Greatest Dragons Centres

Michael Beattie, George Carstairs, Matt Cooper, Mark Coyne, Robert Finch, Mark Gasnier, Reg Gasnier, Gordon Hart, Brian Johnston, Merv Lees, Doug McRitchie, Matt McCoy, Ken Maddison, Michael O’Connor, Graham Quinn, John Riley, Shaun Timmins

 Michael Beattie

Mick Beattie made his first-grade debut in 1980 as a short-term replacement at five-eighth for the injured Tony Trudgett, but would make his name as a centre. From 1983 to 1992, though Saints’ other centres included names such as Michael O’Connor, Brian Johnston, Chris Johns and Mark Coyne, Beattie was a regular member of the first-grade side. He played in the 1985 and 1992 Grand Finals, leading the side in the latter game, and was in St George’s winning Panasonic Cup team in 1988. He was also Dally M captain of the year in 1992 and the first centre to play 200 first-grade games for the club.

Born:                                 July 1, 1960
Position:                          Centre
Saints Years:                   1980–92
Games:                            211
Points                               241 (62 tries, 3 field goals)
Captaincy:                       56 games (1988, 1990–92)
Grand Finals:                  2 — St George 1985 (L), 1992 (L)

George Carstairs

‘Bluey’ Carstairs is an important figure in the St George story: the club’s first tryscorer in first grade and the first St George junior to play for Australia. Carstairs was on the wing for St George’s premiership debut and scored the only try in a 4–3 loss to Glebe. He toured with the 1921–22 Kangaroos, appearing in two Tests, and then toured New Zealand with NSW in 1922. In 1925, he kicked what might have been the greatest goal in the club’s history: a last-minute penalty against Norths from his own side of halfway that gave Saints a draw. Carstairs played in the 1927 premiership final before leaving to coach at Narrabri in 1929.

Born:                                 March 24, 1900, Rozelle, NSW
Died:                                 October 14, 1966, Punchbowl, NSW
Position:                          Centre
Saints Years:                   1921–29
Games:                            80
Points                               191 (11 tries, 79 goals)
Captaincy:                       17 games (1923–25, 1928–29)
Australia:                         Tests 2 (1921–22)
New South Wales:       Matches v touring international teams 1 (1924)
Finals/Grand Finals:     1 — St George 1927 (L)

Matt Cooper

No centre has played more games for the Dragons than Matt Cooper. A Shellharbour Sharks junior, Cooper represented Country Origin in 2003 and 2004 before becoming a State of Origin regular from 2005 to 2010. He made Origin debut in Game 3 of 2004 and at the end of that season was in the Kangaroos squad for the Tri Nations. He was in Australia’s top XIII for the 2005 Tri Nations and the 2006 Anzac Test. Cooper played 15 finals matches for the Dragons from 2001 to 2011, including the 2010 Grand Final victory. He also played in the World Club Championship win in 2011 and was the club’s leading tryscorer for the season on three occasions.. His 124 tries remain the most scored for St George Illawarra since the joint venture was established.

Born:                                 April 18, 1979, Port Kembla, NSW
Position:                          Centre
Saints Years:                   2000–13
Games:                            243
Points                               496 (124 tries)
Captaincy:                       4 games (2007, 2010–11)
Australia:                         Tests 7 (2004–06)
New South Wales:       State of Origins 13 (2004–08, 2010)
Grand Finals:                  1 — St George Illawarra 2010 (W)

Mark Coyne

Mark Coyne is one of five men, alongside Craig Young, Ben Hornby, Ken Kearney and Graeme Langlands, to captain the Dragons in more than 100 first-grade games. Coyne joined St George from Brisbane Brothers in 1988 and made his first-grade debut as a winger during the following season. He was a star of the 1993 final series, scored one of rugby league’s most famous tries in Game 1 of the 1994 State of Origin series, and played nine Tests between 1995 and 1997. Coyne played in the 1992 and 1993 Grand Finals and was captain when St George lost to Manly in 1996. He led St George Illawarra in the joint venture’s inaugural season in 1999, but injuries meant he did not play in that year’s finals series. His 222 games for St George/St George Illawarra was the most by a Dragons centre until Matt Cooper went past him in 2012.

Born:                                 August 16, 1967, Brisbane, QLD
Position:                          Centre
Saints Years:                   1989–99
Games:                            222
Points                               244 (61 tries)
Captaincy:                       114 games (1994–99)
Australia:                         Tests 9 (1995–97)
Queensland:                  State of Origins 19 (1990, 1992–97)
Grand Finals:                  3 — St George 1992 (L), 1993 (L), 1996 (L)

Robert Finch

Robert Finch was an Australian Schoolboys representative from Maitland Boys High who came to St George in 1974 and played in the winning under-23s team in his first season. He also appeared in eight first-grade games that year. Finch played in the major preliminary semi-final win over Manly and the major semi defeat of Easts in 1975 (filling in for the injured John Chapman and ill Ted Goodwin respectively) and came on during the second half of the Grand Final, replacing Graeme Langlands. He became a regular first-grader in 1976, playing every game that year and forcing Roy Ferguson onto the wing. He missed only one game in each of the premiership years, 1977 and 1979, establishing a formidable centre partnership with Graham Quinn. Finch’s last game for Saints was the minor semi-final in 1980.

Born:                                 July 8, 1956, Maitland, NSW
Position:                          Centre
Saints Years:                   1974–80
Games:                            127
Points                               78 (26 tries)
Grand Finals:                  3 — St George 1975 (L), 1977 (W), 1979 (W)

Mark Gasnier

Mark Gasnier made his Test debut at age 20 in 2001, a year after first appearing in the top grade with the Dragons. Mark Gasnier scored 11 tries in his 15 Tests, but missed the chance to play in more internationals, including the 2008 World Cup, when he signed to play rugby union in France. The only Dragons players to appear in more Tests as a centre than Mark Gasnier’s 15 are Reg Gasnier (39 Tests) and Graeme Langlands (25 Tests as a centre). He was joint Dragons player of the year in 2006 (with Jason Ryles), when he was the club’s leading tryscorer (18 tries in 23 games), was named co-captain in 2007 but played only six games late in the year because of a torn pectoral muscle suffered in that year’s Charity Shield, and was sole captain in 2008. He returned to St George Illawarra in 2010 to be part of Saints’ winning Grand Final and World Club Championship teams.

Born:                                 July 19, 1981, Sydney, NSW
Position:                          Centre
Saints Years:                   2000–08, 2010–11
Games:                            174
Points                               420 (92 tries, 26 goals)
Captaincy:                       22 games (2007–08)
Australia:                         Tests 15 (2001, 2005–08)
New South Wales:       State of Origins 12 (2004–06, 2008, 2011)
Grand Finals:                  1 — St George Illawarra 2010 (W)

Reg Gasnier

One of Australian rugby league original Immortals, Reg Gasnier averaged a try a game in first grade and representative football between 1959 and 1967. He remains Australia’s youngest captain against Great Britain (23 years, 28 days, in the first Test of 1962), a three-time Kangaroo (captain-coach in 1967–68), and was part of eight premiership-winning sides with St George (playing in six Grand Finals). His best tryscoring season for St George was 1960, when he scored 25 tries in 17 games, one short of Tommy Ryan’s then club record. Gasnier scored four tries in a first-grade match on four occasions and nine hat-tricks. He played in 28 first-grade games at Kogarah Oval, scoring 34 tries and winning every time.

Born:                                 May 12, 1939, Mortdale, NSW
Died:                                 May 11, 2014, Miranda, NSW
Position:                          Centre
Saints Years:                   1959–67
Games:                            125
Points                               421 (127 tries, 20 goals)
Captaincy:                       2 games (1964–65)
Australia:                         Tests 39 (1959–65, 1967)
New South Wales:       Interstate matches 16 (1959–65, 1967), Matches v touring international teams 5 (1959–60, 1963–64, 1967)
Grand Finals:                  6 — St George 1960 (W), 1961 (W), 1962 (W), 1963 (W), 1964 (W), 1965 (W)

Gordon Hart

Became a first-grade regular in 1939, as a centre, and was one of the best three-quarters in the competition in 1940 and 1941, when he played for City Firsts and NSW. Standing just 5ft 5in (165cm), Hart enlisted in August 1941 and missed St George’s 32–8 semi-final victory over Balmain, but was magnificent in the final — when he caught an overnight train from Melbourne and then walked up from Central Station to get to the SCG not long before kickoff — as Saints thrashed Easts 31–14. He served as a commando and survived the war, but never played first-grade again

Born:                                 March 17, 1919, St Peters, NSW
Died:                                 April 16, 2009, Sydney, NSW
Position:                          Centre
Saints Years:                   1938–41
Games:                            43
Points                               48 (16 tries)
New South Wales:       Interstate matches 1 (1940)
Finals/Grand Finals:     1 — St George 1941 (W)

Brian Johnston

Brian Johnston came to St George from Dunedoo in 1980 and was one the club’s leading three-quarters for the following decade. He played in eight Origin matches from 1984 to 1989, four as a centre and four on the wing, and one Test, as the replacement back, in 1987. Johnston was Saints’ leading tryscorer in 1987, with 13 tries, all scored as a centre, played finals football for Saints in 1980, 1984 and 1985, and was in the centres in the team that won the Panasonic Cup final in 1988. He became St George captain in 1989, following Craig Young’s retirement, but was forced to retire himself at the start of the 1990 season because of a knee injury. Johnston later served as St George and St George Illawarra chief executive.

Born:                                 November 13, 1958, Dunedoo, NSW
Position:                          Centre, winger
Saints Years:                   1980–89
Games:                            167
Points                               233 (61 tries)
Captaincy:                       24 games (1988–89)
Australia:                         Tests 1 (1987)
New South Wales:       Interstate matches 1 (1981), State of Origins 8 (1984, 1986–89)

Merv Lees

Merv Lees scored a try in his initial first-grade appearance in July 1953, and a year later scored five tries as St George fought back from 23–6 down to beat Norths 34–28. Lees played for NSW earlier in 1954 against Queensland and Great Britain, missed the World Cup because of a broken wrist, and then had his best season in 1955, when some critics rated him as the best centre in Sydney football. However, injuries hampered him, and then he dislocated his shoulder early in the 1956 grand final and had to leave the field.

Born:                                 November 1, 1932, Kyogle, NSW
Died:                                 May 11, 2018, Cronulla, NSW
Position:                          Centre
Saints Years:                   1953–56, 1958
Games:                            56
Points                               105 (35 tries)
New South Wales:       Interstate matches 3 (1954–55), Matches v touring international teams 2 (1954)
Finals/Grand Finals:     2 — St George 1953 (L), St George 1956 (W)

Matt McCoy

Matt McCoy joined Saints in 1948 and was soon made first-grade captain, leading the team to within a game of the grand final. In 1949, with Johnny Hawke now skipper, McCoy played a major role in St George’s march to the premiership and was one of the first players chosen for Australia’s end-of-season tour of New Zealand. At the start of 1950, the Daily Mirror called him ‘unquestionably the best player in Australia and, in fact, probably the finest in the world today’, but a knee injury kept him out of that year’s Ashes series and after a strong 1951 season he stunned the club by announcing his immediate retirement after hurting his knee again in the 1952 pre-season.

Born:                                 December 20, 1923, Wolumla, NSW
Died:                                 February 20, 2007, Sydney, NSW
Position:                          Centre
Saints Years:                   1948–52
Games:                            65
Points                               208 (26 tries, 65 goals)
Captaincy:                       14 games (1948–50, 1952)
Australia:                         Tests 2 (1949)
New South Wales:       Interstate matches 5 (1949, 1951)
Finals/Grand Finals:     1 — St George 1949 (W)

Doug McRitchie

Doug McRitchie was the only man to play in all three of St George’s grand finals in the 1940s (1942, 1946 and 1949), and a key player in Australia’s dramatic Ashes series in 1950, setting up the crucial try for his club team-mate Ron Roberts. McRitchie was graded in 1942, when he beat future Test captain Joe Jorgenson for a first-grade place, and was a fixture for the best part of a decade, except when serving with the AIF. After the War, he established himself as ‘the hardest running centre and most fierce tackier in Sydney grade football’. A star of the Dragons’ 1949 premiership side, he shifted to Queanbeyan in 1951.

Born:                                 July 31, 1923, Marrickville, NSW
Died:                                 July 30, 1998, Milton, NSW
Position:                          Centre
Saints Years:                   1942–44, 1946–50
Games:                            81
Points                               75 (25 tries)
Captaincy:                       28 games (1946–50)
Australia:                         Tests 6 (1948–50)
New South Wales:       Interstate matches 4 (1948, 1950), Matches v touring international teams 1 (1950)
Finals/Grand Finals:     3 —St George 1942 (L), 1946 (L), 1949 (W)

 

Ken Maddison

Ken Maddison played in two Grand Finals for St George in the centres, and then made his name as a second rower for Cronulla and Australia in 1973, when he won the Rothmans Medal, played in the Sharks’ Grand Final loss to Manly and was a star on the Kangaroo tour. Maddison made his Saints debut in 1965 and with Reg Gasnier out for the season played in the centres in the 1966 Grand Final. Following Gasnier’s retirement and the departure of Bruce Pollard, he was a regular in the St George backline for four seasons until his move to Cronulla after the 1971 Grand Final. Brother Keith also played for St George, between 1966 and 1972, and would have appeared in the 1971 Grand Final had he not suffered a major knee injury during the preliminary final win over Manly.

Born:                                 April 9, 1946, Newcastle, NSW
Position:                          Centre/Second Row
Saints Years:                   1965–71
Games:                            101
Points                               72 (24 tries)
Australia:                         Tests 4 (1973)
New South Wales:       Interstate matches 1 (1974)
Grand Finals:                  3 — St George 1966 (W), 1971 (L), Cronulla 1973 (L)

Michael O’Connor

Michael O’Connor played 12 Tests for the Wallabies before joining St George in 1983. He played 21 games in each of 1983, 1985 and 1986, but was injured in 1984 and then could not force his way back into the side ahead of Brian Johnston or Mick Beattie. O’Connor became the team’s goalkicker in 1985 and scored 189 point for the season, from six tries, 81 goals and three field goals. He made his Origin debut during that season, scoring all NSW’s points in an 18–2 win in Game 1, and was the Dally M centre of the year in 1986, the year of his Test debut (as a winger). He had toured New Zealand with the Australian team in 1985, but did not play in a Test. O’Connor was the leading pointscorer on the 1986 Kangaroo tour, playing on the wing and tallying nine tries and 25 goals (86 points) in five Tests against PNG, Great Britain and France. He transferred to Manly in 1987, where he won a premiership in his first season and remained one of the leading centres in the game until 1992.

Born:                                 November 30, 1960, Nowra, NSW
Position:                          Centre
Saints Years:                   1983–86
Games:                            78
Points                               401 (33 tries, 130 goals, 9 field goals)
Australia:                         Tests 18 (1986–90)
New South Wales:       State of Origins 19 (1985–91)
Grand Finals:                  2 — St George 1985 (L), Manly 1987 (W)

Graham Quinn

Graham Quinn was one of the best centres in the Sydney premiership during his time at St George, when he was part of two premiership winning teams and played Test, interstate and State of Origin football. He came to St George in 1977 from the Brothers club in Brisbane, having played for Queensland against NSW during the previous year. He was originally selected in Queensland’s team for the inaugural Origin game in 1980 but had to withdraw because of a shoulder injury, which was ironic given he had been remarkably durable in his first three-and-a-half years at Kogarah. Mal Meninga took his place. Quinn formed a much-admired centre pairing with Robert Finch and stayed at Kogarah until a new generation of high-class centres — such as Brian Johnston, Michael Beattie and Michael O’Connor — became established at the club.

Born:                                 September 9, 1953, Brisbane, QLD
Position:                          Centre
Saints Years:                   1977–83
Games:                            125
Points                               84 (28 tries)
Captaincy:                       10 games (1982–83)
Australia:                         Tests 1 (1980)
Queensland:                  Interstate matches 2 (1976), State of Origins 1 (1982)
New South Wales:       Interstate matches 1 (1980)
Grand Finals:                  2 — St George 1977 (W), 1979 (W)

John Riley

He was six weeks younger than Reg Gasnier, but Johnny Riley was first of the pair into first grade, making his debut in the opening round of 1959. Gasnier’s first game was in round 4. Riley was picked for City Firsts in 1959, and was a reserve for Australia against New Zealand. He missed the 1959 Grand Final with a strained hamstring but was picked for the 1959–60 Kangaroo tour, and played in the first Ashes Test on the wing. He played in the 1962 Grand Final and was involved in a key moment in the second half when Eddie Lumsden dropped the ball, Wests Peter Dimond kicked it through, and Riley managed to prevent Dimond forcing the ball. He moved to Melbourne in 1965 and won a premiership with Moorabbin.

Born:                                 June 22, 1939, Ramsgate, NSW
Position:                          Centre
Saints Years:                   1959–64
Games:                            61
Points                               66 (22 tries)
Australia:                         Tests 1 (1959)
New South Wales:       Interstate matches 1 (1959)
Grand Finals:                  1 — St George 1962 (W)

Shaun Timmins

Shaun Timmins played 86 games for Illawarra mostly as a centre before the Dragons joint venture debuted in 1999. Timmins appeared in a total of 210 games for Illawarra/St George Illawarra. He played his first Test in the 1999 Tri-Nations, soon after playing for Saints in the 1999 Grand Final. His Origin debut came a season later, but he was then was struck down with a knee injury that cost him the entire 2001 season. Timmins resumed as a centre in 2002, and was named the Dragons player of the year, but was a lock and occasional five-eighth for the rest of his career. He was superb in 2004, most notably when kicking the winning field goal in extra time in the first game of the Origin series, and in 2005, when he played all but one game for the Dragons team that finished equal top of the ladder.

Born:                                 August 6, 1976, Kiama, NSW
Position:                          Centre/Five-eighth/Lock
Saints Years:                   1999–2000, 2002–06
Games:                            124
Points                               108 (27 tries)
Captaincy:                       15 games (1999, 2003–05)
Australia:                         Tests 9 (1999–00, 2002–04)
New South Wales:       State of Origins 9 (2000, 2002–04)
Grand Finals:                  1 — St George Illawarra 1999 (L)