Icon Norm finally returning to grand final week
TWELVE months, ago, almost to the day, I wrote that one of the most iconic figures in our game, Norm Provan, was to retire from public life - so to speak.
Big Norm, or Sticks to those who knew him when he played, has been unwell for some time. As a result of a fall in June two years ago, he suffered a form of quadriplegia and his mobility has been severely curtailed.
His health did not permit him to make it to the end-of-season social festivities in 2014, but he did attend the Dally M awards night last year, helping his little mate Arthur Summons present the Summons-Provan Medal to the player voted by the public as the most popular in the game.
However he wasn't at the grand final, and for the second time in 22 years could not help Summons hand over the premiership trophy named in their honour. And he said that unless he made a remarkable recovery, that would be it - his long association with the game, in public, would be over.
But while that recovery has probably not reached the remarkable stage and he is still rather unstable on his feet, his general health is much improved. Big Norm now tips the scales at a ripping 85kg and the colour that had drained from his battered body has duly returned.
In fact, such has been his comeback from the fall where he struck his head on a concrete path, that his decision to 'retire' from public appearances has been reversed. And thanks to the generosity of the NRL, Norm will attend Wednesday's Dally M awards night and stay over in Sydney for the grand final on Sunday.
For those not familiar with his history, Norm Provan is one of the most highly regarded players and coaches of all time, and an ornament to the game on and off the field. He played in 10 of the record 11 successive premierships won by St George from 1956 to 1966, and was captain-coach in four.
That outstanding record is exemplified by his history in finals matches - he won 20 from 25 for an 80% winning record. The significance of that figure is appreciated when compared to current-day giants of the game, Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston. Smith has won 19 finals games from 28 appearances (63%) and Thurston 11 from 20 (56%).
Big Norm also has a very special interest in Sunday's decider - he was coach of the Sharks when they were beaten in the historic grand final of 1978. Following an 11-all draw the first time, the replay three days later was won by the Sea Eagles 16-nil.
Still distraught by that result, the big man wants to be on hand to see a premiership go to the shire - finally.