1971 NSWRFL season

The 1971 New South Wales Rugby Football League premiership was the sixty-fourth season of Sydney's professional rugby league football competition, Australia's first. Twelve teams, including six foundation clubs and another six admitted since 1908, competed for the J. J. Giltinan Shield during the season, which culminated in a Grand Final match for the W.D. & H.O. Wills between the South Sydney and St. George clubs.

1971 New South Wales Rugby Football League
PremiersSouth Sydney colours.svg South Sydney (20th title)
Minor premiersManly Sea Eagles colours.svg Manly-Warringah (1st title)
Matches played136
Points scored4477
Top points scorer(s)St. George colours.svg Graeme Langlands (196)
Player of the yearSouth Sydney colours.svg Denis Pittard (Rothmans Medal)
Top try-scorer(s)Balmain colours.svg Paul Cross (18)

Season summaryEdit

The season saw the number of tackles in a set increased from four to six. In addition, the number of points awarded for a field goal was reduced from two to one.[1]

Each side met all others twice in twenty-two regular season rounds, resulting in the top four teams consisting of Manly-Warringah, South Sydney, St. George and Parramatta who fought out three finals for the right to play in the Grand Final.

The 1971 Rothmans Medal was won by South Sydney's five-eighth Denis Pittard while Rugby League Week awarded their player of the year award to South Sydney's halfback Bob Grant.

This season marked the end of a 23-year run where all but two of the premierships were won by St George or South Sydney.

The 1971 season saw a ban imposed by the NSWRL on TV coverage of games in the Sydney premiership. It was believed that TV coverage was a contributing factor to falling attendances at games. As a result, only the Grand Final was televised, and even then as a one-hour late night highlights package rather than live coverage. The ban was lifted for the 1972 season onwards, as in practice it was shown to have a negligible effect on match attendances.


64th season
Ground: Sydney Sports Ground
Coach: Leo Nosworthy
Captain: Keith Outten
37th season
Ground:Belmore Sports Ground
Coach: Bob Hagan
Captain(s): Johnny Greaves / Terry Reynolds
5th season
Ground: Endeavour Field
Captain-coach: Tommy Bishop
Eastern Suburbs
64th season
Ground: Sydney Sports Ground
Coach: Don Furner
Captain: Kevin Junee
25th season
Ground: Brookvale Oval
Coach: Ron Willey
Captain: Fred Jones
64th season
Ground: Henson Park
Coach: Harry Bath
Captain: Brian Moore / Barry Briggs
North Sydney
64th season
Ground: North Sydney Oval
Coach: Merv Hicks
Captain: Noel Cavanagh
25th season
Ground: Cumberland Oval
Coach: Ian Walsh
Captain: Dick Thornett
5th season
Ground: Penrith Park
Coach: Bob Boland
Captain: Ian McKechnie
South Sydney
64th season
Ground: Redfern Oval
Coach: Clive Churchill
Captain: John Sattler
St. George
51st season
Ground: Kogarah Jubilee Oval
Coach: Jack Gibson
Captain: Graeme Langlands
Western Suburbs
64th season
Ground: Lidcombe Oval
Coach: Ron Watson
Captain: Tommy Raudonikis


Team Pld W D L PF PA PD Pts
1   Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 22 19 0 3 528 260 +268 38
2   South Sydney Rabbitohs 22 17 0 5 499 308 +191 34
3   St. George Dragons 22 15 1 6 392 283 +109 31
4   Parramatta 22 12 0 10 383 355 +28 24
5   Balmain Tigers 22 11 0 11 366 398 -32 22
6   Canterbury-Bankstown 22 11 0 11 355 422 -87 22
7   Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 22 10 0 12 352 310 +42 20
8   Penrith Panthers 22 10 0 12 283 372 -89 20
9   Eastern Suburbs Roosters 22 9 1 12 344 339 +5 19
10   Newtown 22 7 1 14 282 401 -119 15
11   North Sydney Bears 22 5 1 16 265 446 -181 11
12   Western Suburbs Magpies 22 4 0 18 336 471 -135 8


Under the guidance of revolutionary head-coach Jack Gibson who was in 1971 beginning to embrace the attitude and training methods used in the United States' National Football League, St. George in 1971 had reached the Grand Final in all three grades. They were to lose all three matches. (5-11 v Canterbury-Bankstown in 3rd Grade; 5-19 v Canterbury-Bankstown in Reserve Grade and 10–16 v South Sydney in the top grade).

Home Score Away Match Information
Date and Time Venue Referee Crowd
Semi Finals
  St. George Dragons 19 - 8   Parramatta 28 August 1971 Sydney Cricket Ground Keith Page 38,157
  Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 13 - 19   South Sydney Rabbitohs 4 September 1971 Sydney Cricket Ground Keith Holman 50,261
Preliminary Final
  Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 12 - 15   St. George Dragons 11 September 1971 Sydney Cricket Ground Keith Page 45,883
Grand Final
  South Sydney Rabbitohs 16 - 10   St. George Dragons 18 September 1971 Sydney Cricket Ground Keith Holman 62,838

Grand FinalEdit

South Sydney Rabbitohs Position St. George Dragons
Eric Simms FB Graeme Langlands (c)
Keith Edwards WG Ken Batty
Paul Sait CE Bob Clapham
Bob Honan CE Ken Maddison
Ray Branighan WG Geoff Carr
Denis Pittard FE Tony Branson
Bob Grant HB Billy Smith
John Sattler (c) PR Harry Eden
George Piggins HK Colin Rasmussen
John O'Neill PR Grahame Bowen
Bob McCarthy SR Peter Fitzgerald
Gary Stevens SR Barry Beath
Ron Coote LK Ted Walton
Reserve Mick Dryden
Reserve Russell Cox
Clive Churchill Coach Jack Gibson

Against a battle-hardened Souths side with a larger pack, the young Dragons went into the Grand Final as clear underdogs. Only Smith, Madison and Langlands for St George had big match experience of the level enjoyed by the entire Souths pack - many of the Rabbitohs were playing in their fourth or fifth successive Grand Final.

The first half was a gruelling affair, with the sole point coming from an Eric Simms field goal. McCarthy crossed the Dragon's try-line in the sixth minute but was called back on a forward pass ruling by referee Holman. Simms attempted a long-range field goal in the eighth minute which was unsuccessful, and Grant took another vain field-goal shock minutes later. Souths dominated possession and field-position in the first fifteen minutes and were just held at bay by the rugged defence of the Dragons, especially from their centre, Clapham. Pittard made a 75m break at the fourteen-minute mark and was brought down 3m from the Dragons line by a desperate diving tackle from Smith. In the fifteenth minute Simms took another field-goal attempt from dead in front and was successful. Souths attack was free-flowing, and they kept the play alive with late offloads whilst St George adopted a more structured play of one-off running or moving the ball across the backline. In the twentieth minute Beath was stopped in the Souths' corner by a classy Coote cover tackle.

Langlands missed two penalty goal attempts in the first half, one the mid-way through the period and another shortly before the break. Only Beath and Smith regularly broke through Souths' defences. At the interval Souths were in front by the unlikely scoreline of 1–0.

When play resumed Souths continued with their adventurous style of keeping the ball alive, they broke through poor Dragons defence and Branighan scored in the corner. Simms hit the post with the conversion attempt. Cox had replaced Bowen for St George at half-time. Sattler tested out Cox early in the half with niggle and surreptitious fouls and appeared to eye-gouge Langlands in the 55th minute. The match began to turn spiteful at that point when Beath was penalised for using his knees on McCarthy. Coote scored the second try after a break by Sait, Simms converted and then added a penalty goal a few minutes later. At this stage Souths held an 11–0 lead and looked to be racing away with the match as St George failed to complete tackles allowing the Rabbitohs to continually off-load.

The Dragons then rallied and fought back with a try to Barry Beath after a brave blind-side fifth tackle move by Billy Smith which was followed by a magnificent sideline conversion from Langlands. Smith was proving to be the Dragons only attacking spark until he was collared by Piggins and Sattler in a cynical head high tackle at the 65th minute. With the penalty that ensued Langlands took play to the other end of the field and Ted Walton scored for St George. Langlands again converted from out wide. With the score at 11–10 and only 12 minutes remaining, Saints looked to be getting on top of their more fancied rivals. However a match-winning try two minutes from full-time by Bob McCarthy running freely off Ron Coote, showed the experience of the Rabbitohs, who took their fourth title in a five-year period.

McCarthy and Coote had starred for Souths and continually threatened to split the Dragons' defence. Souths hooker George Piggins who had been called into the side to replace regular season rake Elwyn Walters, was hailed as a hero, playing himself to a standstill in what was ultimately a closely fought encounter.

The victory was to be South Sydney's last for a period of 43 years, with the club not to win another Premiership until 2014.

South Sydney 16 (Tries: Branighan, Coote, McCarthy. Goals: Simms 3. Field Goal: Simms.)

St George 10 (Tries: Beath, Walton. Goals: Langlands 2.)


  1. ^ Middleton, David (2008). League of Legends: 100 Years of Rugby League in Australia (PDF). National Museum of Australia. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-876944-64-3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-01-12.

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