Palmyra Rugby Union Club legends share tales from the front

Palmyra’s 1948 premiership-winning front row Geoff Wayman, George Johnson and Jeff Martin.
Palmyra’s 1948 premiership-winning front row Geoff Wayman, George Johnson and Jeff Martin.

PALMYRA rugby legend and 1948 premiership-winning captain George Johnson was among the dozens of club greats who gathered at Tompkins Park to relive their glory days during a special past players function on Saturday.

The 92-year-old World War II veteran and former Palmyra hooker was joined by front row teammates and fellow guests of honour Geoff Wayman and Jeff Martin.

Based in the UK as an Air Force navigator during the war, Johnson flew more than 30 operations over Europe and into Germany before returning to Australia in 1945.

He joined Palmyra on his return and the tale of how Johnson went from captaining the winning team in the 1948 grand final to refereeing the 1949 decider is famous in club circles.

“We were playing a couple of weeks before the grand final and one of our players, Alfie King, had broken the line and was only about 15m from the try line,” Johnson said.

“The fullback couldn’t reach Alfie to make the tackle so he put his foot out and tripped him.

“Instead of awarding a penalty try, the referee pulled the game up and awarded a straight penalty.

“Alfie was a little bit distraught at being tripped and was telling the ref about it when the ref shoved him to get him out of the way. Nobody puts their hands on my players so I went up and dropped him.”

Johnson’s indiscretion resulted in a two week ban – allowing him to return just in time for the grand final against Associates – but he was also issued a challenge by the referee.

“The ref said to me that I didn’t have any character and I would never be capable of doing the job he was doing,” Johnson said.

“I decided to prove him wrong and joined the referees association the following year.”

Johnson turned out to be such a good referee he was selected to blow the whistle in that year’s grand final, a rematch between Palmyra and Associates.

Associates was so impressed by his handling of the game, despite the result being a crushing win to Palmyra, that he was invited to join them for their wind-up drinks.