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Ray Stehr: Dominant

One of the toughest and most uncompromising front rowers to ever play the game, Ray Stehr was the cornerstone of the Eastern Suburbs' forward pack during the glory days of the 1930s and 1940s through the midst of World War II. 

Faced with plenty of adversity as a child, Stehr's family relocated from Warialda to Sydney as health issues plagued his formative years. In search of a treatment for the developing blood clots in his spine and having spent twelve months in a full-body cast, Stehr's Rugby League career was nearly over before it even had a chance to blossom. 

Growing up in Coogee, Stehr defied the odds and made an immediate impact through the Eastern Suburbs junior grades, making his first-grade debut at just fifteen for Easts after being selected to travel with the side on a mid-week trip to Newcastle. Legend has it that when Club Secretary Johnny Quinlan told him the news, Stehr was playing a game of marbles with schoolmates in a Paddington back street. 

Name; Raymond Ernest Stehr
DOB:  24/01/1913
Club Debut: Round 1, 1929 vs University
Roosters Player No: 190
First-Grade Games for Club: 184
First Grade Points for Club: 56 from 16 tries and 4 goals
Premierships: 5 (1935, 1936, 1937, 1940, 1945)
Representative Career: 1 Match for City Seconds
7 Matches for City Firsts
1 Match for Country Firsts
2 Tour Matches for Sydney
30 Interstate Matches for New South Wales
3 Tour Matches for New South Wales
11 Tests for Australia
42 Tour Matches for Australia
Individual Accolades: Premiership Record as Youngster Player to Appear in First Grade (1929)
No.16 Ranked Rugby League Week's Top 100 Players (1992)
Sydney Roosters Centurions (2007)
Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame (2008)
Sydney Roosters Hall of Fame (2012)

The young front-rower would continue his meteoric rise, becoming the youngest-ever debutant after making his competition debut aged 16 and 84 days, a record that still stands to this day. 

After two solid seasons in the top-grade, Stehr etched himself as a permanent member of the line up in 1931 - the same year he made his debut for NSW - and after a brief coaching stint in Mudgee in 1934, he became the catalyst for the Club's success through the mid-1930s as the Red, White and Blue claimed a treble of Premierships in 1935, 1936 and 1937. 

Providing the Easts' sides with the fire and brimstone that they had dreamed of, Stehr's uncompromising and dominant style of play transformed the Club from contenders to Premiers, highlighted by his spectacular try in the 1936 Grand Final, which saw the Tricolours become just the fourth side in history to go through a season undefeated. 

Hall Of Fame | Ray Stehr

Stehr's career wasn't without its fair share of drama though, as the polarising front-rower gained unwanted notoriety when sent off twice during the 1936 Test Series against Great Britain. While he held a reputation as a rough player, he was equally revered as "a man of great personal strength and quality" according to the legendary Frank Hyde.

Eventually, Stehr's leadership would come to the fore, and in 1938 he was appointed as Easts' captain, but with the advent of World War II, Stehr focused his attention on the wartime effort, enlisting in the AIF in 1939 and retiring from the code. 

Stationed in Darwin, Warrant Officer R Stehr was kept his Rugby League nous in check as he captained Northern Australia against Central Australia in an exhibition match, while also featuring for the Army Firsts and Fighting Services in his two years of service.

Returning to the Club in one of the great comebacks, Stehr took over as stand-in captain once again for the 1940 Premiership decider as Dave Brown succumbed to injury before the match, giving his troops a Churchillian-like pre-game speech in what was supposed to be his final game. 

"Play as hard as you can," Stehr pleaded to his men. 

"I'm asking you to give me the last ounce...

..."The only thing I'm asking is that no player leaves the field with anything less than a broken arm or leg."

Stehr went on to lead the way for the Red, White and Blue throughout the match, setting the tone with powerful running and bone-crunching hits, providing the inspiration for his men on the way to their 8th Premiership.

Presented with a clock to mark his achievement of playing a total of 204 Club games (through all grades), and despite telling listeners on a radio interview on the day of the 1945 Grand Final victory that 'This will probably be my last game', Stehr backed up his efforts for one final season.

At the conclusion of 1946 - with no second thoughts or regrets - Ray Stehr hung up the boots after a distinguished career which saw him claim 5 Premierships (all for Easts), represent NSW a record 33 times and play 11 Tests for Australia while establishing himself as one of the most dominant front-rowers the game has ever seen.

As captain of Easts I had a strict rule that no-one other than the Club president, the secretary and the masseurs were to be admitted to the players' quarters. This day our doorman Jack Garrard came to me and said Mr Jersey Flegg wanted to come into the dressing room. I told Jack to explain my rule to him. Jack came back a minute later and said, 'He's got the Prime Minister with him and demands to come in.' I told Jack: 'Say that I'd be honoured to meet Mr Fadden later, but our job at the moment is to win the Premiership Final and I won't allow any distractions.' That was that - and we won the match and the title. Immediately it was over 'Jersey' stormed in, white with rage and said to me, 'Stehr, you'll never play on the Cricket Ground again.' I replied: 'Is that so Mr Flegg? You've bought the ground, have you?' I didn't waste any more words on the president, but i sought out Mr Fadden and explained the position to him. He said he understood perfectly, and accepted my invitation to meet the players. I might add that Flegg's threat didn't bear any fruit and I played quite often on the Cricket Ground up to my retirement.

Ray Stehr On his meeting with Prime Minister Andrew Fadden in 1940

Post-career Stehr enjoyed a short stint as a boxer, a head coach at Easts and Manly as well as having a prominent role in sports journalism. His legacy at Easts would continue as Club President and had the distinction of being a commentator for the first-ever live broadcast of an Australian Rugby League match in 1961. 

Never too far removed from the Club he loved, Stehr famously popularised the phrase 'Easts to Win!' which was his famous closing catch-cry while on the radio waves. 

Tough and Uncompromising, a Premiership-winning Captain and Sydney Roosters Hall of Fame Member, Ray Stehr is one of the greatest front-rowers in Easts and Rugby League history.

 

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