Many are aware of the incredible feat the St George Dragons achieved across the 1950s and 1960s, which saw them win 11 premierships in succession to set a record that still stands today.
But it’s not widely known that key to the streak was an act of remarkable bravery from rugby league Immortal Norm Provan during the 1962 grand final, in which St George defeated Western Suburbs Magpies 9-6 at the SCG.
In the wake of Provan’s death at the age of 89, rugby league author Geoff Armstrong has told a story in an interview with Wide World of Sports that perhaps reflects the heart of the man better than any other.
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The St George captain-coach would return to the field following a sickening first-half clash and lift the Dragons to the seventh of their consecutive titles in a heroic individual performance.
“Just before half-time, this young second-rower, Jim Cody, who was a bit of a firebrand – he, as the story goes, belted Norm Provan behind play and knocked Norm Provan out, and Norm had to be helped back to the dressing room,” said Armstrong, the author of Spirit of the Red V: A Century of Dragons Rugby League.
“At half-time he was basically flat on his back, (so) he couldn’t address the team. So Billy Wilson, the Saints’ veteran front-rower, who had played for Australia the previous two or three years – he had to do the half-time talk. And the theme of the half-time talk was, ‘We know who belted ‘Sticks’, we’re not going to retaliate, we’re just going to go out there, play good, hard football and win the game’.
“And from the second half, Wests kicked off and Cody’s running down field and, as the story goes, Wilson coat-hangers him and gets himself sent off.
“And St George at that point are down to 11 players because Provan’s not on the field, either.
Gould explains Norm Provan’s legacy
“I don’t actually think Wilson deliberately belted Cody; I think they came together and whether that was Wilson’s fault or Cody’s I’m not sure. Wilson swung an arm over and caught Cody on the jaw and he went straight down and the referee sent him off.”
By Armstrong’s story-telling, it was a miracle that Provan returned to the field.
“Provan then came back out and his head eventually cleared and over the last 30 minutes… he was a heroic figure,” Armstrong said.
“St George hung on… and kept their grand final (winning) streak going.
“Norm Provan was heroic that day. He was flattened. Obviously in 2021 he would have had a (head injury assessment) and wouldn’t have gone back on the field, but the times were different back then. Everyone said he was severely concussed… There is absolutely no doubt that at half-time he was incapable of addressing the team. The St George doctors spent the whole half-time trying to revive him.”
Armstrong also pointed out that Provan, in an indication of his renowned professionalism, made no effort to pick a fight with Cody upon his return to the pitch.
“His whole mantra as a coach was about discipline… and he was also really big at setting an example,” Armstrong said.
“He had been the best trainer at the club for years.
“So Provan’s behaviour in the second half, the fact he didn’t go out to get square, just reflects the fact that he was setting that example. Even though he was in a concussed state, he was showing that discipline that the club needed to win.
“And he was a smart enough footballer to know that if they did retaliate that was the one way they could get beaten. They were the best team in the comp. They’d been the best team in the comp all year.”
Rugby league legends Wally Lewis, Craig Young and Johnny King are among the thousands to have made beautiful tributes to Provan following his death.
Armstrong has followed suit.
“He was rugby league’s ultimate statesman.”
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