AS Manly and the Sydney Roosters prepare to meet in Sunday’s NRL grand final, minds have been cast back to the last time the teams played in the season’s decider in 1972.
At the time, former South Nowra business owner and now Lake Conjola resident Ron Coote was one of the leading players for the team then known as Eastern Suburbs.
Having just won four premierships with Souths in 1966, ’67, ’70 and ’71, Ron made the switch to the Roosters in 1972 and the team made the grand final, although he admits he almost did not play due to a leg injury.
While he limped onto the field after his coach told him he had to play, Ron said his leg started to feel better and he even crossed the line at one stage before the try was disallowed.
It was one of several refereeing decisions going against the Roosters before they lost the game 19-14.
“It was one grand final I thought we could have won,” Ron said.
The man described as the prince of lock forwards won six of the nine grand finals in which he played – winning with Easts in 1974 and ’75 under legendary coach Jack Gibson to add to his Souths premierships.
His career also included 23 test and World Cup matches for Australia when he captained the national team three times during the 1970 World Cup, and in 2008 being named in Australian rugby league’s team of the century.
Next week another honour will be bestowed on Ron, when he becomes the 19th rugby league player to be inducted to the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
He said this week he was “chuffed” at the induction.
“It was a shock to me, I thought my days in the sun were over,” he said.
“It’s a real honour and I feel very humbled by it.”
While Ron’s recognition comes for his skill and tenacity on the playing field, he is perhaps as well known for his work outside football that included 10 years on the NSW Rugby League judiciary, and 10 as a board member at the Roosters.
He also helped set up the Men of League organisation helping former footballers who have fallen on hard times, and continues as the charity’s chairman.
In addition Ron has spent 30 years owning McDonald’s franchises, starting off with the assistance of land his friend Kerry Packer bought him to convince him to stay with the Roosters.
While he bought 100 acres of prime land on Lake Conjola in 1984 with friends George Piggins, John O’Neill and Gary Stevens then subdivided the land between them, Ron and his family made the move south in 2004 when he bought the McDonald’s franchise in South Nowra.
Franchises at Bomaderry and Ulladulla followed, but Ron said they were all being run by his children.
Family is vital to Ron, and he said the greatest of his achievements.
“We have a great family relationship and I think that is my proudest achievement,” he said.
“I’ve got a great family and to be with them all the time and to be around them, thats what it is about.”
But before then there is Sunday’s grand final, and Ron will be watching the game closely, wishing he was playing again with the benefits of all the medical and scientific help offered to players.
“I would love to be playing today,” he said.
“I love the thought of being a full-time professional and training all the time.”
When he was playing he would train on his own outside the team sessions and would always ask for extra, explaining, “rugby league is 90 per cent perspiration and 10 per cent ability”.