Rugby League Icons: Herbert Gilbert

Rugby League Icons: Herbert Gilbert

Club Historian Bill Dalton looks back on the career of Challenge Cup winning captain Herbert Gilbert.

Club News

In the latest of our Rugby League Icon features, looking back on some of the greats from yesteryear who have represented the club, Club Historian Bill Dalton looks back on the career of dual-code international Herbert Gilbert, our 1914 Challenge Cup winning captain, who represented the Black & Whites between 1912 and 1915.

A year after the pioneering New Zealand “All Golds” toured Great Britain in 1907, the newly formed Australian Rugby League undertook a similar tour. The leading try scorer on that inaugural Kangaroo Tour was Jimmy Devereux (17 from 30 games).

Hull FC enticed him to return to England and he played some 181 games from March 1909 until May 1921. He scored 102 tries and was pipped to the century of tries by Alf Francis.

Hull repeated the feat of attracting the Australian’s leading scorer on the 1911-12 tour by persuading Herbert Gilbert, the test centre, to return to the Boulevard. The directorate in those days certainly knew how to pick ‘em!

A little acknowledged fact was that Hull paid a world-record £450 transfer fee for him, before going further with the £600 they paid for Billy Batten a year later.  

Steve Darmody, a fellow Kangaroo tourist, was also enticed to the Boulevard and they made their debuts – along with Jack Harrison – for Hull on 5th September 1912 and all three played their last competitive matches for Hull on 24th April 1915. 

Jack was killed in France in 1917, Steve Darmody was injured on war service and had a foot amputated, but Herbert Gilbert was able to resume his international career in Australia after the war. He had played 114 games for Hull, scoring 57 tries and kicking an odd goal.

Recognized as a hard running centre three-quarter, Herb, as he was known in Australia, played in three Rugby Union test matches in 1910 for Australia against the All Blacks and was one of the stars of the early years of the Australian Rugby League.

He was selected for the 1911-12 tour to Britain and played in all three test matches against the Northern Union (as the British test team was still known as). Also, he featured in the other major games against Midlands and South, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Wales and England. He scored 20 tries and two goals in his 29 appearances on the tour.

Herbert impressed the British to such an extent that the Hull club persuaded him to join them. Towards the end of the 1912-13 season, he inherited the captaincy of the club, and of course commenced his centre partnership with the immortal Billy Batten.

History suggests that that centre pairing has to be considered amongst the best that ever ran onto the same paddock. Certainly, when studying the outstanding quality of the wingers that both Herbert Gilbert and Billy Batten had outside them, it seemed cruel on Hull that the Great War came about when it did.  

In 1914, Herbert became the first overseas player to captain a winning Challenge Cup team when Hull beat Wakefield Trinity in the final at Thrum Hall, Halifax by 6-0. After Billy Batten had laid the first try on for Jack Harrison, late in the match, Herb was instrumental in creating Alf Francis’s try moments afterwards to finally seal the Cup victory for Hull.

He missed the Ashes tests against the touring Northern Union side in 1914, simply because he was playing for Hull at the time, but, having returned to his homeland in the summer of 1915 because of the Great War, he went on to tour New Zealand in 1919, and the following year captained the Kangaroos in their Ashes success over the visiting Northern Union, a party of which our own Billy Stone was part (reputedly the fastest man ever to run with a rugby ball). That Ashes success was Australia’s last for 30 years.

Herbert Gilbert played for four clubs in Sydney – Eastern Suburbs (now Roosters), South Sydney, Western Suburbs (Wests Tigers) and St George. He captained the latter pair and his time as captain/coach of St George was their initial season in the ARL Premiership. (1921).

After retiring as a player, Herbert, served for some years as a New South Wales selector.

In 2008, a panel of Australian Rugby League luminaries included Herbert Gilbert in their greatest 100 Australian test players – The Immortals. The list included more modern-day greats such as Darren Lockyer and Andrew Johns, but also gave recognition to the pioneers of the sport Down Under, such as Dally Messenger and Sandy Pearce.

Also included were Albert Rosenfeld (Huddersfield – 80 tries in a season) and Brian Bevan (Warrington -796 tries in his career). To know that Herbert Gilbert was included in a list of such luminaries from the history of our game demonstrates what a true icon he was for Hull FC.

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