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Eels legend Thornett dies

AAP logoAAP 17/08/2016 By Scott Bailey

Favourite son Ken Thornett was honoured at the Eels' first game at Parramatta Stadium in 1986 and will now be fondly remembered at their last before the ground is redeveloped.

An inaugural inductee into the Eels Hall of Fame, Thornett died on Tuesday aged 78.

Nicknamed "The Mayor of Parramatta", he played 130 games for the Eels between 1962 and 1971 and made the fullback position his own.

The club are now preparing to pay tribute to him in round 25, their final outing at the ground where the "Ken Thornett Grandstand" has stood since their first match there 30 years ago.

"Ken had an enormous impact on our club and it is with great sadness that we hear of his passing today," Eels interim chairman Max Donnelly said on Wednesday.

"Along with his brother Dick, Ken made the Eels a competitive force during his time, becoming one of the most feared fullbacks in the 1960s and instilling a professionalism that was the forerunner for our success in the 1970s and 80s."

Born into a sporting family, Thornett's older brother John captained the Wallabies 16 times, while his younger brother Dick represented Australia in league, union and water polo.

But few sports stars attracted the kind of cult following Ken did.

Already established as a championship winner with Leeds in English rugby league, Thornett joined the Eels mid-season in 1961, inspiring the team to their first finals appearance.

Parramatta, seemingly on track for the seventh straight wooden spoon, won six of the seven matches Thornett played in his first season and drew the other.

However they lost their last five on his return to England and bowed out of the finals without scoring a point.

He returned to take them to the next three finals series, twice within a game of the decider.

He played the first of his 12 Tests for the Kangaroos in 1963, scoring a match-winning try on debut as Australia went on to claim the Ashes for the first time in 50 years.

Despite this, he remained just as popular in England, after he helped Leeds to their first title in 1961.

Remembered as an elegant runner of the ball with a powerful fend, he also became enshrined in sporting folklore when it was claimed he played his final two seasons in England without making a handling error in 1965 and 1966.

"He was a dangerous attacking player and safe under pressure. It is said English bookies gave up giving odds on when he would drop a ball," the Rhinos said in a statement.

He was named in the official list of Australia's 100 greatest players on the game's centenary in 2008 and the Eels' annual players' player award is named in his honour.

NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg paid tribute to him on Wednesday.

"Ken Thornett is a name which has been revered and will continue to be revered," Greenberg said.

"He will always be part of a very special group the 100 greatest players in the first 100 years of Rugby League in this country. He will be missed."

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