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The 75 series: John O’Neill

With the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles celebrating its 75th year in 2021, we take a look at some of the greatest players to wear the maroon and white jersey.

Today's feature in the '75 series' is on John O'Neill, one of the toughest forwards to ever play for the Sea Eagles.

John O'Neill (#211)

John O'Neill played in nine grand finals, winning premierships with Souths before transforming Manly from bridesmaids to champions. O'Neill, a tough, rugged prop forward from Gunnedah, joined the Rabbitohs in 1965, to become part of a famous forward pack that also included John Sattler, Elwyn Walters, Ron Coote and Bob McCarthy. He became renowned for his barging runs and brick-wall defence.

In the famous 1970 grand final, O'Neill was even more punishing after Sattler suffered a fractured jaw and his performance that day ensured his selection in the 1970 World Cup squad.

John O'Neill - Sea Eagle 211

In the final of that tournament, O'Neill dished out plenty of punishment in the first half, and was the target for retribution in the second.

Afterwards, he was battered, his shin split to the bone, but all he could talk about was how Billy Smith had played on with a badly gashed leg.

O'Neill was a force in Manly's initial first-grade grand final win, a 19–14 victory over Easts in 1972, and staged a running battle with his opposite number, Englishman Cliff Watson, when the Sea Eagles beat Cronulla 10–7 a year later.

These displays helped earn him a place in the 1973 Kangaroos squad, and he made his Test debut on that tour.

The following season, he was a key player in the Australian team that won the Ashes-deciding third Test.

I regarded O’Neill as a man of great character and great courage, and I realized he was the sort of forward Manly needed up front

Ken Arthurson The 'Godfather of Manly'