St George and Western Suburbs having a try disallowed controversially.
This photo appealed to me as an avid rugby league fan, the mateship, camaraderie and love shown in this picture after these men had put their bodies through hell is so beautiful to see, it tells a story that words couldn’t. It also displays how little men and big men can play the game of rugby league. These are two guys that didn’t play on the same team and would have been belting each other senseless throughout the game. To see the respect they treat each other with after the game shows you how sport is supposed to be played.
The photo is iconic as Provan stands half a foot taller than the Western Suburbs halfback Arthur Summons and they embrace each other covered in mud. Their jerseys are unrecongnisable having played the majority of the game in driving rain and muddy conditions. When anyone talks to you about the St George Dragons and Western Suburbs games, this is the image that quickly springs to mind.
The image was carved into the NSWRL Premiership Trophy (later named the Winfield Cup from 1982-1995) and is still the centre piece of the design for the current NRL Premiership trophy. It is the backbone of the beliefs of rugby league and the spirit in which it is supposed to be played. Sure you hated the other team and players when it was game time, but after those 80 minutes had elapsed you were mates with them.
It certainly helps that one of the men in the photo is the captain of my favourite team Norm Provan of the St George Dragons. The strength and courage of both men has continued to this very day. They have become life long friends and appear at every National Rugby League Grand Final that is held each year.
The fact that this photo has lasted the test of time proves what a quality photo this is and how valuable it is to the rugby league community