John Sattler's death sparks outpouring of tributes around NRL world

NRL fans and commentators are paying tribute to the South Sydney Rabbitohs legend.

·6-min read
Bob McCarthy, George Piggins and John Sattler, pictured here at the SCG in 2014.
Bob McCarthy, George Piggins and John Sattler (R) at the SCG in 2014. (Photo by Renee McKay/Getty Images)

The rugby league world is paying tribute to John Sattler after the South Sydney Rabbitohs legend's death at age 80. Widely regarded as one of the game's greatest-ever forwards, Sattler died on Monday after a battle with dementia.

Sattler won four premierships with the Rabbitohs and also captained Australia three times. He is famously remembered for one of the toughest acts in grand final history when he played on with a badly-broken jaw in the 1970 decider against Manly.

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Sattler lifted the trophy and gave his acceptance speech before going to hospital for treatment. It was later revealed that Sattler had broken his jaw in three places.

"If anyone is to epitomise the true spirit of the South Sydney Rabbitohs it is John Sattler," Souths chairman Nicholas Pappas said on Monday afternoon. "He bled red and green. He would do anything for his team mates. He never took a backwards step. He always led from the front.

John Sattler is chaired off the field by South Sydney teammates after the 1970 grand final. (Photo by Fairfax Media via Getty Images)
John Sattler is chaired off the field by South Sydney teammates after the 1970 grand final. (Photo by Fairfax Media via Getty Images)

"He was loved by everyone connected with the Rabbitohs, whether it be one of his former teammates who he led to premiership glory, or the man in the street who loved South Sydney just as much as he did. He was tough and brave but fair, uncompromising on the field and empathetic off it, and he truly epitomised everything that we want the Rabbitohs to be."

After being punched by rival forward John Bucknall in the fifth minute of the grand final, Sattler asked teammates to hold him up so it wasn't too obvious that he was hurt. Teammate Bob McCarthy said in 2018 of the heroic display: "He tried to say something to me, but all I saw was a basement of four teeth and you just knew that he had broken his jaw.

"He was talking too so it must have been killing, and he was getting smacked after as well. He was a tough man that Johnny Sattler."

Rugby league world pays tribute to John Sattler

Sattler's son Scott, who also won a premiership with Penrith, revealed in June 2021 that his father had been diagnosed with dementia the year before. But the news of Sattler's death still rocked the rugby league world on Monday.

Former South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett toured New Zealand with Sattler with the Australian side in 1971 and played together for Queensland in 1973. The mastercoach said on Triple M: "My condolences to his family. South Sydney supporters today will be very sad, he was quite a legend at South Sydney.

"A great player for them, a player of that era when the game started to change to give us the game we've got today. His toughness is certainly well-known and renowned for it, playing with a broken jaw. The position he played, in that era, you had to be really tough."

Former South Sydney captain Bryan Fletcher labelled Sattler a "legend on and off the field", while Prime Minister Anthony Albanese - a Rabbitohs fan - and ARL Commission chair Peter V'landys also paid tribute. Albanese tweeted: "He was an inspirational leader who, decades after his retirement, took his rightful place at the front of the marches for South Sydney's reinstatement."

V'landys said: “John was a legend of the game. The tales of his toughness were quite extraordinary, but they were also at odds with his nature off the field. He was a true gentleman.

“On behalf of the Commission, I extend our condolences to his family, friends, and all who knew him.”

with AAP

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