When Norm Provan became captain-coach of the mighty St George rugby league team in 1962 he was on a hiding to nothing. St George at that point had won six successive premierships under the astute coaching of Ken Kearney.
If Provan led his side of champions, including a number of the game’s greatest-ever in John Raper, Reg Gasnier, Graeme Langlands, Brian Clay, Billy Smith, Ed Lumsden and Bill Wilson, to anything less than continued domination he would be deemed a failure. “Sticks” Provan was not a man to fail, and, indeed, he raised the bar. In the next four years, until he retired at the end of season 1965, he took the Saints to four more premierships.
He was a craggy-faced, raw-boned beanpole, a hard-running, power-tackling second rower who drove his teammates hard and dominated opponents. Ken Kearney’s game plan – powerful forwards battering rivals into physical and mental submission so paving the way for quicksilver backs to score try after try – wasn’t broke, so Provan didn’t try to fix it.
Rather he made his men fitter and stronger and more disciplined and instilled in them his own iron-clad self-belief that refused to acknowledge the possibility of defeat.
“My job was to get results,” he said, “so I did what I thought best and never worry about being liked. I’ve been told I was intimidating and I suppose I was, but it was never anything personal, always for the team.”
Provan’s last game was leading St George to their 10th consecutive grand final win, a nail-biter against South Sydney before a crowd of 85,000 who sardined into the 65,000-capacity SCG. For his efforts that day and over his 15-year career, in which he also played with distinction for NSW and Australia, Provan, now 80, was named among rugby league’s 100 greatest players and his likeness adorns the premiership trophy today.