John O'Neill (rugby league)

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John O'Neill
Personal information
Born (1943-05-09)9 May 1943
Griffith, New South Wales
Died 9 August 1999(1999-08-09) (aged 56)
Playing information
Position Prop

Years Team Pld T G FG P
1965–71 South Sydney 128 11 0 0 33
1972–74 Manly-Warringah 51 3 0 0 9
1975–76 South Sydney 23 0 0 0 0
Total 202 14 0 0 42
Years Team Pld T G FG P
1967–71 New South Wales 5 0 0 0 0
1970–71 City Firsts 2 0 0 0 0
1970–75 Australia 10 2 0 0 6
Coaching information

Years Team Gms W D L W%
1977 South Sydney 22 3 0 19 14
Source: [1][2][3][4]

John O'Neill (9 May 1943 – 9 August 1999) was an Australian representative rugby league prop forward whose club career was spent with South Sydney and Manly-Warringah during the 1960s and early 1970s. He made 2 Test appearances for the Australian national representative side; he represented in 7 World Cup matches in two World Cups and in one World Championship match and in 5 Kangaroo tour matches in 1973.

Early life and club career[edit]

Born in Griffith but reared in the northern town of Gunnedah, in his early twenties John O'Neill showed promise in appearances for Country against both City and the French tourists and was spotted by Sydney premiership talent scouts 1964.

O'Neill came to South Sydney in 1965 and his aggressive play in the scrums and charging runs close to the rucks caused him to be noticed. His toughness and solidity earned him the nickname "Lurch", and in his debut season O'Neill played for South Sydney in the Grand final against the champion St George team. A tall and strongly framed man, O'Neill was able to develop consistently as he built up his weight from 88 kilograms or 13 stone 12 pounds in 1965 to 104 kilograms or 16 stone 5 pounds by 1970. Between 1967 and 1971 he played in five grand finals for South Sydney, winning all but the 1969 contest against Balmain.

In 1971 the financial problems at South Sydney caused him along with teammate Ray Branighan to leave for Manly until the end of 1974. There O'Neill played in two more premiership sides, and his battle with Cronulla strongman Cliff Watson in the brutal 1973 grand final (won by Manly 10–7) is regarded as one of the toughest conflicts seen in the Australian game.

Representative career[edit]

O'Neill first played for New South Wales in 1967, and made his international debut in the 1970 World Cup. It was in this match that his remarkable strength in the toughest conflicts first showed itself. He continued to hit opponents in a way that would have been remarkable for anyone with a split shin, and refused to take first aid even when blood spilt into his sock! John O'Neill remained a regular international player until he retired, He is listed on the Australian Players Register as Kangaroo No. 449.[5]

In 1975, still a major force in representative rugby league, O'Neill returned to South Sydney. Paradoxically, though he was superb in representative games, he was disappointing in club rugby league and retired during the 1976 season. O'Neill coached South Sydney in 1977 but could win only one of the last eighteen games and he stood down.

During his playing days, O'Neill had developed a highly profitable building businesses along with Rabbitoh teammate Gary Stevens, which by 1977 would prevent him from devoting his attention fully to coaching. In the 1980s, he used the profits from this business to build a home at Lake Conjola.[6]

Death and accolades[edit]

In 1995, after being named in Australia's best rugby league team since the limited tackle rule was introduced, O'Neill was diagnosed with cancer. He fought a long battle, but died on 9 August 1999 at the age of 56. It is estimated that 4,000 people attended his funeral, showing the respect in which he was held.

In 1990, O'Neill was named in the front row for Manly in their best team from 1947-1990. Later in 2006 he was named in the front row for Manly's 60th anniversary Dream Team.

In 2004 he was named by Souths in their South Sydney Dream Team,[7] consisting of 17 players and a coach representing the club from 1908 through to 2004.In February 2008, O'Neill was named in the list of Australia's 100 Greatest Players (1908–2007) which was commissioned by the NRL and ARL to celebrate the code's centenary year in Australia.[8][9]


  1. ^ RL stats Archived 6 June 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ RLP
  3. ^ Yesterdays Hero Archived 7 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ Rugby League Project Coaches
  5. ^ ARL Annual Report 2005, page 55
  6. ^ Whitticker, Alan; Glory Days: the Story of South Sydney's Golden Era, p. 280 ISBN 9781742571386
  7. ^ South Sydney Dream Team Archived 14 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine. from the official South Sydney website.
  8. ^ Peter Cassidy (2008-02-23). "Controversy reigns as NRL releases top 100 players". Macquarie National News. Archived from the original on 25 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-23.
  9. ^ "Centenary of Rugby League – The Players". NRL & ARL. 2008-02-23. Archived from the original on 26 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-23.

External links[edit]