The Wallaby who bronzed Summons and Provan

Scott Bailey
The NRL's Provan-Summons Trophy immortalised rival leaders and mates Norm Provan and Arthur Summons

It was a former Wallaby who came up with the idea to immortalise Arthur Summons and Norman Provan in bronze, giving rugby league one of the most iconic trophies in Australian sport.

Summons died on Saturday night aged 84, but his image and spirit will live on for as long as the country's premier rugby league competition is contested.

One of the game's finest halves, Summons played three grand finals for Western Suburbs and nine Tests for Australia between 1961 and 1963 and coached his country to its first series win on British soil.

Today, the little halfback is remembered best for his mud-splashed post-match embrace with towering rival skipper Provan, an image that defines the game and the trophy all 16 clubs still compete for.

Shot by Sydney Sun-Herald photographer John O'Gready after the 1963 grand final, the photo won international acclaim.

However it was in 1982 as the game sought a new direction that it took on new life.

With the competition rebranded the Winfield Cup, former Wallabies flanker Gary Pearse searched for trophy ideas in his marketing role at the tobacco company before stumbling onto the gladiators image.

"We had consultants on the trophy," Pearse told AAP.

"We had the Super Bowl kind of idea. We considered maybe a cup, because it was called the Winfield Cup.

"We looked at all these things and we were going nowhere, and then I thought I will just go back into the past of rugby league.

"And I saw the photo and thought if we can bring this to life it's perfect."

The trophy took six weeks to design and sculpt, before being unveiled ahead of the 1982 decider between arch-rivals Parramatta and Manly.

What the image actually depicts after St George's 8-3 win at the muddy SCG has long been up for debate.

It's believed Summons was complaining about the officiating in a game which was subsequently dogged by unproven and denied rumours about the referee.

But for Pearse, the messaging was simple.

"We started thinking about some key things of rugby league," he said.

"I was flicking through and saw this photo of the gladiators and I thought this is on the money.

"It says a lot of things. It says resolution of conflict. It says big man small man, it says rich clubs and poor clubs.

"And in many ways it encapsulated the deep culture of the sport."

There was some initial push back.

Provan was a prominent non-smoker, and had been involved in anti-tobacco campaigns.

A deal was struck that at no time would he be associated with smoking, or the trophy linked with cigarettes.

Summons and Proven remained longtime friends and regularly appeared on stage at league functions.

In 2013 they returned to the SCG to recreate the image for the 50th anniversary.

"We had two blokes who were not only great players but great Australians," Pearse said.

So too has the trophy stood the test of time.

In 1996 it went from having a hollow base to having a football shaped background when it was adopted by Optus for their sponsorship.

And in 1998 the NRL gave it the look it has today when the competition was unified after the Super League war, before officially naming it the Provan-Summons trophy in 2013.

As for Pearse, he has no issue being the rugby union man who gave league its most iconic piece of silverware.

"I played league right through until 16 or 17," he said.

"I've always had friends and followed league all my life. I don't see it as being a them versus us."