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Tribute to John Sattler: The Queenslander

Former Australian Rugby League skipper John Sattler proved an influential figure in his three years as a player in the Brisbane competition, captaining Queensland in the 1973 interstate series, and helping Norths qualify for the 1975 finals series.

When Sattler signed for Wests Panthers at the end of the 1972 Sydney Rugby League season, it was one of the biggest stories in the history of Queensland sport.

Sattler had captained Australia in the second Test of the 1970 Ashes series, and had led South Sydney to premierships in 1967, 1968, 1970 and 1971. He had toured Britain and France with the 1967-68 Kangaroos, and New Zealand, as national skipper in 1969.

The Queensland Rugby League was looking to Sattler to lead a resurgence in the interstate arena, where New South Wales had held sway since 1962.

With former Australian five-eighth, Wally O'Connell as state coach, hopes were high ahead of the 1973 Series. Alas, nothing could stop the rampaging Blues, a virtual all-International line-up, led by future 'Immortal' Graeme Langlands, with Queensland going down in all three games, and failing to score a point.

But with Sattler at the helm, Queensland did not lack courage.

"No Queensland team put up such big-hearted defence, for a long time, as this team did in the first two matches at Lang Park," wrote The Courier-Mail's Jack Reardon.

After Game II – a 10-0 loss – Reardon wrote Sattler had played his best game since coming to Queensland.

"His tackling and his organising of his team, was just the thing that Queensland has wanted in recent years," Reardon wrote.

"New South Wales, with all their champions, men like Arthur Beetson, Graeme Langlands and Tom Raudonikis, did not score a try for 55 minutes."

The Queensland side included the likes of Wayne Bennett, John Grant, Greg Veivers, Johnny Lang, David Wright and former Kiwi Test prop Robert Orchard.

Sattler captained Queensland to one victory, a 10-4 result against a touring New Zealand Colts side, at Lang Park in July, 1973.

The 1973 Queensland side. John Sattler is wearing jersey 11, seated beside coach, Wally O’Connell. Photo: Supplied
The 1973 Queensland side. John Sattler is wearing jersey 11, seated beside coach, Wally O’Connell. Photo: Supplied

Sattler's impact on football in Queensland should not be measured by results in the 1973 interstate series. He taught many players the meaning of professionalism, with his dedication to fitness, and his constant striving to be better, even in his twilight years as a player.

In his two seasons at Wests, the Panthers failed to reach the finals, and it seemed as if the then 32-year-old would hang up the boots, without a swan song in finals football. But a phone call from Brisbane 'Coach of the Century', Bob Bax, who was then president of Norths Devils, changed all of that.

"I finished at the end of 1974 on a very unhappy note," Sattler recalled, some years later.

"I went home to my wife, and I said: 'That's a real disappointing way to finish'. 'Baxy', who had just signed former Great Britain halfback, Tommy Bishop as captain-coach, asked me to come and have a season with Norths.

"I said no, I had made up my mind. Lawrie Kavanagh had even written a piece in The Courier-Mail, saying I had retired. But Baxy wouldn't be deterred. He said: 'I'll leave it with you, we can't pay you any money, but we'd love to have you'. Of course, I wanted to play. I just wanted to have one more year running around in Brisbane, and in particular those 'Matches of the Day' at Lang Park.

"I went to Norths and asked Baxy if he wanted me to sign anything. He said no, because my word was good enough. It was a wonderful season."

Norths defeated Redcliffe 15-2 in the 1975 qualifying final, but then lost 21-11 to Wests in the major semi-final and 25-2 to Redcliffe in the preliminary final, in what was a five-team format. 

Sattler turned in some vintage displays for Norths during that 1975 season, and left Brisbane club football with his head held high.

"He was great for us," recalled Norths' teammate, Steve Calder.

'We knew he wasn't going off': McCarthy describes Sattler's toughness

"His desire to win, and his ball skills, were amazing. He was a marvellous trainer and ambassador for the game, and just great to be around."

Sattler was a marked man in many games, with young forwards, looking to make a name for themselves, taking him on, sometimes in the scrums, other times in the open.

Sattler had become a popular media figure in Queensland, and had his own newspaper column. After football, he entered the hotel business, first in Gladstone, and later at places such as Bribie Island, Southport and Broadbeach.

He was staunch supporter of the Southport-based Gold Coast Vikings in the early years of the State League, in the 1980s, and was part of the consortium which gained a licence for the Tweed Heads-based Gold Coast Giants in the 1988 NSWRL premiership.

His son, Scott, made his first grade debut for Gold Coast Seagulls against Parramatta in 1992, and that same year played for Gold Coast against the touring Great Britain side, just as his father had - for Newcastle against the touring Lions, in 1962.

Scott, a Runaway Bay junior, went on to play for Queensland in the State of Origin arena in 2003, while also claiming a premiership with Penrith that same year, under the coaching of his dad's former Queensland teammate, Johnny Lang.

RIP John Sattler


Maitland, July 28, 1942


Gold Coast, March 20, 2023

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Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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