Nick Yakich – Who possessed speed and agility not seen today

Any long-time supporter of rugby league will certainly recall the name Nick Yakich and the lightning speed he showed during his rugby league career with Manly Warringah, NSW and Australian Representative Team during 1960-1966, when the game was fast and certainly ferocious. Northern Sydney Wellbeing Officers Norm Pounder, Fred Jackson and Ken Vessey recently had the pleasure of meeting Nick, a pleasant and modest man, at his Warriewood residence to recall those playing days.

Nick told us he was the son of a Croatian immigrant who stowed away on a ship to Perth in the 1920s who then moved to Innisfail, Queensland in the 1940s where Nick was born. After moving to Sydney, he attended Marist Brothers, Mosman with his brother Fred (also another winger who played for Manly Warringah 1st grade in 1963-1966) and future rugby league star winger Ken Irvine; we all commented, “Just imagine trying to keep up with those flyers in a game”. After completing High School, Nick and his brother Fred attended Newcastle Teachers College and upon graduation he was posted to Harbord Primary School right in the Manly Warringah heartland. He later taught Special Education Groups at Pittwater High School, Mona Vale.

Nick trialled with Manly Warringah RL Club at the instigation of his cricket teammate and Manly junior, Frank Stanton and he was graded with the Club as a winger in 1960, where he went on to play 75 1st grade games – scoring 52 tries and is the Club’s 132nd 1st grade player. He represented NSW in 3 games in 1965 before touring with the 1965 Australian Rugby League team to New Zealand, where he was the team’s leading try scorer with 6 tries but could not displace the Test wingers Ken Irvine and Michael Cleary. 

In 1966, he badly injured his knee, requiring surgery. Whilst acting as Captain-Coach at Werris Creek, NSW, he suffered a shoulder injury which forced his retirement from the game. During his playing career, he competed against skilled flying wingers including Ken Irvine, Michael Cleary, John King and Eddie Lumsden to name a few. We all got great pleasure as we shared with him a selection of pages from the old match day Rugby League Programmes from the 1960s, listing him in the teams.

Apart from rugby league, he had an excellent reputation as a beach sprinter with the Warriewood SLS Club and then the North Narrabeen SLS Club where he won 6 Australian Beach Sprint Championships. He was a sprinting protégé of the great Johnny Bliss, former Manly Warringah, NSW and Australian winger, who won 12 Australian Beach Sprint Championships. Nick told us he was the first beach sprinter to beat Johnny Bliss in a semi-final but Johnny had his measure in the final.

When asked who the best player he played against was, he promptly replied, “The late Reg Gasnier because he had so much speed but his big stride stood him apart from us other speedsters”. 

Nick with his loving wife Beverley have three sons, one daughter and six grandchildren and he really enjoys his family activities. His great love, prior to suffering three strokes in recent years, was fishing and prawning off the rocks, beach and Narrabeen Lakes but he now settles for a few games of bowls.

As recognition of his great contribution to the game of rugby league and the entertainment he brought thousands of rugby league fans back in the 1960s, we presented Nick with a polo shirt and wished him a continued recovery to good health. Nick thanked us for our visit, gifts and wished the Men of League continued growth and success.

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