Rugby league rocked by death of legend Arthur Summons

Australian Associated Press
·6-min read
Arthur Summons, pictured here with fellow legend Norm Provan.
Arthur Summons is immortalised on the NRL trophy with Norm Provan. Image: Getty

The rugby league world is mourning the death of Arthur Summons at the age of 84.

The former Australian team captain and coach is famously remembered for being in the iconic photograph with rival forward Norm Provan at the SCG depicted in the NRL premiership trophy.

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Summons, who underwent major surgery in 2018 to remove cancer from his mouth, died on Saturday night.

A former rugby union player who played 10 Tests for the Wallabies, five eighth Summons switched codes and is listed as one of the best 100 rugby league players of the last century.

He played five seasons for Western Suburbs and was in the first Australian side to tour Great Britain, masking nine appearances for the Kangaroos between 1961-63.

After the last of Wests' three grand final losses to St George in 1963, he was photographed embracing towering rival forward Provan at a muddy SCG.

Arthur Summons, pictured here posing with The Provan-Summons Trophy after the 2017 NRL Grand Final.
Arthur Summons poses with The Provan-Summons Trophy after the 2017 NRL Grand Final. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Tributes flow for Arthur Summons

“Arthur epitomised everything that rugby league stands for - he was a talented player, a fierce competitor, a wonderful character and extremely popular with everyone,” said ARLC chair Peter V'landys.

“His important to the game continued - and was immortalised - after his retirement as a player when he became the face of our premiership, along with Norm Provan, and he embraced the responsibility which came with that.

“Arthur's memory and legacy will live on in bronze for all of us to celebrate.”

Tributes are flowing in from around the rugby league world.

Summons so much more than a photo

Summons was never too bothered that he would be remembered better as a mud-covered figure in a famous photograph than as the very good rugby league player he undoubtedly was.

In fact, he quite liked the idea.

Summons is also the short bloke in that wonderful, muddy portrait of he and rival captain Norm Provan at the end of the 1963 Sydney rugby league grand final between St George and Western Suburbs at the SCG.

It is an image so evocative that it is has been reproduced as a sculpture awarded each year to Australia's rugby league premiers and is held, under its official name of The Gladiators in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery.

And the story behind it may well be more myth than fact.

Arthur James Summons was born in Paddington, NSW, on December 13, 1935.

He attended Homebush Boys High School, captaining their First XV and winning selection in the Combined High Schools rugby union team.

Summons also played for Gordon in the Sydney grade competition and at the age of 21 he played his first international for the Wallabies against South Africa.

Like so many players of that amateur era of rugby, Summons found it impossible to give up so much time without reward, and after earning 10 Wallaby caps, he switched to rugby league, signing with Sydney club Western Suburbs in 1960.

Norm Provan and Arthur Summons, pictured here with the trophy before the 2013 NRL Grand Final.
Norm Provan and Arthur Summons pose with the trophy before the 2013 NRL Grand Final. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The same skills that had earned him Wallaby selection soon won the halfback a place in the Kangaroo squad to tour New Zealand in 1961 and so began a long and successful career as a player, captain and coach of Australia.

As captain-coach of the Kangaroos in 1963, Summons led Australia to its first series on British soil.

Summons played five seasons at Wests before finishing his playing career with three seasons with the Wagga Magpies, during which time he also represented Country against City.

He also played in Wests' three consecutive grand final losses to St George.

It was in the last of them, in 1963, that the moment that was to characterise Summons' sporting life was captured by Sydney Sun-Herald photographer John O'Gready.

In a torrid duel played on a quagmire at the SCG, St George won 8-3 and as the players were leaving the ground O'Gready snapped his momentous shot.

The pose in which Summons, covered from head to toe in SCG mud, is looking up at Provan as the two players embrace has mostly been regarded as a symbol of Australian mateship.

Gladiators sharing a moment as friends after their battle.

An alternative story later emerged which maintains that Summons was going crook about the referee who had been rumoured to have had a big bet on St George.

It is also said that Summons wanted to swap jerseys with Provan, who refused.

The NSWRL re-staged the pose at the SCG in 2013 when they announced the sculpture depicting the two men would be known as the Provan-Summons Trophy and be awarded to the premiers.

“It's surreal, what happened from that photo being taken,” Summons said at the time.

“Images being used for the premiership trophy ... it's beyond my ability to explain it.

“The mud helped make it, we look like statues, and a statue they made from it.

“We're epitomised for as long as they play for that trophy. We'll be long gone and they'll still be playing for it because it is rugby league.”

On the two stories behind the pose, neither player has elaborated.

But they remained close friends.

“I've been blessed in life to have an association and a friendship with Norm,” Summons said.

with Yahoo Sports staff