Former Queensland Rugby League centre, Bill Pearson, is best remembered for the leadership qualities which enshrined him as one of the legends of the Norths’ club, in the Brisbane competition.
Pearson, who died in Bundaberg on May 12, 2022, aged 90, captained Norths to four straight premierships, from 1960 to 1963, under the coaching of the legendary Bob Bax.
Born in Mackay, Pearson played his first senior football at Bowen, before enlisting with the RAAF, and having stints in Malaysia and Singapore. He played rugby union, going on to represent Combined Services in the 15 man code, as well as boxing.
When he was posted to Amberley, he returned to club rugby league, signing with West End in Ipswich, from where he was selected for Queensland.
Pearson scored a try on debut against New South Wales, and went on to play six games for his state – five against the Blues, and one against the 1958 Great Britain side. It was a tough period in Maroon, with Queensland losing all seven inter-state matches in 1957-58, as well as the match against Britain.
Pearson won Ipswich premierships with West End in 1956 and ’57, under the coaching of Joe Wilson and the captaincy of Les Duncan.
Pearson moved to Brisbane in 1958 to play with Norths, where coach, Jack Bates appointed him captain. In 1959, the legendary Clive Churchill was appointed Norths’ captain-coach and the club went on to win the premiership, beating the Bax coached Brothers’ outfit, 24-18 in the Grand Final.
Bax switched to Norths in 1960, and re-appointed Pearson captain, while at the same time moving the RAAF sergeant closer to the action, at five eighth. Pearson was captain in all four premiership triumphs from 1960 to 1963, with Norths defeating Valleys in 1960, ’61 and ’62, and then Souths in 1963. He returned to the centres for the 1963 Grand Final, with 1962 State five eighth, Bobby Cook wearing the number 6 jersey.
Bax rated the 1963 Grand Final win over Souths as the best had seen in Brisbane. Norths won 18-8, with lock, Ian Massie scoring two tries in a man-of-the-match performance.
“It was the greatest advertisement rugby league football has had in 17 years,” Bax said at the time.
Pearson collapsed at half time, and had to revived by oxygen equipment that Bax had installed in the Lang Park dressing rooms. Souths had dominated the first half, but Norths still managed to lead 8-5 at the break.
Pearson accepted an offer to captain-coach the Brothers’ club in Bundaberg in 1964. Playing at prop, Pearson captained Wide Bay in an undefeated State Championship campaign in Brisbane in 1966, The following year he captained Bundaberg against Australia, after Kangaroos’ captain-coach, Reg Gasnier had asked for a warm-up game, ahead of a Test against the Kiwis in Brisbane. Australia won 31-12 against the willing locals, at Bundaberg’s Salter Oval.
The ABC’s Arthur Denovan told rugby league author and historian, Steve Haddan that Pearson was “a lovely, humble bloke, an enormously talented athlete who left his mark wherever he went.”