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Captain in Focus: Bob McCarthy

Robert John (Bob) McCarthy MBE revolutionised the way Second Row forwards would play when the 'four-tackle' rule was introduced in 1967.

Coach Clive Churchill instructed him to stand out wide in the centres, because by using his speed and size he was a handful for any opposition. This drew criticism from the ‘purists’ who thought he would be shirking tackling duties.

It was a master stroke though by Churchill and the tries flowed, including arguably the most important of his 100 tries for Souths. McCarthy went almost length of the field just before half-time in the 1967 Grand Final win over Canterbury-Bankstown Berries.

Born on 5 August 1944 in Redfern to parents Patricia and Billy (who worked as a foreman at Unilever factory in Balmain), the younger brother of Bill and older brother of twins Rick and Geoffrey, he was brought up in inner city Redfern in a house in Kepos St, situated in front of 1950s Souths Test forward Bernie Purcell’s house.

Bernie was a local hero to the kids in the area, and on a Sunday morning the day after Bernie had played for the mighty Rabbitohs, his mum Patricia would wash his red and green jersey. Watching it go up on the clothesline was like watching the Australian flag being raised, they were all in awe of it. Bob dreamt of playing for Souths one day.

According to ‘Macca’, older brother Bill could have been a better player than him, but for all his toughness and skill he hated training. A second row forward like Bob, he played 10 first grade games between 1961-65 but coach Bernie Purcell would often find him with a coke and meat pie before a big game. He later played for Newtown while younger brother Rick played lower grades for Souths in 1978.

Their Dad Billy was a handy rugby league player in his own right, playing A Grade for Chelsea - where his sons also began their junior Football. Bob switched to Moore Park juniors, mainly because they offered free socks and gear. He played firstly as a five-eighth, but moved to lock and eventually second row as his frame became bigger and bigger.

Known in his prime as ‘The Body’, he became the greatest attacking forward in a generation. A beautifully balanced runner, whenever he had the ball in his hands the crowd would rise – he was that sort of player that attracted people to the game. ‘Macca’ had uncanny anticipation skills and fine judgment of the distance to the try line.

Bob McCarthy won three premierships with Souths in 1967, 1970 and 1971 (he played in the 1968 reserve grade grand final following an injury plagued season), as well as playing in the losses to St. George (1965) and Balmain (1969).

He went on to represent City, NSW and Australia, touring England and France with the Kangaroos in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Captain of Australia in 1973 he became a premiership winning coach in the Brisbane competition before rising to the position of Chairman of Selectors for the NSW and Australian teams.

Bob attended a little school in Surry Hills called St. Peters Primary in Devonshire St. Fittingly the schools colours were red and green, and it became a rugby league nursery, producing six internationals: Benny Wearing, the star Souths winger of the 1920s; Souths legend Bernie Purcell; Dick Poole, 1975 Newtown and Australian World Cup captain; Champion Western Suburbs Magpies half-back Keith Holman and Newtown, Easts and Australian Test winger Jack Troy.

A bloke named Terry Garlick, father of Sean Garlick (Souths captain in 1998-99 and founder of Garlo's Pies) went to a different school in the area but he always knocked about with his mates.

Johnny Raper became a hero of Bob’s and first watched him play with Sydney Colts when still with Newtown in 1958 at the SCG. He used to marvel at the way he would go from one side of the field to the other, chopping down players in their tracks.

Bob started making the South Sydney rep teams and by 1960 he made D grade as lock forward for Moore Park. At the same time Ron Coote played for Kensington, Gary Stevens with Chelsea and a little hooker by the name of George Piggins at Mascot.

Eventually in 1963 Bob was selected in the Souths’ first grade team from President’s Cup, with Ron Coote following in 1964, who he rates in his top five players of all time, and it is hard to argue. Souths were on the verge of greatness, and 1965 was a breakthrough year. They beat St. George three times that year, and each time big prop forward Richie Powell played. Unfortunately Richie dislocated his shoulder in the final against Norths and missed the grand final. They missed his ball playing ability, and ran one out all game.  St. George’s brick wall defence won the grand final for them. Richie Powell passed away on 20 August 2019 after a long illness.

Bob was made Souths captain in seasons 1973-75 following the departure of John Sattler at the end of 1972. Towards the end of 1975, coach Clive Churchill resigned, and Bob took over as caretaker coach before the appointment of St. George legendary winger Johnny King was appointed coach in 1976.

At the end of 1975 Souths management offered Bob a modest contract extension, telling him they didn’t think he was as good as he used to be. So Canterbury boss Peter Moore called him, offering him to play for Canterbury. Bob told him ‘sorry Bullfrog, I could never play against Souths’. The next day, at Giles gym in Coogee, Gary Stevens told Bob to have a go, so Bob signed with Canterbury. Stevens followed in 1977.

Bob gave Canterbury good value in seasons 1976-77, scoring 19 tries in 40 games. Then Souths signed Jack Gibson as coach for 1978, and they asked Bob to return home. Bob said ‘You told me I was too old two years ago’.

He wasn’t that keen, but decided to come home. He only played five games that year, before retiring at age 34. However during the pre-season 1979 Easts coach Bob Fulton offered him to trial with them, but after a couple of trials he realised the gaps were just not there anymore. He came home and told wife Judy that it was time to give it away.

Bob and Judy live in Coogee, and have sons Darren (who played for Souths and won a premiership with Canterbury in 1988) and Troy (who played for Gold Coast 1988-93).

At the Red and Green Ball end of year player awards, there is the Bob McCarthy Clubman award, given to the most valuable clubman of the year.