St George DRLC is mourning the loss of Warren Saunders OAM, who died on 1 March 2023, aged 88. Warren was the son of Frank ‘Fatty’ Saunders, an outstanding St George winger from 1923 to 1929 and NSW representative in 1924 and 1925 who later served as a Saints committeeman. Warren was an excellent schoolboy footballer at Marist Brothers, Kogarah, and was the St George ballboy in the late ’40s, when his passion for and loyalty to the Red V was unquestioned, not least during a St George-Easts game at Hurstville Oval in 1948.

‘When [Sid] Hobson’s flying boot caused such a destructive injury to [Saints winger] Jack Finnie at Hurstville Oval last Saturday, young Warren Saunders, St George ball boy, was incensed and picking up the ball, threw it at the big forward, hitting him between the shoulder blades,’ reported the St George Call. Finnie had to leave the field with blood pouring from a head wound, but referee George Bishop allowed Hobson to stay, which prompted some unruly supporters, mimicking the reflex actions of their ball boy close to the skirmish, to hurl ‘missiles made up of fruit peelings, rubbish and newspapers’ at Bishop as he left the field.

‘It was fortunate,’ the Call’s report continued, ‘that sufficient police were present to prevent any serious outbreak.’

Warren’s prowess as a ball boy was noted by NSW Rugby League officials, who appointed him to representative games at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and by St George fans, who admired his ability to smoothly catch a ball with one hand when it was punted over the sideline or straight between the posts. His final game was the 1949 grand final, when Johnny Hawke’s great side defeated Souths 19–12 to give the club its second first-grade premiership.

‘One of St George’s losses this year is young Warren Saunders, former ball boy, who has retired from this position,’ wrote Rugby League News in April 1950. ‘Warren is now devoting all his spare time to study and hopes to fit in a game of football whenever he can. He was a member of the Marist Brothers’ all-conquering school team last season.’

In fact, he did not devote all of his energy to his textbooks, as he quickly built a reputation as one of the best young opening batsmen in Sydney grade cricket. He scored 66 and 31 on his Sheffield Shield debut in the famous game in 1955–56 when Keith Miller bowled out South Australia in their first innings for just 27, and went on to play 35 matches for NSW from 1955 to 1964, scoring 1701 runs at an average of 32.71, with a highest score of 98. He captained NSW twice when Richie Benaud was on Test duty in 1962-63, and after work commitments forced his retirement from first-class cricket he became a state selector, team manager and NSW Cricket Association board member. At the St George District Cricket Club, he was a colossus: first-grade captain at age 24, five-time premiership-winning captain, committeeman for four decades, and a dedicated president, patron and mentor.

Warren followed his father into the insurance industry, and established Warren Saunders Insurance Brokers in 1961. The company, now led by his son John, is still going strong, with its head office at Kirrawee. Warren also became a director and then deputy chairman of St George Leagues Club, and served on the board of the St George football club for more than a decade, most notably in 1995–1996 when he played a calm and leading role in negotiations with the Australian Rugby league and News Limited during the Super League war, and then in the talks with the Illawarra DRLFC in 1998 that led to Saints and the Steelers forming the NRL premiership’s first joint venture. In 2020, he was one of the selectors charged with choosing the Red V Team of the Century.

Warren retained a deep love for the game and its players, and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of the Dragons. The passionate young ball boy became a much loved and hugely respected figure.

St George DRLFC chairman Craig Young remembers how Warren was always available to advise young Dragons players with their insurance needs.

‘He was a gentleman who over many years was devoted to the club and always had our best interests at heart,’ Young says. ‘He was one of those fellows who never sought the accolades. If there was a problem, he’d work quietly and positively behind the scenes to find a solution. We all had enormous regard for him.’

‘Everyone at the St George District Club and the St George Leagues Club send their sincere condolences to John and the Saunders family, and to Warren’s many friends in sport and business.’

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