Despite his illustrious playing career finishing some 50 years ago, Norm Provan stands proudly alongside the winning team at the culmination of every National Rugby League season.
Forever immortalised in photographer John O’Gready’s famous image from the 1963 NSWRL grand final, the St. George colossus stands arm in arm with long-time friend and Western Suburbs captain Arthur Summons – both men covered head to toe in mud, in an iconic image that has come to define rugby league.
Known as ‘The Gladiators’, this fleeting moment in rugby league history is now perpetuated as the NRL premiership trophy, and ensures the man who claimed 10 consecutive premierships from 1956 to 1966 is invariably linked to his sport’s ultimate success year after year.
However, what he anticipates to be his greatest victory of all will come on Wednesday 21st October 2015, as Norm Provan is Inducted as a Member of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame – the highest national sporting honour that can be bestowed upon an Australian sportsperson.
“It is my number one achievement,” said the 82-year-old.
Affectionately known as “Sticks”, Norm Provan was a man-mountain on the field, standing at 193cm and tipping the scales at 99kg. A second-row forward, Provan began his career at St. George in 1951 and wore the iconic white and red for a club record 256 first grade games, in which he scored 63 tries. He represented New South Wales on 19 occasions and Australia in 14 tests and two world cup matches.
Norm Provan is a life member of St. George and was named in the second row of the Australian Rugby League and New South Wales’ Teams of the Century. He has also been inducted into the Rugby League Hall of Fame, and was named one of Australia’s greatest 100 players.
Of his 10 successive grand final wins, Provan was at the helm as captain-coach for four of them. His coaching record during this time stands up against the very best. From 1962 to 1965, St. George won 66 of its 81 matches for an incredible winning percentage of 81 per cent.
It is a remarkable statistic from an even more remarkable era, and one Provan puts down to the disciplined fitness regime that defined his teams.
“I enjoyed training and reaching peak physical condition myself, and as captain-coach, I expected the same of my players,” said the four-time premiership winning coach.
“In both rugby codes, the body contact is punishing, and I saw strength as the key to fewer injuries and stamina as a way to outlast the opposition on the field.”
“In those years the St George team members were very competitive between each other in training and combined a team of champions to become a champion team on the field.”
The humble giant takes little credit as to how he came to coach one of the most successful teams in rugby league history, and admits taking on the role was not without its challenges.
“I suppose it was because there was no one else in the team at the time who had the same amount of experience,” he explained.
“There was pressure and self-doubt, of course. The pressure was always there but I was supremely confident that the players I had, had been trained up to a standard to allow them to do what I wanted of them on the field.”
His last game before retirement was the 1965 grand final in which the Dragons beat South Sydney 12-8 in front of 78,065. It is still the Sydney Cricket Ground’s attendance record.
Following retirement, Provan stepped back into the fold at St. George in 1968, this time as non-playing coach for a single season. He returned to League in 1975 and steered Parramatta to their maiden first-grade title – a pre-season cup victory. Under Provan’s watchful eye, the Eels enjoyed a successful season to go within one game of what would have been their first grand final, but ultimately fell short.
In 1978 as coach of Cronulla-Sutherland, Provan all but added another premiership to his impressive resume when, having drawn the decider some three days earlier, the Sharks were defeated by Manly in a grand final playoff. A season later, Provan’s Cronulla won the Amco Cup.
The Sport Australia Hall of Fame Selection Committee Chairman Rob de Castella AO MBE said Norm Provan is a giant of Australian rugby league, and of Australian sport in general.
“Norm Provan’s achievements on and off the rugby field ensure he will forever hold a special place in Australia’s sporting history” said de Castella.
“The feats of Norm through the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s as a player, as a coach and those of the teams he inspired are unrivalled, and position his career in a truly rare category that sees him a deserving Inductee of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.”