League mourns the loss of the greatest - Reg Gasnier
REG Gasnier was the Muhammad Ali of rugby league - simply the greatest.
Those who played with and against Gasnier during the 1950s and 60s speak in reverence of his genius, his freakish footwork, bewildering speed and deception.
But most of all they remember him as being a true gentleman.
One of rugby league's eight Immortals, Gasnier passed away in a nursing care centre on Sunday, one day short of his 75th birthday after bravely battling ill health since being diagnosed with a brain tumour in 1995.
Former Dragons and Australian teammate and fellow Immortal Johnny Raper, who visited his great mate for the last time last week, had no hesitation in rating Gasnier the best he played with or against.
"He was phenomenal, the best I played with or against," said Raper, expressing his condolences to the Gasnier family.
Raper said the Dragons built their world record 11 straight premiership run around Gasnier's amazing try-scoring talent.
"Reg would say just give me the ball. We did and he'd always score. He was a genius."
Coaching great Wayne Bennett, who ended the Dragons' 31-year premiership drought in 2010, said he never had the opportunity to see Gasnier play because he grew up in the Queensland bush and listened to games on the radio.
"I knew he played for Australia and I knew he was a wonderful player because I listened to games on the radio but I was never lucky enough to see him play," Bennett told APN yesterday.
"I've seen the odd shot of him and he reminds me a bit of Steve Renouf."
Bennett, who has coached many wonderful players and many champions over the years, said he would have loved to have coached Gasnier.
"Of course I would have, he was one of the best of his era, of any era," said
Bennett as the rugby league world mourned the loss of another Immortal.
"I spent three years at the Dragons and they still talk about him as a legend of the game and of what a humble gentleman he was."
News of Gasnier's passing sparked an immediate outpouring from the rugby league community and a flood of tributes from former and current players, coaches, officials, relatives, friends and others who either saw him play or like Bennett heard stories of the many deeds of a player nicknamed "Puff the Magic Dragon".
Gasnier, who played 127 games for the mighty Dragons, winning six premierships and starring in 39 Tests for Australia, was forced into premature retirement after breaking his leg in France on the 1967-68 Kangaroo Tour at the age of just 28.
Former St George secretary and highly respected rugby league figure Frank Facer said of Gasnier: "I don't think those who have seen him play will watch another genius like him for years to come .... if ever."
Of the few players who scored more than 100 tries in their careers, Gasnier's 127 from 125 games for the Dragons was second only to Harold Horder who in 127 games for South Sydney and North Sydney cross an astonishing 152 times.
REMEMBERING AN IMMORTAL
"He (Gasnier) used to say give me the ball .... we'd give it to him .. and he'd score. He was just a phenomenal player, the best I played with."
Johnny Raper (St George and Australian teammate)
"Sad to hear of Reg Gasnier's passing. Warmest regards to the entire Gasnier family."
Cameron Smith (current Melbourne, Queensland and Australian captain)
"He made the very, very difficult look so easy."
Warren Ryan (former Dragons teammate, premiership-winning coach and commentator)
"Of course I would have loved to have coach him. I spent three years at the Dragons and they still talk about him as a legend of the game and of what a humble gentleman he was."
Wayne Bennett (Australian Sports Hall of Fame coach and seven-time premiership winner)
"To a 12-year-old boy sitting on the northern end fence of Kogarah Oval early sixties, you were the finest athlete of all time."
Kerry O'Keeffe (Former Australian cricketer)
"Deeply sadden at the passing of Dragons Immortal and international Reg Gasnier."
St George Illawarra Dragons
"I don't think those who have seen him play will watch another genius like him for years to come .... if ever."
Frank Facer (long-serving Dragons secretary)
"Sad to hear passing of @NRL_Dragons king! Reg Gasnier. Thoughts are with his family and my bro Mark (Reg's nephew)."
Matt Cooper (retired premiership-winner who played 243 games for the Dragons
"Not only did he play the game like no one else, Reg was widely regarded as one of the true gentlemen of rugby league."
NRL chief executive David Smith
"I stood behind Gaz at fullback. The view was amazing and often just breathtaking.
"He had this absolutely amazing pace and acceleration. He'd throw the head back … and whooshker … he was off and gone."
Fellow Immortal and teammate Graeme Langlands
"He was my hero when I used to come to Sydney and watch St George play at the Sydney Cricket Ground."
Fellow Immortal Bob Fulton told News Corporation
"Rip Reg Gasnier. One of the all-time greats. Also one of my boyhood idols. Sincere condolences to family, friends and the Big Red V club".
Penrith Panthers general manager and former Blues coach Phil Gould
"The #Raiders would like to pass on our condolences to the family & friends of @NRL_Dragons Immortal Reg Gasnier. A true ornament to the game."
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