Forgotten Indigenous Star

ron SaddlerWithout doubt, the ‘forgotten’ Indigenous All Star’ of Australian Rugby League is former Eastern Suburbs (Sydney) centre, Ron Saddler.

League Historian, David Middleton has confirmed to me that Saddler was the first indigenous footballer to captain New South Wales – in 1967 – six years before Arthur Beetson became the first indigenous footballer to captain Australia.

Saddler toured England and France with the 1967-68 Kangaroos, but did not play a Test, largely due to ill health and injury, and was restricted to 12 games from a possible 27.

Originally from the Riverina, Saddler was recruited by Murwillumbah Brothers for the 1961 Tweed District Season and played a huge role in the club’s maiden premiership under the coaching of Englishman, Bert Holcroft.

Saddler had one more season with Brothers, winning another title, before heading to Easts in Sydney with teammate, Cliff Boyd.

In ’67 he starrred in NSW’s 14-8 win over Queensland in the first match of the inter-state series at the SCG, and was heralded as a major ‘discovery’ after getting a call-up following the scratching of Test ace, Reg Gasnier.

The legendary Johnny Raper captained the Blues that day, but Saddler was given the reins for the return match in Sydney when a young Ron Coote was preferred at lock to Raper.

That NSW team included the likes of Graeme Langlands, Bob Fulton, Ron Costello and triple international (league, union and athletics), Mike Cleary.

The Blues prevailed again, this time 28-9, although Queensland’s Kiwi centre, (yes, you read correctly), Reg Cooke kept Saddler quiet.

Saddler’s former Easts teammater, Kevin Junee, another ’67-68 Kangaroo, said Saddler got the nod as Blues captain in ’67 because he was respected by teammates and opponents alike.

“It was a huge honour for Ron to have the (c) beside his name, especially when you look at the calibre of some of his teammates,” Junee said.

When I refer to Saddler as a forgotten Indigenous star, I certainly don’t mean that Easts, now the Sydney Roosters, don’t acknowledge the service he gave to the club from 1963 until 1972.

But he is rarely mentioned when famous indigenous players from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s are listed, with the likes of Beetson, Lionel Morgan, Kevin Yow Yeh, Larry Corowa and Steve Ella invariably hogging the limelight.

I played against Ron in 1973 when he returned to the Tweed and signed with Murwillumbah (High School) Old Boys alongside another international, Peter Dimond. Both men were in the veteran category at that stage, but they hit as hard as ever.

Ron, or ‘Sooty’ as he was affectionately known (politically incorrect, I know) was my captain-coach at Murwillumbah Brothers in 1975, although my time under him was all too brief, with work taking me elsewhere before the season proper got underway.

Ron was always nature’s gentleman, although try telling that to opponents he hit with his trademark driving tackles. Saddler was a fine attacking player, but his defence was exceptional.

Unfortunately Ron has not been in the best of health and resides in a retirement home at Murwillumbah where old Brothers teammates and Men of League members visit him regularly.

It is 50 years since Saddler took the big step and moved to Sydney, and back in the ’60s that was a huge gamble for indigenous players, more so than now.

He stayed for the long haul and will go down as one of Easts all time greats, and certainly deserves to be widely mentioned as an Indigenous All Star.

14 responses to “Forgotten Indigenous Star

  1. Right there Steve. He was a really nice bloke to everyone. Heard about this on 4TAB. Regards Michael Tracey

  2. Thanks for the great story. Ron Saddler is my late mother in laws brother and a great source of pride for our family. I have shared your story with Ron’s wife and two children on Facebook. His daughter is delighted as I am sure they will all be. Thank you.

  3. Well done Steve, great article and long overdue. Ron came from the small town ,of Euabalong on the lachlan River near Lake Cargelligo and was playing bush football as a teenager in Groups 17 and Group 20.
    Best Regards
    Garry ‘Bear’ Foster

  4. Hi I am brent saddler & the son of this great man; thank you very much for the great write up.yes our family do put dad in the catagory of an all star & very proud to be an indigenous all star.regards brent saddler.

  5. As an uncle (married to my mum’s sister), he was always a gentleman and I had the pleasure of ‘training’ with Ron at Bottomly Park (Brisbane) when he was here. I spoke to Mickey awhile ago and will contact again soon. Family members will know who I am referring to. Ron was and always will be my footy hero.

  6. Well done Steve a great story about a great footballer and a champion gentleman regards NEVILLE O’Connor

  7. A man I have the utmost respect for. Came and visited me in hospital when I was an 11 year old in 1969. When I came home from hospital, he’d drop in and visit me after work as a Sydney County Council linesman. What an absolute legend! He has a big heart and his wife Carol is a great person. I recall one of Ronnie’s great performances on the SCG against Souths, in 1968 I think. He cut Dennis Pittard down on more than one occasion with his signature cover defence as the South Sydney five-eighth split the Easts line that day. Souths still took the points that day, but the Roosters were always a gritty defensive side inspired by defenders like Ronnie Saddler, Bunny Reilly and Kevin Ashley. The best cover defender in the business – R.Saddler.
    Another day on the Sydney Sports Ground in July,1969, Ron played a starring role in a win over the Sharks, with a try and a couple of goals from the sideline (not noted as a goal kicker).
    He was my idol growing up in Sydney in the 60’s, a rugby league mad fan of Easts and Ron Saddler forever.
    Great piece Steve Ricketts.

    • Great words & we are all so proud to have him as our Dad,husband & pop.As you may know dad is in a nursing home now with dementia but he is hanging in there at present.My dad was my idol also when I was growing up as a kid & there was no one else I ever wanted to be when playing rugby league in the backyard or on the league field & that was my dad. Regards Brent Saddler.

      • Living in Brisbane as a child we closely followed the Sydney RL competition through the daily papers brought home by our father. In hindsight Ron Saddler was truely a top class footballer that possessed sleek, silk-like attacking and defensive skills that brought the best out of his team mates.

  8. Steve have you heard about the passing of dad yesterday at 12.30pm?In your article of forgotten Indigenous footballer there was a comment by Peter Farrugia who dad visited in hospital while playing for the Roosters,I would love to let him know about dad’s passing if he doesn’t already.Regards Brent Saddler.

    • To Carol ,Brent and Amanda ,
      I knew your husband and Dad for a few years when he came up from Sydney to work as an electrical linesman out of the Murwillumbah Depot . I considered it a privilege and an honour to have known Ron and I was proud to call him a work “mate” and friend . He would always turn up for work with a big smile on his face and loved a joke and telling with great fondness of his childhood days and growing up . I found Ron to be a very humble but proud man and was a great role model to his son and daughter who are both very gifted and natural athletes . He would have been a great role model to any young or any aged indigenous person who had the same pleasure as I did to have known him . He was a “great bloke” and our sincere condolences go out to you Carol , Brent and Amanda as well as his family and relations
      RIP Ron .

      Kindest Regards ,
      Mark and Vicki Aked .

      • Cheers Mark thank you for your kind words,I will print it off & show mum.Thanks again.Brent.

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