Each week NEIL CADIGAN will look back on some of the most eventful games and most famous names in the club’s 70-year history and bring them back to life. This week, we look at the Eels' Hall of Fame.
The Eels had produced some outstanding champions in their first half-century and it was decided in 2002 to recognise the best of the best by inaugurating a Hall of Fame, struck by the naming of a ‘Legends of Parramatta’.
A ‘best ever’ team of 13 players from the club’s first 55 years was announced and this has since been extended to a wider hall of fame list with a recipient added annually for the next nine years. Since then, additions are made when it is deemed appropriate to add another servant of the club.
The launch was a gala event with more than 500 people attending a black-tie event in a marquee on the Parramatta Stadium playing field, in August 2002. A special painting of the team was commissioned and talented Sydney artist Dave Thomas, with 150 limited edition framed prints released.
In subsequent years one player was added at the club’s annual player reunion, stretching the Hall of Fame to 20 players and coach Jack Gibson by 2011, when it was decided to no longer annually add members of the hall. Criteria for players is they must be retired for three years and meet certain appearance and performance criteria; highly-recognised club officials are also eligible.
The Parramatta Legends side was chosen by a panel of judges that included long-term media men Ray Hadley, Ray Warren, Peter Frilingos and myself.
There were certainly players whose selections were automatic and unanimous, like fullback Ken Thornett, winger Eric Grothe, centres Michael Cronin and Steve Ella, halves Brett Kenny and Peter Sterling, lock Ray Price and prop Bob O’Reilly.
Other causes the usual consideration and debate. Neville Glover, who played two Tests and two games for NSW in 1978-79, won the other wing position over World Cup representative Jim Porter and 1980s grand final flankers Neil Hunt and David Liddiard.
The second row positions were hotly contested with Dick Thornett (11 Tests, 13 games for NSW, 168 for Eels) leading the vote ahead of Peter Wynn (three Tests, 6 games NSW, 151 first grade games for the Eels). Wynn just edged out, somewhat controversially, Ron Lynch (12 Test, 19 games for NSW, 202 games for Eels) with Ray Higgs, Geoff Gerard and John Muggleton among the other contenders.
The front row position was contentious with an array of international talent to choose from. O’Reilly, a first grader at 17 and premiership winner at 32, who played 216 of his 307 first grade games for Parra (plus 16 Tests and nine games for NSW) topped the vote.
Also in contention were Brian Hambly, who came to Parramatta in 1962 as a seasoned international and his feats became legendary during he the club’s first competitive era of 1962-65, and fellow internationals Denis Fitzgerald, Ron Hilditch who moved from hooker to prop and represented in both position, Dean Pay and Graham Olling.
Pay was selected, based on his four seasons as an Eel in the late 1990s.
The hooker position was down to a contest between three-time premiership captain and NSW representative Steve Edge and stalwart Billy Rayner, who played for Australia in the 1960 World Cup and held his position as first grade hooker from 1961 to 1967, before being succeeded by John McMartin, who went onto play for New South Wales.
The Parramatta Legends side is: Ken Thornett, Neville Glover, Mick Cronin, Steve Ella, Eric Grothe, Brett Kenny, Peter Sterling, Ray Price, Peter Wynn, Dick Thornett, Bob O’Reilly, Steve Edge, Dean Pay.
Nine of the 13 players came from the glory days of the 80s: Grothe, Cronin, Ella, Kenny, Sterling, Price, Wynn, O’Reilly and Edge.
Six were local juniors too: Glover (Seven Hills, Toongabbie), Grothe (Mt Pritchard), Ella (Mt Pritchard), Kenny (Guildford), O’Reilly (Guildford) and Hilditch (Hills District).
Australian Rugby League coach of the century Jack Gibson was installed into the hall of fame the next year alongside Lynch. Subsequent additions were Rayner (2004), Hambly (2005), Hilditch (2006), Barry Rushworth (2007), Fitzgerald (2008), the club’s first international in 1949 and long-time coach and director Ian Johnston (2009), Gerard (2010) and Higgs (2011).
In 2014, at a gala dinner at added to the hall of fame, along with the club’s first president and long serving committeeman Jack Argent. the Star Casino in Sydney, the club’ longest-serving skipper and New Zealand World Cup winning captain Nathan Cayless was
A special category was initiated, the ‘Champion of Parramatta’ and bestowed upon Michael Cronin. The Champion of Parramatta is a man of exceptional club spirit, known for his dedication to the club both past and present, on and off the field, chosen by his fellow Hall of Fame inductees, Parramatta Eels fans, and the judging panel (leading league historian David Middleton joined the panel in 2010, replacing Frilingos who died in 2004).
Cronin had won two Rothmans Medals as the competition’s best and fairest player, holds the club’s all-time points-scoring record (1971 points), held the ARL’s record for most points in a season (282 in 1978) for 20 years, played in the club’s four premiership winning teams then coached the first grade side for four seasons from 1990-93.
The 25 members of the Eels’ Hall of Fame are: Ken Thornett, Neville Glover, Michael Cronin OAM, Steve Ella, Eric Grothe, Brett Kenny, Peter Sterling, Ray Price OAM, Peter Wynn, Dick Thornett, Bob O’Reilly, Steve Edge, Dean Pay (all inducted in 2002 as part of the Legends of Parramatta team), Jack Gibson OAM (inducted 2003), Ron Lynch (2003), Billy Rayner (2004), Brian Hambly (2005), Ron Hilditch (2006), Barry Rushworth (2007), Denis Fitzgerald AM (2008), Ian Johnston (2009), Geoff Gerard (2010), Ray Higgs (2011), Jack Argent (2014), Nathan Cayless (2014).