The rugby league community is paying tribute to South Sydney’s four-time premiership captain John Sattler, who has died. He was aged 80.

Sattler is regarded as one of the greats of the game, having famously led the Rabbitohs to victory in the 1970 grand final against Manly after suffering a broken jaw during the opening stages of the match.

He captained the Rabbitohs to four premierships between 1967 and 1971.

Sattler played four Tests for Australia and represented both New South Wales and Queensland at the interstate level.

He was named as one of Australia’s greatest 100 players in 2008, the same year he was inducted as a member of the NRL Hall of Fame.

His son Scott — a premiership-winning rugby league player in his own right — revealed in June 2021 that his father had been battling dementia since early 2020.

“If anyone is to epitomise the true spirit of the South Sydney Rabbitohs, it is John Sattler,” South Sydney chair Nicholas Pappas said in a statement.

“He bled red and green. He would do anything for his teammates. He never took a backwards step. He always led from the front.”

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Mr Pappas said Sattler was adored by Rabbitohs teammates and fans.

“He was loved by everyone connected with the Rabbitohs, whether it be one of his former teammates who he led to premiership glory or the man in the street who loved South Sydney just as much as he did,” he said.

“He was tough and brave but fair, uncompromising on the field and empathetic off it, and he truly epitomised everything that we want the Rabbitohs to be.

“His favourite saying was ‘I play to win — everyone knows that’. There is nothing more ‘South Sydney Rabbitohs’ than that.

“He always held the Rabbitohs dear to his heart and everyone here at the Rabbitohs always held ‘Satts’ dear to ours.

“Our deepest and most sincere condolences go out to his son Scott and the entire Sattler family, his former teammates, and all of his friends that he has touched over the years.

“Rest in peace, ‘Satts’.”

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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who is a lifelong Rabbitohs supporter, said watching Sattler play was a “privilege”.

“John Sattler was a legendary player who was tough on the field but a true gentleman off it,” he tweeted.

‘A legend of the game’

Bob McCarthy, George Piggins and John Sattler pose for a photo in the changing rooms of the SCG in 2014.
Sattler (right) pictured with fellow South Sydney greats Bob McCarthy (left) and George Piggins in 2014.(Getty Images: Renee McKay)

Australian Rugby League Commission chair Peter V’landys said Sattler would be remembered as one of the game’s toughest players.

“John was a legend of the game,” Mr V’landys said in a statement.

“The tales of his toughness were quite extraordinary, but they were also at odds with his nature off the field. He was a true gentleman.

“Those traits made him such a remarkable and celebrated leader. He captained his club South Sydney as well as his country on three occasions.”

Sattler – who played 197 matches for the Rabbitohs between 1963 and 1972 — will long be remembered for his courageous performance in the 1970 grand final.

Rival Manly forward John Bucknall punched Sattler and broke his jaw early in the match, but the Rabbitohs prop played through the injury and helped secure a famous 23-12 victory.

A photograph of Sattler with his bloodied jaw on his teammates’ shoulders has become one of rugby league’s most iconic images.

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After being punched by Bucknall, Sattler’s response was to ask teammates to hold him up so it was not obvious he was hurt.

“He tried to say something to me, but all I saw was a basement of four teeth, and you just knew that he had broken his jaw,” Rabbitohs teammate Bob McCarthy recalled in 2018.

“He was talking too, so it must have been killing, and he was getting smacked after as well.

“He was a tough man, that Johnny Sattler.”

A product of the Newcastle region, Sattler knocked back several contracts in Sydney before agreeing to join the Rabbitohs — the club his father supported — in 1963.

He stayed there until he retired from the NSWRL in 1972 and continued to have a close bond with the Rabbitohs until his death.

The Rabbitohs will pay tribute to Sattler in Saturday night’s NRL match against the Sea Eagles at Stadium Australia.