Norm Provan

Club Appearances: 256

Club Debut Year: 1951

Club Final Year: 1965

Position: Second row

Club Points: 191

Club Tries: 63

Representative Honours:

  • NSW v Qld: 20
  • NSW v Int: 5
  • Australia: 18
Appearances breakdown:

  • St George: 256
Points breakdown:

  • St George: 191

From 1954 to 1958, Norm Provan was unquestionably the best second-rower in the country. He was a pivotal figure in Australia’s wins in the 1954 Ashes series and the 1957 World Cup; in between, injuries struck at the wrong moments, which kept him out of international football in 1955 and 1956, but he was a powerhouse for St George during this period, as the club became the dominant force in the premiership. Provan won the Sun-Herald’s player-of-the-year award in 1954 and was named the NSW Rugby League’s player of the year for the 1957 season. He was man of the match in the 1957 and 1958 grand finals. Film of him playing during this period shows him charging through defensive lines, like Gulliver playing the Lilliputians.

Provan made his first-grade debut in 1951 as an 18-year-old, and was a fixture in the St George pack from then until his career ended in a blaze of glory watched by 78,056 fans at the 1965 Grand Final. Saints made the finals every year during this time, and won a record ten straight premierships from 1956. During the latter half of this remarkable run, Provan moved from being one of the greats to being regarded as a true legend, even though he had called time on his international career in 1960. Taking over from Ken Kearney as captain-coach at Kogarah after the champion hooker had steered the team to five premierships (1957–61) was a daunting assignment, but Provan took on the task with relish, resisting a powerful challenge from Wests and then Souths and fostering the early careers of Graeme Langlands and Billy Smith.

A word picture created by the accomplished sportswriter Jack Pollard at the 1957 Grand Final captures Provan in full flight:

‘Thirty seconds after half time big St George second rower Norman Provan clutched the ball to his muscular chest and started to run down the centre of the SCG. The 1957 Sydney rugby league premiership was decided then. Provan palmed off Manly-Warringah defenders, stepped out of the arms of men who fanned at his legs, and ran deep into Manly’s half. He had done the same earlier in the season to the cream of league talent from Britain, France and New Zealand. This time he high-stepped it past Manly fullback Ron Willey with that characteristic hippy run and slipped the ball to Brian Clay, who scored under the posts.’

After his retirement, two images preserved Provan’s status as a giant of the game. First, there is ‘The Gladiators’, a photograph taken by the Sun-Herald’s John O’Gready immediately after the 1963 Grand Final, when Provan was rated by many as the best player on the field. This shot of Provan and Magpies captain Arthur Summons, two mud-clad, exhausted warriors, one tall, one short — caught in a cheerful sporting embrace by a shaft of sunlight that cut through the murky gloom in the moments after an epic battle — won international awards and would famously be cast in bronze as the premiership trophy. In the process, it helped make Provan and Summons two of the best remembered players of their era. Both men proved to be exceptional ambassadors for their sport.

In 1965, at the conclusion of his final game, Provan was surrounded by fans as he strode from the field, to collect the JJ Giltinan Shield one last time. The photographs taken at this moment cast him as a unique mix of football hero, colossus and man of the people. His 256 first-grade games for the Red V was a club record until Ben Hornby went past him in 2012. Six years later, he was officially named an Immortal. To Dragons fans, the only mystery is why it took so long.

See also: The Coaches that shaped the Dragons