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 inter-state 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, ’68, 1970 and ’71. 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 inter-state 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 2 – a 10-0 loss – Reardon wrote that 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.
Sattler’s impact on football in Queensland should not be measured by results in the 1973 inter-state 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 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 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. “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. In one column, he urged the importance of a healthy diet.
“With me, I eat to how I feel,” he wrote. “I don’t eat potatoes, and I eat little bread, but I do eat a lot of steak and vegetables. I’m a big meat eater and being this way is a big incentive to win matches. You’ve got to keep those winning bonuses rolling in, or you won’t be able to afford to buy too much steak.”
After football, he entered the hotel business, first in Gladstone, and later at places such as Bribie Island, Southport and Broadbeach. He was a 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. The other Consortium members were Peter Gallagher, Bob Hagan and Doug Ryan.
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.
FOOTNOTE: The first time I saw John Sattler play live, was the 1971 Sydney Grand Final, when he led Souths to victory against St George. The first time I met him, was at Brisbane’s Crest Hotel, after the first Inter-State Match, in 1973. My Murwillumbah Brothers’ captain-coach, Brian Atherton and I had been invited to the function by Mick Naughton, (from Widnes, in England), who had refereed the game. Brian is a Widnesian. In 1979, ‘Satts’ presented the trophy after New South Wales had beaten us (Queensland) in an inter-state Journalists’ match at Purtell Park, Bardon in Brisbane. He was wearing a neck brace at the time, after surviving a bad car accident, at Bribie Island. I think the first time I interviewed him was after the Gold Coast Vikings v New Zealand match at Pizzey Park, Miami, in 1982. I had a drink with ‘Satts’, back at Pat Kelly’s Miami Hotel, where an interloper clocked Vikings’ chairman, Don Alroe. The police weren’t called. No need. ‘Satts’ dispensed his own form of justice.
RIP JOHN SATTLER: Born, Maitland, July 28, 1942 Died, Gold Coast, March 20, 2023.