By STEVE RICKETTS
ARTHUR Summons had the dubious honour of coaching the last Australian team to lose an Ashes Rugby League series against Great Britain.
He won’t be remembered for that, because, as a dual rugby international, he achieved so much, on and off, the football field.
I interviewed Arthur several times, invariably in grand final week, with his great mate, Norm Provan, by his side. There was also a time at Wagga Wagga, where he was manager of the leagues club, and I was covering a pre-season match between the Broncos and Gold Coast in 1992.
Arthur was a witty man, a gentleman, but someone who spoke his mind, and was not afraid of controversy.
In 1970, Arthur had the unenviable task of succeeding Queenslander, Harry Bath as coach of Australia, after Bath had guided Australia to World Cup success in 1968. In 1969 Bath was coach on Australia’s tour of New Zealand, where the Test series finished 1-1.
Summons played 10 Tests for the Wallabies in rugby union, and toured Britain, France and North America in 1957-58. His only Test win for the Wallabies came at Lancaster Park, Christchurch, against the All Blacks.
Born at Paddingtin in Sydney, he had played rugby league through the juniors, and at primary school – at Mount Prichard and Liverpool Technical respectively. He played union a Homebush High, from where he represented New South Wales Combined High Schools in the 15 man code. He captained Combined Teachers’ Colleges in rugby union and tried out for Sydney University. Rejected by Uni., he proved an instant success with Gordon.
He switched to league in 1960, with Sydney’s big spending Western Suburbs Magpies, but had trouble adapting to the new code, playing only seven first grade matches that season – at five eighth.
Wests moved him to halfback in 1961, and he began to find his feet, so much so he was chosen for Australia’s tour of New Zealand. But he was moved back to five eighth. In the 1962 home series against Great Britain, he played in the First Test as five eighth (Brisbane Wests’ star, Barry Muir was halfback) and the other two as halfback, with Bobby Banks (Cunnamulla) and then Jim Lisle (South Sydney) the five eighths.
Britain won the first two Tests, to retain the Ashes, but Australia saved face with a 18-17 win in the Third Test at the SCG, with Summons having succeeded Keith Barnes as skipper.
Summons was chosen as captain for the deciding Third Test against Kiwis (succeeding North Sydney’s Billy Wilson) in 1963, leading his country to a 14-0 victory in front of a crowd of 46,567 at the SCG.
He also captained Australia in the historic Test against South Africa at Lang Park, Brisbane, three weeks later, with Australia winning 34-6. Injury ruled him out of the Second Test in Sydney (which Australia won 54-21), but he was appointed captain-coach of the Kangaroo touring side to Britain and France at the end of the season.
Injury dogged him on tour, but that gave him the chance to concentrate on the coaching aspect, and Australia won the Ashes in Britain for the first time in 50 years, and despite losing the First Test against France, went on to win that series as well.
In 2004, Summons told Alan Whiticker from New Holland Press, that he had experienced a lack of discipline and direction on the Wallabies’ northern hemisphere tour, and was determined that would not happen with the Kangaroos.
At the end of the 1964 Sydney season, he contemplated a return to school teaching, but instead, accepted a job as secretary manager of Wagga Leagues Club, which also entailed the captain-coach role at Wagga Magpies.
He didn’t play for Australia again after the Kangaroo tour. In a match against Parramatta, he injured his groin when tackled by Englishman, Ivor Lingard – in a ‘Cumberland throw’ tackle.
“I was never really the same after that,” Summons told Whiticker.
The 1970 Great Britain side was one of the finest to tour Australia, but the home side won the First Test 37-15 at Lang Park. It was a match I attended with my father, Jon Ricketts, and it was action from start to finish, in terms of free-flowing football, and thuggery.
Britain won the fight, and Australia’s forward stocks took a hammering, from which they never recovered.
The player most affected was prop, Jim Morgan, who was head butted by Cliff Watson, his nose plastered across his face. Morgan had played for City Firsts against the Summons’ coached Country outfit earlier in the year, with City, coached by Harry Bath, having to battle all the way for their 22-18 win against the rank outsiders from the bush. Country were captained by league ‘Immortal’, Johnny Raper, who had moved from Sydney, to play with Newcastle Wests.
While Summons’ career at Sydney Wests brought with it three heart breaking grand final losses to St George, he will be forever remembered for the photograph taken by newspaper photographer, John O’Gready, which became the model for the Provan-Summons (NRL Premiership) Trophy.
When the photograph was taken, after the 8-3 loss to Saints in a SCG quagmire, Summons was lamenting the performance of referee, Darcy Lawler.
Summons spent 33 years as secretary-manager at Wagga Leagues.
He died on May 16, 2020, aged 84.
1 Arthur Summons in his Australian Rugby League jersey
2 Summons addresses New South Wales Country players
3 City prop, Jim Morgan unloads to John Sattler in a match against Country at the SCG in 1970
4 Country’s 1970 side.