Almanac Rugby League Obituary – Vale Arthur Summons

 

For all the talk about so-called icons, legends, immortals and greats in rugby league, much emphasis is often placed on the identity’s on-field achievements and expertise on the field.

 

In a sport that generates regular criticism and headlines for all the wrong reasons, it’s easy to overlook certain personnel who display an all-too-rare quality that I find among the most admirable of human traits.

 

Humility.

 

It’s easy to remember Johnathan Thurston for all the right reasons, considering he has never come across as arrogant or boastful despite his many illustrious achievements while also performing generous deeds such as handing his headgear to a young spectator.

 

But let’s not forget another humble rugby league identity: Arthur Summons. The passing of this true gentleman on 16 May 2020, aged 84, should not be forgotten amidst the global COVID-19 crisis.

 

I was fortunate enough to meet the humble man on 16 August 2017. More on that soon.

 

A halfback or five-eighth, Summons achieved plenty although premiership success eluded him. Summons played rugby union for Australia in the late 1950s before changing codes. He tallied four tries in his nine rugby league Test appearances from 1961 to 1964, and he captained his country five times for five wins.

 

Having been appointed captain-coach for the 1963-64 Kangaroo tour, Summons was sidelined from the Ashes Tests due to a knee injury. But his influence was undeniable as he helped mastermind a 2-1 series win, highlighted by a 50-12 victory in the Second Test at Swinton to seal the series.

 

Summons experienced frustration at club level as he played for Wests Magpies in three successive grand final losses against the St George Dragons. Had he not played during St George’s run of 11 successive premierships, Summons would surely have been a premiership-winner at some stage.

 

The 1961 Grand Final result was comprehensive as the Dragons won 22-0 before the Summons-captained Magpies fell just short in 1962, losing 9-6. The SCG was bathed in mud for the 1963 Grand Final which the Dragons won 8-3 following ample controversy. Over the years, several sources have suggested that Summons’s team-mate Jack Gibson heard beforehand that referee Darcy Lawler had backed the Dragons who subsequently benefited from an 18-7 penalty count and were awarded a dubious second-half try after Wests controversially had a first-half try disallowed.

 

The most famous rugby league photograph of all took place as soon as the game ended, with the victorious and vanquished captains semi-embracing. John O’Gready’s snap of Norm Provan and Arthur Summons became entrenched in rugby league folklore and became known as ‘The Gladiators’. Later, a bronze statue of the Provan-Summons image became the basis for the premiership trophy.

 

 

 

Moreover, Summons’ reputation as a real gentleman was well known. A couple of insights from Alan Whiticker’s book Captaining the Kangaroos make telling reading. Commenting on his appointment as captain-coach of the 1963-64 Kangaroos, Summons said: ‘I was a little bit embarrassed because there were other players, like Walsh, Hambly, Gasnier, Raper, who had been on tours to England before and here I was – a bit of an upstart – who had been in the game for only a few years – and had been given full reign. Obviously the selectors thought I could do the job, having won three Tests as captain, but I also think it was a cost-saving exercise not to take a coach with us. My experience in the coaching ranks was nil.’

 

In a clear sign of his generosity, Summons did not play in the Third Ashes Test – even though he had recovered from injury – because he did not want to change a winning side. ‘I couldn’t drop blokes who had done the job just because they were in my position…The younger players deserved their places and I wanted the best team on the paddock in the Test matches.’ Australia, however, lost the Third Test as well as an ensuing Test against France, prompting Summons to return to the team and lead his country to a come-from-behind series triumph against the French.

 

In all, Summons played 10 rugby union Tests before switching to rugby league where he played 56 games for Wests, scoring 11 tries; he represented NSW 5 times between 1961-1963 and played 9 rugby league Tests from 1961-1964, scoring 4 tries.

 

In 2017, I was fortunate to have a book published, titled The Great Grand Finals: Rugby League’s Greatest Contests. At the time, I was visiting Gundagai and was advised that Summons resided in Wagga Wagga. Thanks to an acquaintance who knew Summons’ grand-daughter, I arranged to meet him at the William Farrer Hotel where the publican was David Barnhill, another rugby league identity.

 

Unfortunately, I somewhat misjudged the timing of the journey to Wagga. Arriving more than 15 minutes after the arranged time, I discovered that Summons had already left the pub. Feeling less than happy with myself, I rang Summons who was at a luncheon but, to his credit, was happy to return to the William Farrer to see me after an hour or so.

 

He was keen to have a look through my book and asked me where he could buy a copy. Fortunately I had a few spares with me, so I fetched one and wrote: ‘Arthur Summons, It was a pleasure to meet you at the William Farrer Hotel on August 16 2017. I hope you enjoy reading about rugby league Grand Final history, and I’m sure this book will bring back plenty of memories.’ While I signed a copy of the book for Summons, he signed my copy for me.

 

Summons said he’d been in Wagga Wagga since 1965, having been involved in pub work and with local rugby league club, the Wagga Magpies. As for the 1963 Grand Final, he said ‘I still think we were robbed’. But the impressive thing is that the 81-year-old sounded neither bitter nor resentful. As we were about to part ways, Summons said: ‘Sorry to interrupt your meal.’ I replied: ‘That’s okay, I should have been here earlier. It’s great to meet you. All the best.’ I had met an icon of the game and found him to be a kind and humble gentleman.

 

The last word about Summons goes to Wests Tigers CEO Justin Pascoe who commented on NRL.com: ‘Summons was a wonderful man and player in his time and helped to celebrate our great game for what makes it the best. He epitomises the importance (of) what our game expects on and off the field and he will be remembered for that.’

Amen to that!

 

 

 

 

You can read more rugby league articles by clicking here.
You can read more articles by author/sports historian Liam Hauser by clicking here.

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

 

About Liam Hauser

A Queenslander through and through, Liam went out of his comfort zone as he had a thoroughly worthwhile time in Tumut and Gundagai from 2008 to 2016 before enjoying a year in Gunnedah. His strongest sporting interests are State of Origin, Sheffield Shield, Test cricket and the NRL. His sporting CV doesn’t have many highlights, although he once top-scored in a warehouse cricket match with 54 not out at number 10, and shared in an unbroken last wicket stand of 83 with the number 11 who scored an undefeated 52. Liam has written books including State of Origin 40 Years, A Century of Cricket Tests, A History of Test Cricket, The Immortals of Australian Cricket, The Immortals of Australian Rugby League, and The Great Grand Finals: Rugby League's Greatest Contests. Also a huge fan of Electric Light Orchestra.

Comments

  1. John Rowe says

    Good read Liam AS was a tiny bit before my time
    my first Syd GF I can remember clearly was Balmain beating Souths
    In 1969. I have read about the early 60s especially a book on St George NEVER BEFORE AND NEVER AGAIN. A must read about the 11 in a row. Love that old footage of the 63 GF wow how players or the Ref recognised each other is a ?????.

    Cheers ohn

  2. Barry McColl says

    Arthur Summons
    A true Legend of Rugby League across Australia
    His halftime gee-ups erupted like volcanos
    A fantastic contributor to the fabric of the Wagga Wagga community
    A truly entertaining After Dinner Speaker
    His engaging stories at NSW PSSA Rugby League Carnival Dinners were truly educational
    An icon and a gentleman who touched so many and made their lives better
    A Great role model to inspire all ages
    Barry McColl
    Past President NSW PSSA School Sport

  3. Russel Hansen says

    Great piece Liam. Humility … I am thinking of the time I met John Sattler, who. like Arthur Summons, is a humble gentleman
    You are exactly right – on field achievements are one thing, however qualities such as humility far outweigh premierships, test caps and the like
    Keep up the great work

  4. Matt O'Hanlon says

    Genuine tribute Liam. I would be interested to know if Barry could advise us if Arthur Summons represented NSW PSSA in any sport. I am also not inferring that Barry may have been a coach/ manager/ official of any of those teams.

  5. Wagga Rocket says

    Premierships did not elude Stumpy when he came to Wagga in 1964 to be secretary/manager of the Wagga Leagues Club…
    He coached Wagga Magpies from 65-69 five consecutive grand finals for three premierships.
    The matches against Wagga Kangaroos were must-see at Wiessel Oval

    Stumpy coached the Australian Kangaroos again – in the the test series against Great Britain in 1970 while based in Wagga based on his success coaching Magpies.

    Alas no Magpies any more merged in 2005 with Turvey Park and no Leagues Club and Wiessel Oval.

  6. Liam Hauser says

    Hi Wagga Rocket,
    I lived in the Tumut region from 2008 to 2016, and I regularly provided coverage of Gundagai Tigers and Tumut Blues Group 9 matches as part of my work with the Tumut and Adelong Times, and Gundagai Independent.
    I visited each of the Group 9 venues, including Equex (McDonald’s Park) and Harris Park in Wagga, but not Weissel Oval (considering it was no longer used).
    I saw South City (the merger of the Wagga Magpies and Turvey Park) win the 2011 grand final with a speculative last-minute try. Interesting piece of trivia with that: Daniel Fitzhenry played in the first NRL premiership for the Wests Tigers (a merged club) in 2005, before he was captain-coach of South City (another merged club) in its maiden Group 9 premiership.

  7. Here was me thinking Mr. Summons was either Ben Simmons New Zealand cousin or a nasty missive from the Police…but no!

  8. Jim Ralston says

    Would anybody be able to help me locate a team list, of which I was part of, that Arthur Summons coached in Wagga in 1966. The team came down from Sydney as a junior combined western districts primary schools rep team. One week billeted out to local Wagga families while we were coached each day by Arthur. We were12 year olds.
    Most appreciate if anybody could help out here.
    We were all selected at a Sydney school team knockout at Narrabeen fitness centre that would have been the same year 1966.
    I have no idea what we were called or who we played but I’m guessing Wagga magpies would have been involved. It is 55 years ago so I don’t expect too many people would even remember.
    Any help would be appreciated
    Jim 0418660014. Central Coast NSW

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