18 April 2021

Nosa's Underdogs: How Balmain defied Souths in '69

BY IAN HEADS

The revisiting of this story is a reminder of a legendary SCG occasion of long ago in the distant recall of a famous match between two teams – Balmain and Souths – whose rivalry as NSWRL foundation clubs reached all the way back to the year that rugby league had its beginning in Australia in 1908 and laid down an ongoing squabble and a platform of rivalry that would continue through the years. This being further escalated with an angry disagreement between the clubs in 1909 and has, in varying degrees, sustained through the years forever more.

The Balmain Tigers and the South Sydney Rabbitohs Sydney Cricket Ground and Rugby League occasion – is revisited here in special memory of a famous day – and of the hero of that long-ago afternoon of 1969 – the Balmain coach, Leo ‘Nosa’ Nosworthy who died recently aged 93 at the end of a long and fruitful life. 

Nosa’s team of underestimated Balmain Tigers won, against the odds, the memorable Balmain v South Sydney Grand final of 1969 at the SCG 52 years ago, this year. A famous day. A day on which the underdogs, steered, by their coach, a quiet man known simply as Nosa famously out-thought and outplayed the favourites Souths a team of stars – featuring in their line-up champions of their time such as Ron Coote, Bob McCarthy, Elwyn Walters, John Sattler (captain) and the great goal-kicker Eric Simms. South Sydney’s coach was rugby league hero and legend Clive Churchill. Balmain Tigers stole the trophy away from the defending champions with a never say die approach and determination and belief in the coach and his game plan.

To this day, the deciding battle of 1969 ranks as one of the most dramatic of ‘against-the-odds’ Grand Final contests.

At its heart was `Nosa’ – a tough, plain-spoken leader as coach in the manner of other men who were already or would be who become the outstanding coaches of the ongoing rugby league story – the likes of Norm Provan, Harry Bath, Jack Gibson, Keith Barnes, Ian Walsh, Jack Rayner and Terry Fearnley heading along the pathway to league’s next generation - and all the way to today’s impressive crop. Coaches who brought out the very best in the players they guided.

Today the rugby league world remembers the coaching hero of 1969 Leo Nosworthy as the boy from Balmain who became an outstanding contributor in not just one, but two of NSW rugby league’s major centres – in both Sydney, and the bush.  

A tough waterside worker raised in Sydney, and a footballer of quality he became known in Balmain for his ability as a talented footballer – and also as a streetfighter in hard times through a particularly tough era.

Nosa took the big step of his career in his decisive move from Sydney to begin what became an outstanding coaching and playing adventure far away with its beginnings in the boots-and-all arena of NSW Country Rugby League. Out west he created history within the territory of bush league notably with Dubbo and Narromine Clubs, where his playing and leadership achievements took on legendary status.

History recalls a silent, painful truth in the story of Leo Nosworthy in his playing days that as an outstanding player in the ‘50s he was given the quiet ‘word’ that he was in line for a place on the Kangaroo Grand Tour to England and France in 1952-53.

It never happened. The decision to leave him out of the squad seeming got tangled up in rugby league ‘politics – arriving at a time when there was a strong Catholics v Masons divide in the rugby league world.

Instead of England Nosa headed west to begin great years in the fierce arena of NSW country football before his return to successful days with the club of his heart – Balmain in Sydney

The recent death of Leo ‘Nosa’ Nosworthy at 93, recalled for those how knew him memories of a quiet man who was both an exceptional footballer and a tough and inspirational coach who was one of the greatest of rugby league coaches of his era.