|Born||18 April 1935
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
|Died||2 September 1987 (age 52)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Brian Joseph 'Poppa' Clay (1935 – 1987) was an Australian rugby league footballer of the 1950s and 1960s. He was a five-eighth with the St. George Dragons during their 11-year consecutive premiership winning run from 1956 to 1966. He was a representative in the Australian national team in 1957 and from 1959-1960 earning five Test caps plus three World Cup appearances. He is considered one of the nation's finest footballers of the 20th century.
Clay grew up in the inner Sydney suburb of St Peters. He played schoolboy football for Newtown Technical School and captained a New South Wales Schoolboys side. He began losing his hair as a teenager and early in his football career became known as 'Poppa'.
Professional playing career
Clay was graded by the Newtown Bluebags in 1953 aged 19. He played in the club's losing Grand final teams of 1954 and 1955, learning the ropes against the powerful early 1950s South Sydney Rabbitohs sides.
St. George & Representative career
After Clay spent the 1956 country season with Griffith, Frank Facer offered him a contract with St George as a lock forward from 1957. He made his State and International debut in 1957 and played a major role in Australia's success in the 1957 World Cup. When Johnny Raper joined the club in 1959 Clay moved to five-eighth at which position he enjoyed most success.
Outside the game Clay was a dour, cautious man, highly principled and loyal. On field Clay ran stampeding, battering charges like an extra forward and would then set the wider backs in motion with precise passes. His flashier outside backs Reg Gasnier and Johnny King benefitted from the opposition defence Clay would absorb on their behalf. In turn he was known for his own punishing defence using a shuddering ball-and-all style of crash tackle.
In 1959 Clay played in the New South Wales loss to Queensland that attracted 35,261 spectators, smashing Brisbane's previous record for an interstate match of 22,817. He went on the 1959 Kangaroo Tour of Britain and France appearing in five test matches and sixteen minor Tour games. Clay is listed on the Australian Players Register as Kangaroo No. 332. He alternated with Johnny Raper between lock and five-eighth during the tour.
Clay played 200 club games (183 1st grade) for the St. George Dragons between 1957 and 1967 and played in eight of the famous Grand Final victories. He missed the 1962 and 1963 Grand Finals with broken arm injuries. A knee cartilage operation in 1967 meant that he played his last games at less than 100% fitness. His 200th and last career game was the 1967 final against the Kevin Ryan led Canterbury Bulldogs where the aging Dragons outfit went down 12-11 and the record breaking premiership run ended.
Premiership Success and Accolades
Brian Clay stands in second place behind his St George team-mate Norm Provan for the highest number of grand final appearances ever, with ten (including two with Newtown). Provan appeared in grand finals on 11 occasions. Clay played in an 8 grand final victories and was regarded as one of the greatest players to ever represent the St. George Dragons.
Brian Clay was awarded Life Membership of the St. George Dragons club in 1967.
Post-football & Death
Post football he ran his own oil depot contracting for the Esso company. After a battle with heart disease, Clay underwent an unsuccessful heart transplant operation performed by Doctor Victor Chang, Clay died aged 52 on 2 September 1987. He was buried at the Woronora Cemetery, Sutherland, New South Wales.
- Century's Top 100 Players Archived 25 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
- Goodman, Tom (28 May 1959). "Queensland beats N.S.W. in league by 17-15". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 11 December 2011.
- ARL Annual Report 2005, page 54
- The Sydney Morning Herald. 3 September 1987 (Death Notice) Brian Joseph Clay.
- "Centenary of Rugby League - The Players". NRL & ARL. 23 February 2008. Archived from the original on 26 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-23.
- Writer, Larry (1995) Never Before, Never Again, Pan MacMillan, Sydney
- Andrews, Malcolm (2006) The ABC of Rugby League Austn Broadcasting Corpn, Sydney