Rugby League

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Missed Keato provided buzz for Wests

Bill Keato, the diminutive Western Suburbs fullback who has died aged 93, won more matches for the Magpies than any other player.

A prodigious goalkicker, Keato booted what were called ''flag waggers'' from the sideline and halfway, often in the mud and against the wind, in the 1938-to-1950 era, when goals, rather than tries, decided games.

In 1947, in Manly's debut game at Brookvale, the Sea Eagles scored three tries to Wests' one, but Keato kicked six goals and the Magpies won by a point.

''Bill started it and we've been causing them trouble ever since,'' former Wests secretary Ray Bernasconi said in reference to the Fibro-Silvertail feud.

Keato died on Monday, the last member of Wests' 1948 premiership team that beat Balmain, today's NRL joint venture partner.

A resident of Liverpool, then part of Wests territory, Keato was selected for Wests after playing only one junior game. He soon attracted attention when he sidelined rugby league's best player, Easts' Dave Brown, for two months with a scything tackle that broke the centre's collarbone.


He was nicknamed ''Amos'' because, when joined with Keato, it formed ''a mosquito''. He aptly buzzed about the backfield, refusing to tackle high like the other ''flying headlock specialists'', felling the big men as if they had been struck with malaria.

His surname was also invented in the same phonetic manner.

Bill's grandfather, Samuel, was a Chinese orphan who arrived in Australia aged 14 from Shanghai.

When the Customs officer asked Samuel his surname, he responded in Cantonese, ''Yes, that's right'', which, according to family folklore, came out sounding like ''Keato''.

So he became Samuel Keato, although other spellings have him as Keto, Cato, Ketas and Keating.

Sam married twice, to Englishwomen both named Smith, with Bill related to Clara Keating, the vaudeville actress of the Al Jolson era.

Bill certainly shared some of the entertainment genes, being one of the original three who founded Western Suburbs Leagues Club at Ashfield.

Oblivious to his own oriental background and devoid of political correctness, Bill often remarked how surprised he was at ''the number of Chinese coming into the club''.

Perhaps they were attracted to the club's ''Keato's'' restaurant, which featured a cardboard cut out of him at its entrance.

It disappeared last year, only to surface via Facebook, on the Machu Picchu trail in Peru, at the Eva Peron mausoleum in Buenos Aires, with Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro and at a Che Guevara mural in Cuba. Rick Yabsley, a passionate Wests fan, admits to taking it on a tour of South America and will return it today.

Bill's father was an ambulanceman and insisted his son wear light, soft-toed football boots lest he ''strip pieces of skin off the other boys' shins,'' according to one newspaper account.

But all goalkickers in those days were toe pokers and Bill knew he needed a hard, right toe.

So each Monday he would stuff the toe of his right boot with wet paper and every night spent an hour with a tile layer's trowel modelling a perfect clay toe to the boot.

On Friday nights, he baked the toe of the boot in the casing.

He always carried two pairs of boots to games and regularly changed his right boot at half-time.

The right boot he called his ''tradesman'' boot and his left, the ''labourer's boot'', always digging his divot with the left boot.

Generous of spirit, he handed his precious boots to his replacement, Mick Thornton, when he missed the 1947 semi-final with injury, saying, ''You can have my boots for the game, too''.

Keato was also a skilled all-rounder at cricket, playing first grade with Cumberland.

His 120 first-grade games for the Magpies and 25 in reserves, for 869 points, is a Wests record and could have been more, except for two years spent on war service.

He played for City and would have represented Queensland, where he was stationed, had his unit not been transferred.

His brother, Alan, a Magpie forward, was killed at Finschhafen.

Bill was Wests' inaugural treasurer from 1951 to 1973 and his charitable works were well known, especially for Legacy. And who could blame him for his political incorrectness in an era when institutions had names like the Ryde Home for Incurables, an organisation that received one third of a Lidcombe gate?

Bill, whose funeral was held this week, is survived by daughter Judy Brading, sons Billy, Geoff and Kelvin and nine grandchildren.