(1939 to 2018)
Gert ‘Oupa’ Coetzer was one of the many South African players that graced Belle Vue in the 1960s, staying the longest and having the greatest impact. When he returned home after five and a half seasons he was one of only five players in Trinity’s history to win both Challenge Cup and Championship medals and placed fifth on the club’s all-time try scoring list and his legacy would last in the memory of Trinity fans for the next fifty years
In his native South Africa, Coetzer had played rugby union at a young age, playing at school before his first club, Bloemfontein Railway RUFC, and played for the Orange Free State on forty four occasions, debuting as an eighteen year old. He also earned a Springbok trial in 1959, before turning to rugby league in 1962.
As a young flying winger he played for the Johannesburg Celtic and Bloemfontein Aquilae sides and first came to light playing against the touring Trinity team of 1962. Trinity were ‘spreading the gospel’ with a short six game tour of South Africa and he played in the Aquilae v Trinity clash at Springbok Park in Bloemfontein, in July 1962, Trinity winning 48-9.
South African representatives then contacted Trinity asking about trials for Coetzer who then travelled to England, paying his own way. He arrived in the bad winter of 1963 when all games were postponed for five months but managed to play in an ‘A’ team game at Castleford on 23rd February 1963 the day after he arrived. After just one trial game, he was successful enough to be signed on a five year contract and was selected for his first team debut a few weeks later in a cup tie with Liverpool City.
He scored fourteen tries in twenty one games in the remaining months of the 1962-63 season, scoring a hat trick of tries against Leeds in only his second game, with Neil Fox his inside centre. In only his fourteenth game he was walking out at Wembley and scoring two tries in a 25-10 victory over Wigan, outplaying the great Billy Boston in Trinity’s third Challenge Cup win in four years.
A new Belle Vue hero was born!
He was then selected for the South African tour of Australia and New Zealand but dislocated his shoulder in the second game of the tour, against Monaro, in Canberra; thus only played once on the thirteen game tour. Over the next few years he became a try scoring phenomenon scoring some wonderful tries on the left wing. His shoulder injury hampered him a little with a few operations but his try scoring feats saw him score 29, 17, 19, 22 and 21 over the next five seasons. In the spring of 1964 he scored sixteen tries in eight games with five try hauls against Doncaster and Batley.
A year later he scored another five against Castleford with four interceptions and hat tricks followed against Leeds (1966) and at Hull (1967). He finished his career with 122 tries in 191 appearances with only Neil Fox, Fred Smith, Ernest Bennett and Dennis Boocker ahead of him in Trinity’s history. David Topliss moved into second place in the early 1980s which still leaves ‘Oupa’ in sixth place in the all-time list and one of only thirteen players to score a century of tries for the club.
Further honours came his way in 1965 when he was selected as reserve for Other Nationalities against St.Helens at the opening of the Knowsley Road floodlights, then a Commonwealth XIII against the touring New Zealand side at Crystal Palace. He had won a second winners medal when he was part of Trinity’s Yorkshire Cup winning side in 1964, beating Leeds 18-2 and then a Yorkshire League Championship medal in 1965-66.
Despite his shoulder troubles, Gert was instrumental in Trinity’s Championship winning teams of 1967 and 1968, contributing forty three tries in the two seasons. He was on the wing as Trinity defeated St.Helens in 1967, after a replay, and in the centre position as Trinity retained the Championship in 1968, defeating Hull Kingston Rovers, 17-10. His last game for the club was the 1968 ‘Watersplash’ Cup Final against Leeds, at Wembley.
As the 1968-69 season started he felt his shoulder again in pre-season training and a top specialist advised him to retire as his shoulder was that bad! He left the game, and the city, a champion and he decided to return home with his wife, Laurika, and young son, Derek. Little was known of his whereabouts over the last fifty years until his family advised us of his passing in Pretoria over the weekend
Gert was not just a speed merchant; there were faster wingers in the game, but his determination brought him many tries, and his strong defence was a lesson to others. He was difficult to tackle with his side-stepping skills and he never knew what it meant to be beaten in his quest for tries. Many who saw him still remember him ‘tip-toeing’ down the white line on the left wing on his way to the line, with ‘Oupa, Oupa’ echoing from chants on the terraces.
Fifty years on his memory ‘burns bright’ in the city of Wakefield