Four prominent men within the Illawarra rugby league community passed away recently.
The four men were Brian Hodges (passed away 30 June), Bruce Smith (30 June), John Neden (1 July) and Peter Thompson (2 July). The Men of League Foundation extends it sympathy to all family and friends.
BRIAN HODGES Born 14 March 1930 – Passed Away 30 June 2018.
Brian was born in Sydney and played junior football in the Eastern Suburbs area and then played a couple of seasons with the Roosters minor grades. He then moved to Captains Flat for work around 1951. Next he and his family moved to the Illawarra region and settled at Berkeley in 1961. Not long after he arrived at Berkeley, Brian and a few others, worked to establish a local junior rugby league team.
For around 50 years, Brian gave countless hours to rugby league. He is a Life Member of both the Berkeley senior and junior rugby league clubs, as well as the Berkeley Sports and Social club and the Illawarra Rugby League. He was also on the steering committee which saw the Illawarra Steelers admitted to first grade in 1982.
JOHN NEDEN Born 7 August 1943 – Passed Away 1 July 2018.
John was born at Wollongong and from an early age he was a talented Rugby League and cricket player. He came into grade with the Wollongong rugby league club in 1962 and soon cemented a placed as a rugged front rower in the first grade side.
In the 1965 Illawarra Grand Final at the Wollongong Showground on 19 September, he played strongly in the tight 6-4 loss to Port Kembla. This was a tough and tryless match. A good fast bowling all rounder with the Wollongong cricket club, he played many first grade games and in his early thirties, captained the club’s second grade side to the 1975/76 Illawarra Premiership.
BRUCE SMITH Born 24 December 1926 – Passed Away 30 June 2018.
A Thirroul junior, Bruce was a member of the 1943 Thirroul reserve grade Illawarra premiership winning team at 16 years of age. He made his first grade debut in 1945 and quickly established himself as one of the best second rowers on the South Coast. At 20 years of age in 1947, he joined Sydney club Balmain and in two seasons with the Tigers, he played six first grade games. Balmain were very strong in 1947 and 1948, winning the Premiership in 1947 and being beaten 8-5 by Wests in the 1948 Grand Final. Because of this strength, it was hard for a young forward to break into the top grade and so he returned to Thirroul in 1949.
The next year he was selected for Country Seconds and captained the Southern Division team in their 18-11 win over Great Britain at Wollongong Showground on 19 July 1950. On 15 July 1951, he again was the Southern Division captain, this time in the 24-13 loss to France. At the Sydney Cricket Ground on 17 May 1952, he landed three goals for Country firsts in their unlucky 23-21 loss to City firsts.
In 1953, he had one season with Maitland in the Newcastle competition, but returned to Thirroul in 1954 and continued with the Butchers until an early season knee injury at training forced him to retire. He finished with well over 100 first grade games for Thirroul and 441 points. He was a key member of the Butchers 1954 first grade Illawarra Premiership winning team. Bruce played all 17 first grade games in 1954, finishing with 126 points from two tries and 60 goals.
PETER THOMPSON Born 2 August 1949 – Passed Away 2 July 2018.
Born in Sydney, Peter moved to Griffith with his family when he was four years of age. He was an outstanding sportsman from an early age excelling at cricket, cross country running, soccer and Rugby League from his high school years. In 1966 he was a prominent player in the Griffith high school team which won the prestigious University Shield.
He joined the local Griffith Waratahs in 1967 under Rhodesian-born (now Zimbabwe) coach, Fred Griffiths, who soon promoted him to first grade as a winger. The Waratahs won the Group 9/20 premiership in 1967 and Peter, now a back row forward, won another premiership with the Waratahs in 1969 under captain/coach, Bob Lanigan. In June 1970 he represented Riverina in the tight 11-9 loss to Great Britain at Wagga.
Peter mover to Wollongong in 1971 and signed with the Collegians club. During his first season in the Wollongong competition, he was a member of the 1971 representative team, which won Illawarra’s first Country Championship. He played four seasons with Collegians and in 1973, had an outstanding season, winning the Illawarra Player of the Year award, representing Illawarra and finishing with 23 tries for the season. He stunned Illawarra Rugby League fans in that 1973 season by scoring nine tries for Collegians in the easy first grade win over Northern Suburbs.
In 1975 and 1976, he played with the Queanbeyan Blues then returned to the Illawarra competition for one season with the Western Suburbs club in 1977. Later in his life, Peter lost both his legs. In December 2010 it was his left leg and then in 2013, because of blood flow problems, his right leg was removed. The Men of League Foundation obtained a mobility scooter for him and modified his van by putting in a lift, which enabled the scooter to be transported.