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Raper remembers Gasnier as the greatest

He was the immortal Immortal - until finally he was stopped.
Raper remembers Gasnier as the greatest
by AAP

By Darren Walton and Ben Horne

SYDNEY, May 16 AAP - He was the immortal Immortal - until finally he was stopped.

Stopped not by someone, but rather something far more equipped than a mere human being.

When a brain tumour took down Reg Gasnier this week, a day shy of his 75th birthday, the Big C claimed the scalp of the greatest footballer ever to wear the famous Red V.

There is no argument because Gasnier's chief challenger, fellow rugby league Immortal Johnny Raper, says so himself.

Raper, who played alongside Gasnier in six of St George's world-record 11 straight grand final wins, places the so-called "Prince of Centres" above not only every other Dragon but alongside the legendary Clive Churchill as the equal greatest rugby league player ever.

"He was a freak. Simply a freak. Never seen a footballer like him," Raper told AAP before Gasnier's "sellout" funeral in Sydney on Thursday.

A who's who of rugby league luminaries - too many to mention - packed inside and out of the south chapel at Woronora Crematorium to farewell Gasnier and to celebrate his life and unparalleled career.

"It's impossible to put into words how good this man was," said his former Dragons and Test teammate Norm Provan.

Numbers don't do him justice either.

But a couple of remarkable statistics do at least paint a picture of Gasnier's devastating impact for those unfortunate enough never to have seen the legend in full flight.

Gasnier's 127 tries from 125 matches for St George ranks second behind only Harold Horder's 152 from 136 games as the most prolific strike rate in history among players boasting more than 100 games.

But he could have smashed Horder's record if he wanted to.

Instead, the most potent - and stylish - attacking player ever to grace the game was a try-scoring provider too.

Tellingly, the other two players in the top three on St George's all-time tryscoring list were Gasnier's teammates Johnny King and Eddie Lumsden, the two wingers who played outside the man revered as Puff the Magic Dragon.

It was the same at international level; whenever Gasnier got the ball, Raper knew someone somewhere would usually score.

"He was terribly unselfish," Raper said.

"I don't know how many tries he fed to (Test wingers) Ken Irvine and Brian Carlson.

"He never would give his winger a bad pass. Always set them up and we had Irvine and Carlson in those days and he set them into a smooth pass and they rewarded him by scoring the try.

"That's what he wanted to do. Before he went on the field he knew he was a marked man ... and they couldn't stop him.

"He was a freak."

A prodigiously gifted all-round sportsman who played state cricket as a junior, Gasnier, at 23 years and 28 days against England in 1962, became Australia's youngest ever captain after devoting himself to rugby league.

Before that, Balmain great Keith Barnes was the Test captain when Gasnier made his Kangaroos debut as a teenager in 1959.

"He had everything: a body swerve, speed and acceleration. He could stand you up or run around you," Barnes said.

"There was no better sight in rugby league than when he threw his head back and left them standing.

"You just never knew what was coming next. He was just a magnificent footballer."

And a magnificent man, as loyal to his family, friends and employers as he was to his most grateful wingers.

"My dad was very much a man of loyalty," Peter Gasnier told the massive gathering in his eulogy on Thursday.

"He played for one club and was very proud of that club.

"He worked for one or two people only. He was 30 years at the ABC and 20 years at Big League magazine.

"And the most loyalty he had was to our mum. They were together for 60 years."


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