Summons’ success signalled the end of captain-coaches, although Graeme Langlands led the Dragons to an infamous grand final in 1975 and Bob Fulton held the dual role at the Roosters in 1979. But in 1963, when Summons, who was selected on the tour as captain-coach, suffered a leg injury, he opted to concentrate on coaching the team.
Given the deep rivalry between Sydney’s teams in an era when most players were one-club men, an off-field coach was a more accommodating option on a three-month Kangaroo tour. In any case, Summons was a master tactician and, free of the stresses of playing, helped craft the strategies to defeat the Lions.
But his introduction to the professional game was not as accommodating. A Wests junior, Arthur attended Homebush Boys High, a rugby union school, where he captained the First XV. He moved to Gordon Rugby, became a Wallaby and played in 10 Tests, including a tour of the British Isles 1957-58.
He switched to league in 1960, joining the Magpies but spent some time in reserve grade.
In one first-grade game in 1961, Noel “Ned” Kelly, the Magpies hooker who was losing the scrums to Souths’ Fred Anderson, charged from the pack and told Arthur, “You’re the worst f—— halfback I’ve ever played with.” Arthur, still wedded to rugby union’s greater respect for the rules, was not feeding the ball sufficiently in the direction of Ned’s striking foot.
Summons played in three grand finals against St. George in 1961-63, and was captain in the final two.
The Magpies lost all three and the photo taken by Fairfax photographer John O’Gready, of Summons and Provan after the 1963 mudbath at the SCG, is the inspiration for the NRL premiership trophy. With arms draped around each other, the photo, captioned “The Gladiators”, ostensibly represents mateship and sportsmanship but, true to the highly competitive ethos of rugby league, the history is otherwise.
When asked once at a Wests reunion what he was saying to Provan, Summons said, “I was telling ‘Sticks’ the referee got us again.”
Wests supporters forever rue the decision by referee Darcy Lawler to award a try to St George winger Johnny King in the 8-3 loss.
But the Magpie players lament a try not awarded when Summons worked an unprecedented planned move in the unlimited tackle era. Standing as five eighth, Summons received the ball from a scrum set on the Dragons’ 25-yard line and kicked it soaring into the in-goal area in front on the Noble Stand.
Wests left winger Peter Dimond cleanly forced the ball, but Lawler, who hadn’t moved from the scrum base, summarily disallowed it. When Summons queried Lawler’s decision, he was asked, “Do you want to finish up in the dressing room?”
As a former coach of both clubs, I hear the game replayed at reunions. The Dragons’ response? “Look at the scoreboard.”
Summons retired to Wagga in 1964 where he was secretary-manager of a very successful leagues club and further influenced the Magpies’ history by recommending the club sign a young RAAF apprentice, Tom Raudonikis.
So, in 1969, a teenage Tommy, having belted a 34-year-old Arthur at Weissel Oval, fed the scrums a couple of months later to Noel Kelly at Pratten Park.
Summons coached Australia in 1970 in a home series against Frank Myler’s Englishmen. Australia won the first Test decisively, but lost the Ashes when injuries cut into the ranks of the code’s best players.
He died after a battle with throat cancer in Wagga, where the once-profitable leagues club is demolished and the adjoining Eric Weissel Oval is being developed as a housing estate.
Fittingly, Summons will be farewelled with a private family cremation later this week.
Roy Masters is a Sports Columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.