Satts, Cracker, Charlie and a list of legends: Remembering the NRL players who left us in 2023
2023 was both a year to remember and a year some of us will want to forget, but before it fades away, let’s take some time to acknowledge some of the Australian rugby league players who left us for good in 2023 – many of them far too soon.
Billy Bischoff Jr
Bischoff was a Balmain Tigers stalwart in the 1950s and 60s who played 151 games in the black and gold.
He made first grade with the Tigers as a 19-year-old in 1957 playing five eighth but soon established himself as one of the best centres in the game.
Bischoff was a very versatile player, and even found himself at halfback in Balmain’s 1964 grand final loss to St George.
He represented NSW in 1961 and City in both 1961 and 1962 before leaving the Tigers at the end of the 1965 season to take on a captain/coach role with West Tamworth, from where he was selected to captain Country in both 1967 and 1968.
Billy Bischoff Jr passed away in June 2023, aged 85.
Bugden was a clever halfback with a great turn of pace who made his first-grade debut for St George at the age of 18 in a semi-final match in 1954.
He became the Dragon’s first choice halfback the following year and was wearing the number 7 jersey in 1956 when they began their 11-year reign as NSWRL Premiers.
Five more Premierships followed for Bugden in the next five years and, surely, no halfback will ever top his six-from-six record.
He followed his St George captain/coach Ken Kearney to Parramatta in 1962, where he played for another four seasons.
Bugden represented Australia on both the 1959/60 Kangaroo tour and in the 1960 World Cup, scoring three tries in his test debut against France in 1960.
Bobby Bugden passed away in November 2023, aged 87.
Back in the 1950s, Newtown were serious contenders – and two of their best were wing pair Kevin Considine and Ray Preston, who scored 55 tries between them in 1954.
Considine was both big and fast and played 138 games for the Bluebags between 1952 and 1960, crossing for 87 tries. He left for Parramatta in 1961 following a Newtown player’s strike, before finishing his career in the country.
Kevin Considine passed away in June 2023, aged 93.
Troy Dargan was a young man trying to establish himself in the NRL, having played for Manly, Souths, Brisbane and Parramatta before joining Canberra ahead of the 2024 season.
A talented half, he made his first grade debut with Souths in Round 3 of 2020, and played just two games in the top grade while filling in for an injured Cody Walker. Dargan also played two Tests for the Cook Islands in 2019, crossing for three tries.
Troy Dargan passed away in December 2023, aged 26.
Johnny Hayes was a rugged and versatile forward who spent 10 years with Western Suburbs in the 1960s.
In an era of tough forwards, Hayes more than held his own and played alongside fellow Magpies hard men such as Kevin Smyth, Kel O’Shea and Noel Kelly.
He was good enough to be selected for NSW on three occasions, once at Hooker and twice in the second row.
Hayes retired from playing at the end of 1970 both to coach and pursue a career in the NSW police force, rising to the rank of Chief Inspector.
John Hayes passed away in September 2023, aged 84.
Matthew Johnston was a hard-working back rower who joined the Eels in 1955 as a 19-year-old and never left.
He made his first-grade debut for the club in 1957 and played 162 games for the club including 67 in the top grade.
Johnston featured in the first-grade team that won the Eels’ very first finals match in 1963 and the following year captained the second-grade team to the Eels first Premiership. He remained involved with the club right up until his passing and was an Eels life member.
Matthew Johnston passed away in July 2023, aged 87.
Mark Lyons was a rugged forward who first came to prominence with Penrith, where he made his first-grade debut against North Sydney in 1991.
He played a total of seven games in the top grade for Penrith over the next two years before heading to South Sydney in 1993.
He was in and out of the Souths first grade team over the next few years before giving the game up to both work on the wharves and control the Bunnies’ dressing room door on match days.
Mark Lyons passed away in May 2023, aged 52.
Put simply, John Sattler was one of the greatest players to ever pull on the boots for South Sydney.
A tough and uncompromising forward in an era when it was a case of survival of the fittest, Sattler played nearly 200 games in a decale-long career with Souths after joining them from the Newcastle competition as a 20-year-old in 1973.
While most famously remembered for playing through the 1970 grand final with a broken jaw, it was Sattler’s leadership that is his major legacy.
Once he became Souths captain in 1967, they played in five consecutive grand finals, winning four of them.
Sattler left Souths in 1973 to finish his career in Brisbane. He represented both NSW on four occasions and played four Tests for Australia. He is one of the very few players to captain NSW, Queensland and Australia in his career.
John Sattler passed away in March 2023, aged 80.
A speedy winger like his younger brother Eddie, Jack Lumsden came from the Newcastle coalfields to join Manly in 1951 and made an immediate impression, scoring 12 tries in 10 games in his first season in Sydney, including 2 in Manly’s grand final loss to Souths that year.
His good form continued the following year and he was selected to play for Australia in the third Test against the touring Kiwis. He gave the big time away at the end of 1952 to play in the Wollongong competition, from where he continued to represent NSW country for several years.
Jack Lumsden passed away in March 2023, aged 93.
John McDonald AM
John McDonald was one of the greats of the game, not only as a player, but also as a coach and administrator.
With a background in professional sprinting, ‘Cracker’ was a lethal outside back from Toowoomba who played ten times for QLD between 1965 and 1968 before joining Manly for 3 seasons in 1969, going on to captain the club in 1970.
He also played 13 tests for Australia between 1966 and 1970 and four games for NSW while with the Sea Eagles.
He returned to Toowoomba as captain/coach after leaving Manly, coached QLD in the pre-Origin era, before famously coaching the Maroons to victory in the very first Origin match in 1980.
He went on to build an impressive career as an administrator, including 21 years as Chairman of the QRL and two years as Chairman of the ARL.
John McDonald passed away in September 2023.
Carl Webb wasn’t the most talented footballer to don the Maroons jersey, but he was certainly one of the most fearsome. He always made a lasting impression on the opposition: just ask NSW’s Luke Bailey, with whom he enjoyed a famous Origin altercation.
Originally from Mt Isa, Webb made his first grade debut with the Broncos as an 18-year-old in early 2000 alongside the likes of Shane Webcke, Gordon Tallis and Petero Civoniceva. If he was overawed by the occasion, he certainly didn’t show it.
He played the first of his 12 Origins the following year, announcing himself with a memorable try on debut, and he became the go-to selection for the Maroons whenever they needed another hard man in their pack.
He moved north to the Cowboys in 2005 for the most successful phase of his career before making a final move to the Eels in 2011, though Webb retired before that season was over.
If ever a player was built for Test match football it was Carl Webb – however, surprisingly, his sole game for the Kangaroos was in the 2008 Centenary Test against the Kiwis.
Carl Webb passed away in December 2023, aged just 42.
Originally from just over the border in NSW, Lionel Morgan was a sensation for Wynnum Manly in the Brisbane competition in the early 1960s.
A long-striding winger with exceptional pace, he played 16 games for QLD in his career, crossing for 15 tries.
Morgan made history in 1960 when he became the first Indigenous player to be selected for the Kangaroos, scoring twice on debut against France, and playing alongside the likes of Reg Gasnier, Harry Wells and Ken Irvine.
Lionel Morgan passed away in September 2023, aged 85.
When it comes to try-scoring wingers, it’s hard to beat Tommy Ryan.
A big, strapping lad, he joined St George from GPS rugby union and scored 81 tries in 94 top-grade games for the Dragons between 1951 to 1958.
Ryan also managed four tries in four Tests for Australia on the 1952-53 Kangaroo Tour, 20 tries on the same tour against club sides and 6 tries in one game for NSW against a touring USA team in 1953.
He won Premierships with the Dragons in both 1956 and 1957, and in the latter year, scored 26 tries in just 19 games. He had a one-off season with Rockhampton in 1955 and played 3 games for Queensland while he was there.
Tommy Ryan passed away in August 2023, aged 93.
Paul 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 – a player who demanded 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 also played 16 tests for Australia and five times for NSW.
Paul Sait passed away in November 2023, aged 76.
Kyle Turner came from Coonabarabran to join South Sydney and made his first grade debut as a 22-year-old in 2014, playing nearly every game for the Rabbitohs and playing off the bench in South’s famous grand final victory over the Bulldogs that year.
A serious neck injury the following year significantly hampered the big back rower’s career, and he was eventually released by South Sydney at the end of the 2019 season.
Kyle Turner passed away in August 2023, aged just 31.
Kyle White was on the small size when compared to many of his opponents, but that never stopped him from putting his body on the line every minute he was on the paddock. He was one of the best defenders in the game.
White was an Australian Schoolboy in 1987 and debuted for the Bulldogs two years later, spending three years at the club before joining Wests Magpies in 1992. He also had stints with Workington Town, Illawarra and finally Widnes before fading from view.
Kyle White passed away in March 2023, aged 53.