Monday 18 December 2017 / 04:47 AM

BOOK REVIEW: NEVER BEFORE, NEVER AGAIN

For the genuine rugby league history buff, there’s a handful of essential texts.

True Blue by Ian Heads, and its follow-up, A Centenary of Rugby League 1908-2008 by Heads and David Middleton are the standard-bearers for books detailing the broader history of the game in Australia.

Max and Reet Howell’s The Greatest Game Under the Sun is the seminal history of the game in Queensland, while Kiwis by John Coffey and Bernie Wood is the New Zealand equivalent, albeit on a much larger scale.

Malcolm Andrews’ A-Z of Rugby League and The Encyclopedia of Rugby League Players by Alan Whiticker and Glen Hudson are invaluable and fascinating reference tomes, and Middleton’s Official Rugby League Annual – released every season since 1987 – is a yearly must-buy.

There are also plenty of outstanding books focussing on a club or an era, but the best of the best is unquestionably Larry Writer’s Never Before, Never Again, which details the St George Dragons’ record run of 11 straight premierships from 1956-66 in incredible depth and colour.

Originally published in 1995 to wide acclaim, Never Before, Never Again was recently given a re-release and update via renowned sports author and publisher Geoff Armstrong’s Stoke Hill Press to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the last of those 11 grand final triumphs, making one of the great rugby league books even better.

Writer’s tireless research and extraordinarily revealing interviews bring what many regard as the golden era of Australian rugby league – and by far the most spectacular achievement by any single club – to life.

All the on-field exploits are covered with enthusiasm, but the real intrigue in Never Before, Never Again lies in Writer’s ability to unravel the personalities and characters behind the incomparable Saints, and detail the ups, downs, celebrations and blow-ups.

From the slighted ’56 premiership-winning coach Norm Tipping, to the ruthless captain-coach Ken Kearney, the even more iron-fisted – and revolutionary – club secretary Frank Facer, the beloved and brutal ‘Captain Blood’ Billy Wilson, the universally admired Norm Provan, and the legends and larrikins such as Raper, Gasnier, Langlands, Walsh and Smith, each Dragons icon is laid bare, their strengths lauded and their shortcomings revealed.

The book is split into two parts, with the first taking a fascinating chronological journey through each of the 11 premiership seasons. The second part profiles the Dragons’ champion players and influential administrators, who provide some of the most enthralling rugby league interviews ever recorded.

This 50th anniversary edition contains new forewords from Saints greats Craig Young and Mark Gasnier, and an epilogue built around a more recent interview Writer conducted with Johnny King and Eddie Lumsden, who provide their insights on the modern game.

The new edition also contains a statistics section and an index, which were missing from the original; if you own and love the 1995 release, you won’t be short-changed by doubling up with the redux.

It’s by no means a book strictly for St George fans or sports history aficionados – love or hate the old or new Saints, Never Before, Never Again is vital reading for all lovers of rugby league.

Get Larry Writer’s Never Before, Never Again at all good bookstores, or via Stoke Hill Press.

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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