FC150: AUSTRALIANS AT HULL FC

Colonial players have made a massive contribution over the past 107 years for Hull FC in terms of quality and, in many cases, a high degree of club loyalty.

As a great admirer and supporter of most things Australian, I have to wonder why a player would ever have wished to leave his homeland to come and play in the cold North of England.

Economic necessities in the early years of the last century largely decided the matter for many Australians in particular.

When the first Kangaroos visited these shores in 1908 as a fledgling rugby league nation, they brought with them many outstanding players who had been driven to defect from Rugby Union by, if anything, even more stringent application of the ‘amateur' rules than in this country.

A considerable proportion of that early touring party were subsequently signed on by English clubs, with Hull signing Jimmy Devereux and Andy Morton.

Devereux had been the leading try-scorer on the Tour and scored the first hat-trick in an Ashes test match. He went on to become Hull's earliest try centurion, notching up 101 tries in 181 appearances over the next seven years.

In 1912, Herbert Gilbert joined Hull after the 1911-12 Kangaroos tour. Co-incidentally, Gilbert was their leading try-scorer on that Tour as well, showing that Hull consistently sought quality in those days.

Bert Gilbert became the first Australian captain to lift the Challenge Cup when Hull were successful in 1914. Also joining Hull with him was Steve Darmody, an outstanding back-row forward whose career was cruelly cut short after losing a leg in the Great War.

Between the Wars, Frank Hurley, a renowned speed merchant, came to the Boulevard but his Hull career was brought to an abrupt halt by military duty.

The late 1940's saw a feast of antipodean talent with the great Bruce Ryan, George Watt, Duncan Jackson, Keith Gittoes and Johnny Payne gracing the black and white irregular hoops. They all played in the same team on a single occasion - at Barrow on 24th September, 1949.

An international transfer embargo saw the supply of Australians dry up for a few years, but there was a short period in the early 1970's when we had an influx of young players coming to Hull on a ‘swap' scheme with our own younger talent.

However, British rugby league was woken from its complacency with the coming of the 1982 Kangaroos, who swept all before them, although Hull gave them a fright before going down to the full Test side 7-13.

Hull were able to secure the legendary Peter Sterling from that touring party for a couple of short spells, and several others went to English clubs. Later, we had the benefit of the services of, among many others, Craig Coleman, Des Hasler, Ivan Henjak, Neil Henry (who all became coaches in the NRL), Noel Cleal and Colin Best, who holds the distinctions of scoring the very first try at the KC Stadium. Although his stay at Hull only extended over two years, Best was arguably our best winger of the Super League era.

Since then, Jason Smith, Matt Sing, Nathan Blacklock, Shaun Berrigan, Craig Fitzgibbon and Mark O'Meley have all represented the Airlie Birds amongst others, whilst Mickey Paea, Mark Minichiello, Steve Michaels and Jordan Rankin are the Aussies currently in the first-team squad.

Hull has been the temporary home to some 81 Australians, including 15 Test players, with many of them giving a tremendous amount of pleasure to successive generations of the Faithful. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the contributor and are not necessarily shared by Hull FC.

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