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Vale Russell Renfrey

${customImageCaption} - Geelong Cats

Geelong lost one of its greats over the weekend. Dual premiership player Russell Renfrey passed away watching his beloved Geelong Cats on Saturday.

Affectionately known as ‘Hooker’, in part to the way he kicked the football, Renfrey played 201 games for the Cats, which included the 1951 and 1952 premierships and kicked 165 goals.

It could have been a completely different story for Renfrey, who played his first game of football during the war. Carlton then invited him to play at their club but says ‘they kept kicking the ball over my head’, so he headed over to Geelong where he was straight into the firsts under coach Tom Quinn in 1946.

As explained by Renfrey himself, “As a mature recruit, at age 22, I was ready for senior footy straight away”.

In his first three seasons at senior level, ‘Hooker’ played 53 games and kicked 73 goals, playing mainly as a ruck rover. He led the goal kicking in his first season in 1946 with 28 goals and backed it up with a 33-goal season in 1947, which led to a third placed finish in the Best and Fairest.

Although the creation and rise of the ruck rover has been mainly credited to Melbourne great Ron Barassi after his performance in the 1956 VFL Grand Final, Renfrey was the original in that style of play.

Former Teammate Fred Flanagan previously described Renfrey as the man who introduced ruck-roving.

“Everyone talks about Ron Barassi as the man who introduced ruck-roving but Renfrey was the original. He was playing that strong type of game on the ball years before Barassi,” Flanagan said.

Teammates described Renfrey as a rough diamond. He was always the first to knuckle down when the time came, but never missed out on enjoying a beer or two with his mates.

Renfrey was much loved and respected by teammates, mainly for his down-to-earth humour and genuine approach to life.

He was dependable, taking on any role that the coach would ask. The record will always show that he famously kicked five behinds in a losing 1953 Grand Final side, but he kicked five goals once, replacing Fred Flanagan, who was representing Victoria.

On the other end of the scale, Renfrey was asked to man legendary forward John Coleman in 1952, highlighting his versatility.

He played a key role in the 1951 and 1952 premiership wins, but what is probably the more significant achievement, he was the only player to play in all 26 consecutive unbeaten games between 1952 and 1953. This achievement has stood for more than 60 years.

Renfrey was a clean footballer, seldom dropped and was once reported for wearing his wedding ring on the ground. He would often be called upon by coach Reg Hickey to guide younger players or to toughen them up for what would lay ahead on game day.

Bob Davis once described Russ as ‘the lifeblood of the Geelong Football Club’ during his career.

“…a father figure and undoubtedly the most popular bloke at the club….He was the sparkplug for the whole club, that’s what made it run. You couldn’t have a bus trip without Hooker singing Mona Lisa on the way home”.

Outside of football, he owned a trucking business, which he started in 1947 and the experiences he got from building this business were critical in his development and standing as a player.

He worked 12-hour days to build up the business and would often arrive at training in a tray-truck loaded with bags of cement. The business eventually included 30 trucks and 26 employees and when his two sons joined the business, they became ‘Renfrey and Sons’.

Renfrey played his last game of senior VFL football in 1956 against Hawthorn at his beloved Kardinia Park, a game which Geelong sent him out in style with an 11-point win.

Life after retirement was busy for Hooker. He was a member of the GFC General Committee in 1958, was made a life member of the club in 1953 and inducted into the Club’s Hall of Fame. He was also a Team of the Century nominee in 2001.

Renfrey was a member of the Royal Geelong Yacht Club for many years and has been a member of the Geelong Past Players and Officials committee since 1978. He was Vice-President from 1979 to 1980 and 1988-89, was the number one member in 1987 and President for eight years, between 1990 and 1998.

Renfrey was a Geelong man through and through, and it was fitting that he was watching his beloved Cats in his final moments.

Rest in peace.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs