In very sad news today, the last of the original four Immortals of rugby league – Johnny Raper – has passed away after a lengthy battle with dementia.
Raper stands as an absolute colossus of the game and the go-to choice as the greatest lock to ever play rugby league, worldwide.
While the likes of genius British lock Vince Karalius terrified Australian rugby league audiences in the 1950s, even this master of the position could not match the silky ball-handling skills and laser-like defence of the Australian Raper.
After showing remarkable promise for Newtown in the 1957 and 1958 seasons, Raper was spirited away to St George in 1959 – then already trying for their fourth straight premiership in that year.
Raper would go on to become a key figure in the next eight straight premierships won by St George as part of the incredible run of 11 straight premierships between 1956 – 1966 inclusive. Perhaps only fellow Immortal at centre, the late Reg Gasnier, and long-limbed Kangaroo second-rower, Norm Provan, could be regarded as the integral features of that indomitable side that Raper was.
The fitness, motivation and skills of Raper will ensure that St George’s premiership-winning record will last as long as the game itself.
A consummate team player, Raper’s abilities transferred easily between St George, Sydney, New South Wales and Australia, all of whom become largely unbeatable in major games during the length of his career.
“Chook” Raper contributed directly to nine of the twelve Australian tries as Great Britain was destroyed 50-12, in a match that titanically shifted the balance of international power between the northern hemisphere in favour of the south for the first time in decades.
Assured judge Frank Hyde regarded Raper’s performance in this Test match as the greatest 80 minutes produced by any footballer he had ever seen.
No wonder Raper was an automatic inclusion – with Clive Churchill, Reg Gasnier and Bob Fulton – as one of the original four Immortals of Australian rugby league in the 1980s.
A loveable character in a very Aussie sense, who perpetuated the myth of the “Bowler Hat” to great merriment and acclaim, Raper will be sadly missed throughout the rugby league world.
A very great player, the likes of which may never be seen again.