How rugby league’s iconic Gladiators photo – with Norm Provan and Arthur Summons

It will be almost half a century since the former St George and Western Suburbs captains came together, although on that day it was more sanctified mud than luscious grass.

The “Gladiator” moment will be celebrated next week ahead of the anniversary of the match on Saturday, when the Dragons meet Wests Tigers.

Photographer John O’Gready, with the Rugby League Winfield Cup trophy in 2007, which was based on O’Gready’s award-winning photo of St George’s Norm Provan and Western Suburb’s Arthur Summons at the end of the 1963 Rugby League Grand Final. Credit:Fairfax Archive

Alas, O’Gready won’t join Provan and Summons. He passed away in 1999, aged 62.

A world-class snapper and drinker known to his newspaper colleagues as “Jolly Jack”, O’Gready had stalked the sideline that grand final day in a suit and then, around 4.37pm, captured the image before his film was rushed by car back to the Herald’s office in Ultimo.

The image O’Gready wanted published was of Provan’s face covered in black mud, with a few teeth showing from his broad smile.

What happened next is best described in Norm Tasker’s superb book The Gladiators (published by Allen and Unwin), which was released earlier this month.

Norm Provan and Arthur Summons re-creating their famous pose.

Norm Provan and Arthur Summons re-creating their famous pose.Credit:Marco Del Grande, John O’Gready

“As O’Gready started to sell his choice, his pictorial editor, Graham Wilkinson, took one last look through the reject pile. He grabbed the photograph of the two captains in momentary embrace and said, ‘This is the pic’ … The photo appeared next morning on page three of the Sun-Herald. O’Gready was disappointed it was not on page one. The reality is that he was very lucky to get it.”

Summons said of the photo in 2008: “It’s been a bit surreal. You’ve got a situation where we’ve been looked after and feted wherever we go for all these years and all we ever really did was fall in the mud.”

O’Gready nearly died in the 1960s when he lost an eye in a car accident. He worked at Fairfax until 1988.

But his photo will always live on, as Tasker reveals in his book with this anecdote.

Luke Keary (left) celebrates his third title with Boyd Cordner and Angus Crichton last year.

Luke Keary (left) celebrates his third title with Boyd Cordner and Angus Crichton last year.Credit:AAP

Years after the 1963 grand final, O’Gready found himself in a sports bar in San Francisco and spied his famed image on the wall.

“See that picture,” he told the barman. “I took that.”

“Sure,” the barman said. “Drink up, buddy, and I’ll get you another.”

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