Rabbitohs.com.au walks you through our pantheon of Club legends in our Hall of Fame series. Today, we bring you inspirational skipper, John Sattler.
When it comes to iconic Rugby League images, few compare to the sight of a bloodied but victorious John Sattler being held by then-Rabbitohs Coach and Immortal, Clive Churchill following the 1970 Grand Final.
Walking from the field with his jaw hanging loosely from his face, broken in multiple places, missing teeth and streaming blood, on face value – Sattler hardly looked like a winner. But his deed on Grand Final day 1970 (19th September) elevated him to being one of the game’s most heroic figures.
In what ranks as one of the greatest displays of mental and physical toughness in the game, Sattler played the duration of the 1970 decider with a badly broken jaw, courtesy of Manly forward John Bucknall, whose vicious right hook landed the blow.
Rabbitohs winger Michael Cleary vividly remembered the incident, speaking for the documentary That’s Rugby League.
“I found Johnny Sattler out on the wing, and he kept saying, hold me up, hold me up,” remembered Cleary.
“He looked at me and I said, ‘what’s wrong’? He says ‘I’ve broken my jaw’.
“When he said I’ve broken my jaw it dropped, it dropped about a half an inch. I had to turn around and say ‘for Christ’s sakes ‘Satts’ hold me up, ‘I’m going to faint!’”
Like his coach Clive Churchill’s exploits in the 1955 season overcoming a broken wrist to play on, Sattler braved the immense pain and special attention afforded to him by a Manly pack intent on taking him out of the match, to lead his side to a 23-12 victory over the Sea Eagles, firmly etching himself into the history books for the amazing feat of courage.
But John Sattler was far more than the 1970 Grand Final story. A Kurri Kurri product that learnt his trade in the local Newcastle competition, Sattler attracted the attention of South Sydney officials in the early sixties, who personally ensured the firebrand forward ended up at Redfern despite strong offers from Canterbury-Bankstown and St George.
In many ways, Sattler was the Jekyll and Hyde of the game, for he represented everything that the Rugby League front rower of the day should have been; tough, uncompromising, willing to sacrifice himself, and – by his own admission – sometimes down-right dirty, earning him the tag of ‘wild-man’ in a day and age when the stiff-arm and the odd sly punch were considered occupational hazards. Off the field by contrast, Sattler was (and is) regarded as one of the game’s true gentlemen.
But when Churchill named Sattler as his Captain in the late 60s, many an eyebrow was raised, with the general consensus being that the front-rower could be a liability. But far from that, Sattler evolved into a strong leader, who not only led by example with his deeds, but went on to skipper the Kangaroos, as well as leading Souths to four Premierships in five years (1967, 1968, 1970, and 1971).
During a decade’s worth of service to South Sydney, Sattler played 195 first grade games, played in four Premiership winning teams and six Grand Finals, toured with the Kangaroos in 1967, and Captained Australia in 1970.