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The Kelly Tales: Tough days with 'Ned'

WARRIOR: Noel Kelly gets patched up ready for battle again.
WARRIOR: Noel Kelly gets patched up ready for battle again. Contributed

GOODNA league legend Noel Kelly knows how to tell a cracking yarn about his rough and tumble playing days.

That is what makes the former Australian hooker perfect subject matter for South Sydney great John Sattler to tell some terrific tales about him in his autobiography Glory, Glory.

Sattler's stories about Kelly, nicknamed 'Ned' for obvious reasons, reveal why he is still regarded to this day as one of the toughest men to have played the game.

Sattler's book was written with leading rugby league journalist Peter Badel and harks back to a memorable Kangaroo tour of 1967-68.

Kelly, who played 111 games for Western Suburbs and 25 Tests for Australia, was the wily old veteran and Sattler the new kid on the block at the time.

"I roomed with him on the Kangaroo Tour of 1967-68 when he was the elder statesman of the squad on his third trip and I was a touring greenhorn," Sattler recalls in his book.

"Naturally, he became like a father figure.

"His longevity and commitment earned him great respect. He was the sort of bloke who would play three games in five days on a tour and, when other players complained of being injured or sore, Ned would saddle up every time.

"As a teammate, you loved him because he had everyone's back.

"In one tour game, I copped a high shot from a British forward and Ned promised to square up for me.

"At the next scrum, he went bang and knocked the bloke cold. I said: 'Geez Ned, you don't muck around'.

"He looked at me with that trademark cheeky grin and said: 'It's OK Satts, he's only a f****** Pom'."

The QT caught up with Kelly about the incident this week and the 78-year-old recalled the incident as though it was yesterday.

"This bloke put one on Satts, but mind you Satts was quite good at squaring up for himself," Kelly grins.

"I think he was trying to keep his spot in the team and didn't want to do anything outlandish in one of his first games, so I took over.

"But he would have done the same thing for me."

Kelly, Sattler and Peter Gallagher were roomies on the tour. Their room soon became notorious for fun times and was tagged Boys Town.

"The three of us were in this big room in the pub, and you had to get permission to come into our room," Kelly recalls.

"Front-rowers don't like wingers, so wingers weren't allowed to come in.

"We'd knock off grog from the turnouts we'd go to after games, because none of us was too flush with money in those days, and we'd take it back and put it on an outdoor veranda attached to our room.

"It was our refrigerator, because it was freezing cold outside.

"So everybody had to come down to Boys Town to get a drink ... except for the wingers."

Sattler talks about Boys Town in his book, and recalls how Kelly had his own pet name for the "bar", and was a practical joker par excellence.

"As he admired the alcohol gathering outside, Ned re-named the balcony Kelly's Cabaret," Sattler says.

"Each morning, it was the task of the duty boys to open our doors to wake the players for a 6am run on the moors.

"Ever the prankster, Ned placed a bucket of ice-cold water above our door to greet the duty boys for our wake-up call. Not surprisingly, they never returned."

Noel Kelly (left) at a Men of League function with Ivan Jones.
Noel Kelly (left) at a Men of League function with Ivan Jones. Contributed

Kelly's penchant for a good stir came to the fore when Sattler's wife Barbara was about to have a baby girl back in Australia.

"His wife was pregnant while he was away and Satts was harping on all the time, 'My girl is having a baby' and all this stuff. We'd go, 'Yeah, yeah ... righto, righto'," Kelly says.

"Satts' daughter (Lisa) was born and they sent over a photo and he was that chuffed. He said, 'Have a look at this. The most beautiful baby ever'.

"I said, 'Give us a look at that'. Then I said, 'Satts, this is the ugliest kid I have seen'.

"She wasn't ugly at all. We were just baiting him.

"But he didn't speak to me for three weeks."

The team was in France at the time, but Sattler reveals in his book that there is more to the story.

Kelly's comments soon led to the pair having a rumble.

"Red mist descending, I flew into my classic Sattler rage, tackling Ned to the ground," Sattler says.

"In the foyer of our French hotel, there we were, two Kangaroos teammates, brawling over a picture of a newborn baby.

"Within seconds, I caught Ned's cheeky grin. He was only joking. I apologised. Ned gave me a slight uppercut and we sat on the floor, pissing ourselves laughing.

"It was that kind of tour - full of colour, chaos, controversy and confusion at every turn."

Sattler has the utmost respect for Kelly as a man and a footballer and, in his book, names him in his ultimate dream team at hooker.

"If there was a bloke you would want beside you in the trenches, it was 'Ned' Kelly," Sattler says.

"Not many hookers today could also handle life as a prop but Noel would handle both roles interchangeably depending on his team's requirements.

Noel Kelly in his Australian gear.
Noel Kelly in his Australian gear. Contributed

"He was not overly skilful but opponents genuinely feared him. Not too many ball-runners wanted to bash it up the middle when Ned was patrolling the rucks for Western Suburbs or Australia.

"Ned was never politically correct but he was a fine con artist. He was the master of fooling referees.

"As an opponent, he would belt you to the ground and, when the referee arrived to check on the victim, he would be helping you up like a Meals on Wheels volunteer.

"He wasn't a ball-playing hooker in the creative sense but he was excellent at winning the ball in scrums, an art no longer required today."

Kelly is a favourite son of Goodna, where there is a street named after him called Noel Kelly Drive.

The QT was at a recent Goodna Eagles match when old-timer Keiron Butler recalled a function that Kelly and Sattler attended at the club back in the 1980s.

Butler laughed when he recalled how it took Sattler four days to get home after Kelly took him on a tour of local drinking holes.

"Anything could happen in those times. It was a great friendship I had with Satts, and it still is," Kelly grins.

"I would expect Satts to write a good book. He had an eventful life and didn't mind putting a bit of a stink on blokes.

"He was rough and tough, a real good forward. He was right up there with any of the front-rowers I played with ... and I played with a few."

John Sattler's book Glory, Glory can be purchased at johnsattlerbook.com

Topics:  kangaroos (rugby league) noel kelly opinion qt big read



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