As is my want, I walk the foreshore of Iluka Bay most mornings and to my surprise saw a man I admire a lot.
Dennis Tutty changed the sporting landscape in such a positive way for all our Rugby League professionals. There he was using the rowing machine at the Iluka Rowing Club. It’s not a sport foreign to him as he would have gone to the Olympics if not for payments’ he received playing Rugby League for Balmain in the 60’s.
He was a NSW representative rower (as was his brother) and won a national title in 1965 at the Kings Cup. How fitting is it, that as newcomer to Iluka, he was in the past, rowing by the statue of Henry Searles who was a world champion and rowed on the Clarence.
Dennis Tutty is the man that fought a lone battle against the Rugby League hierarchy that went all the way to the High Court. He stood out of the game for two years (including the premiership year of 1969) just so he could make his case.
Players take it for granted now that they can simply move from one club to another when their current contract has expired. It wasn’t always like that. In Dennis’ day you were bound to the club where you started as they were entitled to keep you on their ‘retainment list’. They did have the option of letting you move but usually with an exorbitant transfer fee which went to the club not the player.
Dennis started his career when he was graded as a 17-year-old for the Tigers. He actually played in their losing grand final side against the Dragons in 1964.
He went on to play for Australia in a Test match against the Kiwis. Prior to his taking his stand he had won the Balmain Best and Fairest Award for two consecutive years.
He had been told by club officials that if he didn’t play for Balmain, he wouldn’t be playing for anyone. Such rules were based on the 1959 constitution of the English competition which we had adopted. England were the dominant force in those days.
Dennis saw this as completely wrong and against all sense of fair play. He came from a working-class background and saw the worker being exploited. “It wasn’t right. I just wanted to change it” he would later tell journalists. So off he went to the Supreme Court of NSW to challenge the “unreasonable restraint of trade”. He then had to face up to the High Court in Canberra, all this without any support from a Player’s Association and all at his own cost.
I mean you can see his point. Here he was with a sign on fee of $500 while an English test player was lured to the club for a fee of over $10,000. The million-dollar contracts players receive these days are well earned, but players should be thankful to Dennis for making this happen. Personally, I believe every NRL player should have 1% of his contract paid into a scholarship fund to remember and thank Dennis.
Thank goodness the Rugby League Players Association have the Dennis Tutty award named after him. It has been going for ten years now for the player who shows leadership on and off the field; shows commitment to his fellow players in advancing and protecting their rights as well as service and dedication to the game. He did all of that, so long live his memory and welcome to the Lower Clarence, Dennis.