FLIPPING OUT: Nathan Blacklock in mid-air as he does one of his iconic somersaults to celebrate a try.
FLIPPING OUT: Nathan Blacklock in mid-air as he does one of his iconic somersaults to celebrate a try.

Blacklock relives days as ' somersault king' of Kogarah

HE was the great entertainer who put bums on seats.

Former Dragons flyer Nathan Blacklock was renowned for his somersaults to celebrate tries in the late 1990s.

Blacklock and Anthony 'Choc' Mundine were excitement machines whose front and back flips became a major drawcard to pull the crowds wherever they played.

Blacklock, in Ipswich for the Legends of League clash between Australian and Ipswich greats at North Ipswich Reserve on Saturday night, reflected on the genesis of the somersault try celebration and on his philosophy of rugby league as a vehicle for entertainment.

It was a case of 'anything Choc can do I can do better' in round seven of 1999 at Kogarah Jubilee Oval when the Dragons put the Green Machine to the sword 44-2.

"We were playing Canberra and I saw Choc do a front flip after he scored an intercept try, so I thought 'If I score another try I'll do a back flip',” Blacklock recalls.

"The opportunity came up. I did it. And we didn't look back.

"We were really enjoying that game and we wanted to show people how much we were enjoying ourselves.

"Football back then was more unpredictable and we didn't know what we were going to do until we got out on the field.

"There was a game plan, but when it came to me and Anthony playing football together there was more of a sixth sense about us.

"It is a lot different to nowadays, but back then we had people turning up to watch us entertain and play football.”

Sydney, August 29, 2004.  Nathan Blacklock celebrates after the NRL Rugby League, Round 25, St. George Dragons v Manly Sea Eagles match at OKI Jubilee Stadium. (AAP Image/Charlie Knight/ Action Photographics) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
FAREWELL FRIEND: Nathan Blacklock, a fan favourite, is farewelled by Dragons fans at Kogarah Oval after his last home game before retiring. Blacklock scored two tries to inspire a remarkable 36-34 comeback win over Manly in his final home game. CHARLIE KNIGHT

Blacklock grew up in Tingha in northern NSW where he was a free spirited young flyer who carved up in the Inverell Minor League.

His acrobatics started as a youth.

"I grew up doing back flips in Tingha,” he grins of the art he'd fine-tuned as a lad.

There was an air of anticipation each time Mundine and Blacklock took the field with the crowd willing them to score tries just to see what came next.

"I just realised that we got more bums on seats to every game. It was more and more packed with people just willing it to happen,” he says.

"Even supporters from other teams expected the front and back flips to happen.

"The fans enjoyed watching that kind of football and I am just happy to have been part of that era.”

The commentator at the end of the 1999 clash against the Raiders, after Blacklock's third try and subsequent celebrations, said 'they should be in the circus'.

Sydney. March 23, 2001. Nathan Blacklock sommersaults after his disallowed try- during Round 6 of the NRL, St George/Illawarra v Northern Eagles at the Sydney Football Stadium. (AAP Image/Daniel Berehulak/Action Photographics) NO ARCHIVING
More acrobatics from Nathan Blacklock. DANIEL BEREHULAK

The Blacklock and Mundine Show was unplanned. It just unfolded come what may.

"We tried stuff,” Blacklock says.

"We just went out and played what was in front of us. We didn't have a script.

"Anthony had the ability to beat players and get his arms free. He saw the same things I saw.

"I grew up learning to play what's in front of me.

"It wasn't robotic. If the opportunity comes up you have to take it there and then.

"I played footy because I enjoyed it, and I was lucky that our St George coach Dave Waite didn't want me to take that enjoyment out. He supported me.”

Blacklock finished his stellar first grade career with 121 tries from 142 games.

The crowd at North Ipswich will be hoping for a somersault. Blacklock looks fit enough to do one or two.

But whether he does or not, he will always be remembered for a legacy of fun, excitement and pure joy.