The St George District Rugby League Football Club was saddened to learn of the passing of a true legend – Norm Provan, aged 89.
"Norm Provan remains an iconic and crucial part of the St George's rich history," St George District chairman and St George Illawarra board member Craig Young said.
"Norm was instrumental in St George's great run of 11 premierships, a feat we will never see again."
St George premiership-winning captain Steve Edge remembered Norm Provan proudly as his "hero".
"He was an Immortal to me from when I was 10 years old," Edge said.
"In those days, the Dragons only played home games at Jubilee Oval four or five times a year, the remainder being at the Sydney Cricket Ground for the 'match of the round'.
"I have vivid memories of Norm standing at Jubilee, signing autographs for young fans until all were done, which is indicative of his character.
"Norm was not only a great player, with a playing record that no other player has been able to match, but an incredibly caring person to fans and players of our great game.
"He was popular and revered by Dragons and opposition players, always in demand at reunions, and first to assist anyone who needed help.
"It was always a pleasure and an honour to be in the company of a man of Norm's stature, and the league is so privileged to have Norm Provan and Arthur Summons as guardians of our great game."
The teenage Norm Provan was a lanky, raw-boned forward. Born on December 18, 1931, he was one of eight Provan children raised on a small soldier settlement block at Urana, near Lockhart in the Riverina.
From there, the Provan family moved to Wagga Wagga then the Sydney suburbs of North Bondi and Willoughby and finally to Kirrawee, in the Sutherland Shire.
He became a St George fan during the club's premiership year of 1949, telling author Norman Tasker in 2013: "I can still see big forwards like Jack Munn, Charlie Banks and Jack 'Dutchy' Holland ripping in. There is no doubt it was that team that inspired me to be a Saint."
Provan established himself in first grade in 1951, as a second-rower, and would remain there for 15 seasons. 'Sticks' Provan stood 6ft 4in (193cm), weighed 15 stone (95kg) in his pomp, but his command of the game and influence at St George went well beyond his physique. St George never missed the finals in his 15 years of first grade and won the grand final in each of his last 10. He set standards for discipline and fitness that inspired his teammates and was captain-coach in his last four seasons in the Red V (1962 to 1965) overseeing the arrival at the club of Billy Smith and Graeme Langlands.
Provan was consistently superb in St George's grand final victories, especially in the early years of the 11-year winning streak when he was at the absolute peak of his powers.
The final image of him as a player is of a colossus striding through the mass of fans that had invaded the field after the Dragons' 12–8 win over Souths in front of an SCG record crowd of 78,056.
At international level, Provan formed one of Australia's most revered back-row partnerships with Kel O’Shea and was a star of Australia’s triumphs in the 1954 Ashes series and the 1957 World Cup, but it was his efforts for St George that forged the legend. In March 1963, he was the first active player to be made a life member of the club.
Norm Provan played his 206th grade game in August 1961, breaking Len Kelly's club record. He was knocked out late in the first half of the 1962 grand final against Wests, prop Billy Wilson was sent off immediately after half time, but the captain-coach came back to inspire his men to a famous win. A year later, when many thought he was again the grand final's best player, photographer John O’Gready snapped the iconic image of the mud-clad Provan and Arthur Summons, the Magpies captain, that became known as 'The Gladiators' and inspired the NRL’s premiership trophy.
Following his retirement — after 283 games, 256 first-grade premiership appearances (78 as captain), those 10 straight premierships, 18 Tests and 25 games for NSW — he was a non-playing coach at St George in 1968, and later at Parramatta and Cronulla, taking the Eels from the wooden spoon to the semi-finals in 1975 and the Sharks to the grand final three years later.
Away from football, he was a highly successful businessman, managing electrical stores in the St George district and the Sutherland shire, and then running a caravan park in Cairns in far north Queensland, the Oasis Resort at Caloundra on the Queensland Sunshine Coast, and a cattle farm at Kuranda, near Cairns. For league followers across the country, he became — as Steve Edge so rightly remembers — the code's ultimate statesman, universally loved and respected, and loudly cheered whenever he joined Arthur Summons to present the premiership trophy on grand final day.
His induction as a rugby league Immortal in 2018 was widely acclaimed. The only wonder for Dragons fans young and old was why it had taken so long.
For more, visit: www.stgeorgedragons.com.au