Bill Harrigan targets 'the immobiliser' tackle

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The death on Friday, at 83, of Rex Peers ''The Moose'' Mossop, marked the final crash tackle in the story of one of the great characters of the twin centuries of the two rugby codes in Australia.

A high-achieving dual international, Mossop was a nut of the toughest texture and - on Friday's announcement - there came instant recall of the reaction of an American sporting scribe to news of the death of boxer Stanley Ketchel: "Start the count … he'll get up!"
Love him or hate him - and there were plenty on both sides of that fence - Rex Mossop left an indelible mark as he trampled his bruising, often bombastic way through unrelentingly rough and tough years in both codes. The Moose was a man of action and strong opinions, and the second quality carried him to the very pinnacle of his profession in his second life as a pioneering rugby league and sports broadcaster with Sydney's Channel 7 - a role in which his occasional, inspired, mangling of the language added greater fame.
In his playing days, the meaty Mossop's fists flew fast and often. The history books tell of legendary send-offs including: in 1951 being the first NSW rugby player sent off in an interstate match in 20 years; marched again in a brutal match against the Great Britain rugby league side in 1958; and then again in the 1959 Manly v St George grand final when he and the Saints' Harry Bath fought furiously in the middle of the SCG, rekindling a feud started years before in England's north.
Yet for all of the wildness, the Moose had a subtle side to his football skills. The memory endures of a strong, mobile forward, his sleeves characteristically rolled up, dealing out sweet passes to his supports.
The nickname ''Moose'' dated to his early playing days with the Manly rugby side. In 1991, he explained to biographer Larry Writer that "I copped the nickname because of the characteristic way I would lower my head and charge, arms and legs flying into rucks like a wounded moose". An early nickname had been the incongruous "Blossom". Mossop's top-level playing career started with Manly in 1944, when he was only 16. A second-rower, he became a Wallaby in 1949 for the tour of New Zealand, and went on to play five Tests for Australia. Mossop switched to rugby league in 1951, joining English club Leigh, for whom he played 136 games.
In late 1954 he sailed home to link up with the outfit that would become the club of his heart, the Manly Seagulls. Emotionally and physically, he never really left Manly (later the Sea Eagles), although he finally pulled the pin on his career as a player in early 1964, when he was 36. By then he had played about 500 games in the two rugby codes. In his time with Manly he was chosen as vice-captain of the 1959 Kangaroos, and in the World Cup team of 1960. In all he played nine Tests.
In May 1964, Mossop made his first appearance before the television cameras, having thrown in his job as a car salesman, and taken a punt with Channel 7. He would go on to become the voice, the face - the very sound - of rugby league through his match calls and his Sunday morning programs Sports Action, which segued into Sports World, featuring such tidbits as the passing competition, Controversy Corner, featuring Rex and a scrum of league mates discussing ''pertinent league matters'', and a veritable cascade of gifts for guests such as Meapro Ham and Patra Orange Juice - and maybe even a voucher for a session in the Viking Sauna.
As vigorous with his words as he was on the football field, Mossop attracted the attention of admired playwright Alex Buzo for his mauling of the language. Buzo brought the word ''tautology'' into the rugby league lexicon as he monitored Rex annually, listing the classics: "The tiny, diminutive little Mark Shulman", ''a verbal tongue-lashing", "a player favouring a groin injury, at the top of his leg" and all the rest.
Rex pleaded guilty to giving the language a work-over now and then, and ploughed on - to the delight of all. Mossop was never far from the headlines, and Sydneysiders chortled one day in 1976 at the news of his citizen's arrest of a nude bather at Reef Beach, near his home. In his TV career he reigned supreme with Seven, tackling a radio career when the channel lost the league rights in 1983, then joining TEN in 1986 - to once again call the football.
In the rough water of the arrival of younger commentators and changing times, the Moose was finally eased out in 1991. Bruised by the experience, he probably never forgave the channel. He headed on, loving Manly as deeply as ever, hitting the headlines now and then, working hard on his fitness as he had throughout his life until his decline in recent months. Rex Mossop will be remembered in different ways and with very mixed views.
Notorious for his parsimony ("he's not a bloke to splash his money around," says Noel ''Ned'' Kelly) he probably made as many enemies as friends along the track of his life. In the preface he wrote for The Moose that Roared, Kelly called him ''the ultimate Australian Tall Poppy''. He added: "I reckon a lot of people have got him wrong. He can be abrasive, doesn't suffer fools gladly … but he's the sort of man that, if you were ever in any trouble, you'd turn to the Moose first. He mightn't give you any money - but he'd certainly help you out.''
When the full-time hooter sounded for the Moose, it brought down the curtain on an action-packed life full of, if you'll pardon a final tautology, forward progress.
Mossop is survived by his wife, Joan, and sons Greg and Kirk.
Read more:
Moose that roared leaves a sad silence

Jim O'Rourke 

Calling it like it was ... dual international footballer and rugby league commentator Rex Mossop has died in Sydney. Photo: David Trood

''TOO many Australian men are pathetic specimens: short of wind, flabby, beer-gutted and most of them, too weak to knock a sick girl off a toilet.''
Rex Mossop's opinion on the state of Aussie manhood in 1991 summed up the take-no-prisoners personality of the football legend who died yesterday. He was 83.
The tough second-rower who played rugby league and rugby union for Manly and Australia was never afraid to speak his mind - as blunt in his views as he was fearless on the field. He told The Sun-Herald in 1992 : ''I've got an opinion on every conceivable thing. Like it or lump it.''

Rex Mossop playing for Manly against Wests, 1959. Photo: Harry Martin

While his opinions on women - ''A brainy woman is a dangerous woman'' - and where homosexuals fitted into the scheme of things - ''I'm not homophobic,
I just don't want anything to do with them'' - put many people offside, Mossop had a massive following in the football world.
He may have ruffled polite society's feathers, but he pioneered television coverage of rugby league. Hired to front a 30-minute sports show after he retired from league in 1963, Mossop convinced Channel Seven executives that league would boost the ratings. He was right.

With actors John Meillon and John Ewart.

He went on to commentate for channels Seven and Ten for more than 20 years. The Sunday night replays of the match-of-the-round were compulsory viewing for generations of league fans. He was the first commentator for the State of Origin series in 1980.
His Sunday morning sports program, where he introduced the Controversy Corner panel and the Pass-the-Ball competition, attracted cult followings.
But Mossop had his critics. His ability to mangle the language and stumble over the names of players became, perhaps unfairly, fodder for comedians and media opinion writers.

Jogging in Manly in 1986. Photo: Ian Cugley

Famous for his tautologies, phrases such as ''the referee's giving him a verbal tongue lashing'' and ''he is running sideways across the field, without making forward progress'', are part of the Australian lexicon.
In one exchange with his friend and ''sideline eye'' commentator Barry Ross, Mossop opined on the background of a player: ''Chris di Leva, he's of Italian extraction, I believe.''
''He's actually from Wollongong, Rex,'' Ross deadpanned.

Rex Mossop in 2007. Photo: Craig Golding

In 1983 Mossop suffered a minor stroke. He kept the news hidden, but later said it did have an effect on his commentary, leading to verbal slip-ups and minor memory loss.
Mossop, who had Alzheimer's disease, was admitted to Royal North Shore Hospital in March. He was later admitted to Windsong Nursing Home in Manly Vale. His condition is understood to have deteriorated in the past week. He was surrounded by family and friends when he died at 8am yesterday.
On Thursday league greats Johnny Raper and Noel Kelly, with Mossop's friend Barry Ross visited him to say their goodbyes.
The Channel Nine commentator Ray Warren, who worked with Mossop briefly in the 1990s, said: ''He did it his way. He was the Frank Sinatra really. 'It was my way or the highway.' ''
The NRL chief executive, David Gallop, described him as a giant character in the game.
''Rex's sense of showmanship is something that will always be remembered and his contribution to bringing rugby league to television audiences can never be understated. Rugby league remains the ultimate television sport and the character of broadcasters like Rex as they opened the game to new audiences was a big part of that success.''
Channel Seven used Mossop's star power to attract a female audience. He hosted the panel talk show Beauty and the Beast for two years from 1970.
Mossop was never far from the headlines. In 1976 he made a citizen's arrest of a nudist he said was strolling through his garden at the family's Balgowlah home. The man was on his way back from visiting nearby Reef Beach. Mossop pounced as the man was putting on his trousers in a car.
When a spectator made a smart remark during a game, Mossop grabbed him by the hair, continued commentating and gave him a few backhanders with his free hand.
There were, however, dark moments in Mossop's life.
In 1987 his son Kirk was sentenced to 12 months' jail for stealing a chequebook from his father and forging cheques worth more than $3000 to buy heroin. In 1981 his son Greg was fined $800 for possessing cocaine.
The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles said Mossop, who attended every home game until he became unwell, would be sadly missed. ''He was an icon of our club, he was out first dual international player and he was larger than life,'' media manager and former player Peter Peters said.

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