The thoughts of the Board, staff and players at the Dyldam Parramatta Eels are with the family, friends and colleagues of Terry Fearnley, who passed away early on Wednesday morning, aged 81.
Known for his playing career with the Roosters, his coaching success with the New South Wales Blues, and his roles coaching Wests, Cronulla, Illawarra and the Australian side, Fearnley was also head coach of the Blue and Gold at a watershed moment for the club.
Appointed first-grade coach at Parramatta in 1976, Fearnley coached the Eels to their first ever top grade final, edged out by Manly 13-10 on the day.
It was the first of three grand finals for the Blue and Gold in the space of two years, including the famous 1977 grand final replay - the first in NSWRFL history.
It was an era of growing success at the Eels: during Fearnley’s tenure as coach, Parramatta players won the prestigious Rothmans Medal four successive times, courtesy of the incredible performances of Ray Price in 1976, Michael Cronin in 1977 and 1978 and Ray Price again in 1979.
For Eels Hall of Fame legend Geoff Gerard, Fearnley’s appointment as Head Coach was the start of a wave of professionalism that culminated in the club’s four premierships in the 1980s, and his guidance was invaluable to the young players in the Parramatta side.
“Terry taught us all how to be professional about the game,” Gerard said.
“For the young kids, he was a coach who had played the game, and brought with him what it meant to be a professional athlete. He was the first to talk to us about diet, doing additional training, and he was someone who had respect of all the players and staff.”
“One of the things he always said was that he didn’t know a lot about Parramatta and he was surprised by the talent that was there in the junior ranks. And under him, the number of local juniors who played first grade, it was an extraordinary period for our club and our history.”
Gerard remembers riding as a player down Parramatta’s Church Street in an Eels parade in the 1980s, with his mind inevitably recalling the cool, collected Fearnley’s influence on the club.
“There were 30,000 people lining the streets,” Gerard remembers.
“Looking down, I stopped and I thought ‘wow’. Ultimately, Terry had a lot had to do with getting us to that point.”
“Terry knew his footy, was very skilled at getting the best out of his players, and he was a thoroughly decent person who loved our club, and loved the game.”
Eels Chairman Steve Sharp today paid tribute to Fearnley as a key figure in the Blue and Gold's evolution.
"Many of the players of our golden era owe their start and their development to Terry," Sharp said.
"Terry was fundamental to the history of the Parramatta Eels as our first Grand Final coach, he set the platform for an era when the Eels played in 7 Grand Finals between 1976 and 1986.
"Terry was a gentleman and very well respected, and the club is saddened to hear of his passing."