Forward pack dominance: A look back at John Sattler and his Cardinal and Myrtle wrecking crew in the 1960-70s


The passing of South’s legend John Sattler this year gave me pause to remember not only one of the Rabbitohs’ greatest players, but also the pack of forwards he led in their remarkable run of success between 1967 and 1971, when they won four premierships from five grand-final appearances.

They won in 1967, 1968, 1970 and 1971, and only their controversial 11-2 defeat by Balmain in 1969 stopped them from winning five titles in a row for the second time in the club’s history.

I was too young to witness the great St George packs during their record 11-year premiership run, and in an era where big games were decided by forwards, Sattler’s wrecking crew lives on as the most dominant pack of forwards I have ever seen.

Souths used a core group of 10 forwards during Sattler’s five-year grand final run, a feat remarkable in itself, and what a line-up they could boast. How was any team going to compete with the likes of the following crew?

John Sattler – The man himself. Sattler played nearly 200 games for South Sydney after joining them from Kurri Kurri in 1963, and he captained them in five grand finals.

He famously achieved Rabbitoh immortal status for his courage in playing through the 1970 decider with a broken jaw, and a legend was born.

Sattler was as hard and uncompromising forward on the field as he was a quietly spoken gentleman off it, and he was a born leader. Where Sattler went, the rest of the Souths pack followed. In a testament to his reputation as a leader, he also captained New South Wales, Queensland and Australia during his career.

John Sattler in 2014. (Photo by Renee McKay/Getty Images)

Ron Coote – But for the existence of rugby league immortal Johnny Raper, Ron Coote would be hailed as the greatest lock forward of all time.

Some argue he was even better than Raper. He was a South Sydney junior and played nearly 150 games for the club and was a big part of their grand-final run and success.

Coote was very mobile, was a great cover-defender and an excellent ball player, but he could play the game as tough as anyone when required.

His departure from the club in 1972, along with the loss of Ray Branighan and John O’Neill, was a key factor in Souths’ golden era coming to an end.

Coote won two more premierships with the Roosters after leaving Souths and notched up 15 games for NSW and 23 tests for Australia in a stellar career.

Bob McCarthy – McCarthy was a big, mobile forward with a great turn of speed who perfected the wide running forward game.

He was almost unstoppable on his day, running in 119 first-grade tries in his career, with none better than his length-of-the-field intercept try to win the 1967 grand final for the Rabbitohs.

A Souths junior, McCarthy played over 200 games for the club, winning three premierships, and he also played 14 tests for Australia and 12 games for NSW.

Paul Sait – Sait was a very versatile player, as evidenced by the fact that he played centre, lock and second row in his 16 test match appearances for Australia.

He just had to be selected somewhere. He made his first-grade debut for Souths in 1968 and went on to play 160 games for the club.

Sait was a rugged competitor and never took a backward step, but the hot competition for places in the Souths pack often saw him playing centre. He played four grand finals for Souths, winning three, and he also played 16 tests for Australia and five games for NSW.

On this day in 1971 Souths won its 20th premiership after defeating St-George 16-10 in the Grand Final at the SCG in front of a crowd of 62,838. The Rabbitohs’ try scorers were Ray Branighan, Ron Coote & Bob McCarthy. Eric Simms kicked 3 goals & a field-goal. #GoRabbitohs ????????????

— Mal (@SydneyRabbitoh) September 18, 2022

John O’Neill – Every good leader needs a brutal henchman, and there was none better suited for this task than O’Neill, who had a deserved reputation as one of the most feared and ruthless forwards in the game.

He came from the country to join Souths in 1965 and played in each of the grand finals in their five-year run. He joined Manly in 1972 and played a large part in the Sea Eagles seizing dominance from Souths to win premierships in both 1972 and 1973, and he also played nine tests for Australia and six games for NSW.

Jim Morgan – Although he played in only one grand final (1968) during Souths’ five-year run, Morgan was nevertheless an important part of their side, and also one of their toughest competitors.

He was a more than able backup for either Sattler or O’Neill when required. He joined Souths from Maitland in 1965 and played 59 games for the Rabbitohs before joining the Roosters in 1970.

He also played two tests for Australia and eight times for NSW.

Elwyn Walters – Back in the day when hookers actually worked for a living, there was none better than Walters, who not only dominated opponents in the scrums but was also a clever forward with the ball in his hands and an uncompromising defender.

Walters played 192 games in his career and played in each of the 1967, 1968, 1969 and 1970 grand finals, only missing the 1971 decider through injury. He won five premierships in his career, three with Souths and two later with the Roosters. A very durable player, Walters played 12 games for NSW and 21 games for Australia.

George Piggins, Malcolm Reilly, and a Liverpool Kiss | Souths vs Manly ~ 1973.#GoRabbitohs ????????????

— Mal (@SydneyRabbitoh) March 21, 2023

Bob Moses – Moses was another Souths player who was equally adept at playing centre, lock and second row, and along with Sait, gave the Rabbitohs great depth and versatility.

He joined Souths from Newcastle in 1965 and played centre in that year’s grand final. He also played centre in the 1967 grand final before reverting to second row for both the 1968 and 1969 deciders.

He played just under 100 games for Souths before heading to Manly in 1970 to finish his career.

Gary Stevens – In an era of tough competitors, there were none tougher than Stevens, a punishing defender who rarely missed his man.

He spent 12 years with Souths after debuting in 1965 and was a very important part of their forward strength, winning premierships in both 1970 and 1971.

He captained the club in his final season with the Rabbitohs in 1976, and played 10 tests for Australia and seven games for NSW.

George Piggins – They do not come any more cardinal and myrtle than Piggins, who was pound for pound one of the toughest forwards ever to play the game.

Coming into first grade at the same time as Walters, Piggins struggled for a first-grade start but was nonetheless a vital part of the Souths forward squad, and no one played the game harder than the diminutive fighter.

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He finally got his chance at premiership glory in 1971 when he replaced the injured Walters and went on to play 12 seasons with the Rabbitohs.

What a line-up. I doubt if we will see the likes of a forward pack resembling John Sattler’s ‘wrecking crew’ again.


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