Wallabies legend Ken Catchpole passes away aged 78

Daniel Jeffrey Editor

By Daniel Jeffrey, Daniel Jeffrey is a Roar Editor

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    Ken Catchpole has passed away, aged 78. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

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    Legendary Wallabies halfback Ken Catchpole has passed away. He was 78.

    Catchpole reportedly passed away on Thursday after a long battle with illness.

    Catchpole captained the Wallabies on 13 occasions in a 27-Test career for Australia. He is regarded as one of the finest players in Australia’s rugby union history, and was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame in 2013.

    Catchpole’s career was both remarkable and short. He began his first-grade career with Randwick in 1959, and made his NSW debut just a year later. His Wallabies debut followed in 1961.

    Catchpole is one of the youngest ever Wallabies captains, having led the side out aged just 21 years, 354 days in his debut Test. However, his career was cut short when he was 28 after a leg-wrenching tackle by All Blacks legend Colin Meads severely injured the halfback’s hamstring and groin muscles.

    Catchpole’s legacy in evidenced by an overwhelming number of accolades. Before his World Rugby Hall of Fame induction, he had been one of the inaugural Australian Rugby Hall of Fame inductees in 2005, and had been included in the Sports Australia Hall of Fame in 1986.

    A bronze statue of the great halfback resides outside Allianz Stadium, and Catchpole’s name adorns the award given to the Shute Shield player of the year each season.

    Catchpole’s death has continued what has been a sad week for Australian rugby, with fellow Wallabies great Stan Pilecki passing away on Wednesday.

    Former Wallabies captain and Rugby Australia Board Director paid tributed to Catchpole.

    “Ken wasn’t just a remarkable rugby player but also a remarkable man.

    “He’ll be fondly remembered as one of our best and his records will live long at Randwick, New South Wales and the Wallabies.

    “Ken had a real aura about him both on and off the field. He might have been small in stature but you knew when Ken was in the room by the respect he commanded.

    “On behalf of the entire Australian Rugby community, I want to pass on our thoughts and prayers to his family and loved ones.”

    Classic Wallabies President Simon Poidevin said:

    “The Classic Wallabies are truly saddened by the news of the passing of one of the great icons of Rugby Union in the legendary Ken Catchpole.

    “Affectionately known as “Catchy” to his team mates and Rugby supporters around the world, Ken was an extraordinary athlete with blistering speed, amazing agility and a fearless spirit in taking on much bigger opponents.

    “Catchy was a natural leader and was consistently rated the best halfback in the world. He was loved by Wallabies young and old and displayed a modesty that defied his achievements and set an example for our sport.

    “He was one of 102 Wallabies selected from the Randwick Club, a team he dearly loved. Coogee Oval has arguably never seen a better player than Ken Catchpole.”

    Daniel Jeffrey
    Daniel Jeffrey

    Daniel is Editor of The Roar. You can catch him on Twitter @_d_jeffrey.

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    The Crowd Says (29)

    • December 22nd 2017 @ 12:18pm
      Frank O'Keeffe said | December 22nd 2017 @ 12:18pm | ! Report

      This is sad news! One of Australia’s greatest ever sportsmen has just left us. An argument can be made that Catchpole was the greatest rugby player Australia ever provided. Peter Crittle once said that Catchpole was the greatest Wallaby of all time.

      What will Catchpole be best remembered for? He always regarded his best performance to be his effort at Ellis Park against South Africa in 1963, when he made two try-saving tackles.

      Perhaps he’ll be remembered for that pass to Jim Boyce in the 2nd Test against New Zealand in 1964, when the referee incorrectly judge that Catchpole wasn’t allowed to offload the ball.

      Then there was the Wallabies’ victory over New Zealand at Eden Park in 1964, which I believe was the All Blacks’ biggest loss ever at the time.

      Of course there’s the 1965 series when Australia won their first series over a major nation for 31 years.

      Maybe it was when he captained the Wallabies to a victory over Wales in 1968. Australia were 9/2 underdogs. Wales had the same aura in those days as the All Blacks and Springboks. On a day when Gerald Davies made his debut, Catchpole was supreme!

      Then of course there was that victory over England when Duggie Harrison called Catchpole the greatest halfback of all time.

      Catchpole will always be my first choice when the greatest Wallaby XV is debated. He stands with Eales, Campese and Ella as the first names that stand out when Australia’s greatest rugby players are mentioned.

      I had always wanted to meet Catchpole…

      ps: I don’t mean to be disrespectful to anybody here, but I’ve been waiting for The Roar to mention something about Stan Pilecki’s passing as well…

      • December 22nd 2017 @ 12:21pm
        Frank O'Keeffe said | December 22nd 2017 @ 12:21pm | ! Report

        I forgot to mention Catchpole making his debut for New South Wales against the 1959 British Lions – one of the greatest rugby teams of all time. Catchpole reigned supreme and led the Waratahs to a victory over that magnificent team, which contained one of the most innovative backlines of all time – Jeeps, Risman, was Butterfield apart of that?, and of course, Tony O’Reilly.

        I’m really gutted here…

        • December 22nd 2017 @ 12:44pm
          Frank O'Keeffe said | December 22nd 2017 @ 12:44pm | ! Report

          Note: Butterfield and O’Reilly didn’t play in NSW’s 18-14 victory over the Lions.

          The side contained:

          15. Terry Davies; 14. John Young; 13. Malcolm Thomas; 12. Malcolm Price; 11. Niall Brophy; 10. Bev Risman; 9. Dickie Jeeps
          1. Ray Prosser; 2. Bryn Meredith; 3. Syd Millar; 4. Roddy Evans; 5. Bill Mulcahy; 6. Alan Ashcroft; 7. John Faull;
          Noel Murphy

          • December 22nd 2017 @ 3:25pm
            Internal Fixation said | December 22nd 2017 @ 3:25pm | ! Report

            Those are some great memories Frank.

            Worth an Article in itself I reckon..

      • December 23rd 2017 @ 11:02am
        Taylorman said | December 23rd 2017 @ 11:02am | ! Report

        Yes a win in 64 would have been a big deal, ABs were very strong during that period.

        RIP Ken Catchpole.

        RIP Stan Pilecki, who I did get to see play.

        • December 23rd 2017 @ 4:21pm
          Frank O'Keeffe said | December 23rd 2017 @ 4:21pm | ! Report

          Oops! Just realised it was the third Test from 1962 when Jim Boyce was denied a try, not 1964…

    • Roar Guru

      December 22nd 2017 @ 12:25pm
      Atawhai Drive said | December 22nd 2017 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

      How sad. If you live long enough, you find yourself being confronted by the reality of another of your boyhood sporting heroes passing away.

      I saw Ken Catchpole play a few times, but the first time was the most memorable. On Wednesday, August 29, 1962, the Wallabies came to little Westport on the West Coast of the South Island to play a combined Buller-West Coast team.

      The match was played in driving rain and Victoria Square was a mudheap. The Wallabies had to work hard for their 9-0 victory. Game over, I did something that was not encouraged in those days _ I ran out on to the field and asked Ken Catchpole for his autograph.

      He was soaked, covered in mud and exhausted, and my 12-year-old self thought that he might tell me to get lost. But he signed my book quite happily. A small thing, but unforgettable.

      It’s sometimes forgotten that Catchpole’s encounter with Colin Meads at the SCG in 1968 was not the end of his rugby career. He worked hard to recover from his leg injury and, after a year, was ready to play for Randwick again.

      In 1971, he was picked in the Sydney team to play the touring Springboks but, in a Randwick-Eastern Suburbs match beforehand, he was kicked in the hand and had to withdraw from the Sydney team.

      But even that was not quite the end. On March 17, 1974, Seiffert Oval hosted a match between ACT and the Barbarians, a Barbarians side that included Arthur McGill, John Cole, Rod Macqueen and Peter Johnson. The captain? Ken Catchpole, aged 34. The home team won 34-26.

      Ken Catchpole would probably have been regarded as too small for the modern game, but comparisons across generations are futile. In his own time, he was one of the great Wallabies.

      • December 22nd 2017 @ 12:31pm
        Frank O'Keeffe said | December 22nd 2017 @ 12:31pm | ! Report

        Mate, that is a fine tribute!

      • December 22nd 2017 @ 12:49pm
        P. Danntick said | December 22nd 2017 @ 12:49pm | ! Report

        Some great memories there, AD. Thanks for sharing.
        I was at Seiffert for the ACT v Baa Baa game, I wish my fading memories could give me something about the game, but I’m sometimes struggling to remember what I had for breakfast 🙂
        And we lost Stan Pilecki on Wednesday too.
        Sad week for Rugby.

        • Roar Guru

          December 22nd 2017 @ 2:46pm
          Atawhai Drive said | December 22nd 2017 @ 2:46pm | ! Report

          Thanks, Frank. And I enjoyed your posts above.

      • December 22nd 2017 @ 1:35pm
        sheek said | December 22nd 2017 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

        Thanks Atahwai,

        Great memories you shared. We’ve lost two great Wallabies this week.

        Stan the Man Pilecki was a true character, not only of rugby, but of life. Had he not existed, the Australian game would have had to invent him!

        Catchy was arguably the Wallabies greatest scrum half. And an outstanding human being to boot.

        • Roar Guru

          December 22nd 2017 @ 2:48pm
          Atawhai Drive said | December 22nd 2017 @ 2:48pm | ! Report

          Cheers, Sheek. Stan Pilecki did it his way and we can be grateful for that.

          Catchpole was truly exceptional. I remember my late dad, a provincial rep player in NZ in the late 1940s, really rated Ken Catchpole and Des Connor.

          • December 22nd 2017 @ 9:48pm
            sheek said | December 22nd 2017 @ 9:48pm | ! Report


            So does Spiro.

            i reckon if you prodded Spiro, he might go for Connor before Catchy, but that’s just my observation on an a article he wrote many years ago.

            Not a split hair between them, I would think.

      • Editor

        December 22nd 2017 @ 2:20pm
        Daniel Jeffrey said | December 22nd 2017 @ 2:20pm | ! Report

        Atawhai, thank you so much for this fine tribute.

        As someone who was born far too late to see Catchpole play, it is invaluable to read this kind of first-hand tribute.

    • December 22nd 2017 @ 1:45pm
      CJ said | December 22nd 2017 @ 1:45pm | ! Report

      Very sad news. He epitomized all that was great about Australian Rugby and the game in general. There is some footage of him somewhere pulling off (twice mind you) George Gregan on Jeff Wilson type tackles. And yes, Stan Pilecki a true rugby old school legend as well.

    • Roar Guru

      December 22nd 2017 @ 4:12pm
      Machooka said | December 22nd 2017 @ 4:12pm | ! Report

      Sad news about the passing of both Ken and Stan da Man… both great memorable players for the Wallaby.

      And thanks to Frank and Atawari Drive for your quality posts… bravo gentlemen!

      • December 24th 2017 @ 9:53am
        I Worlds Biggest said | December 24th 2017 @ 9:53am | ! Report

        Well said da chook, Catchy is an all time great and Stan Pileki one of the great characters of the game. I never got to see Catchy play unfortunately however as a young whipper snappers I got to see Pilecki, his tash was legendary.
        Both men have medals named in their honour, a very sad week for Australian Rugby, thoughts and prayers go out to both families. Great tribute to Catchy A-Drive, thanks mate.

      • Roar Guru

        December 26th 2017 @ 5:58pm
        Jokerman said | December 26th 2017 @ 5:58pm | ! Report

        RIP as always. The time comes and it’s a transition, and for some it’s the unknown..but always it’s peace.

        Great comments on here. Quality indeed huh.

        Peace out cuz ??

    • December 22nd 2017 @ 5:26pm
      Sam said | December 22nd 2017 @ 5:26pm | ! Report

      I never met Ken Catchpole but his daughter Lisa married a good mate of mine. Condolences to the family on his passing, and may they remember the best of times with him.

    • December 22nd 2017 @ 6:13pm
      Jigbon said | December 22nd 2017 @ 6:13pm | ! Report

      As a young lad my dad took me the sports ground to watch the nuns play the wallabies. We were sitting right on the fence and I remember thinking how many people were there and how noisy it was. I was so excited to see the great All Blavks and they were so big and fast. I had played rugby since I was five so I had some idea of the game. I remember catchpoles pass even as a kid, and how fantastic – fast and accurate it was.and he was so strategic and you could see how he could run a game. He was lauded by all in rugby – everyone knew him even at our young age.
      The ruck where catchy had his leg almost torn from his body was right in front of us. I thought the crowd might attack meads once it happened. The game stoped for ages waiting to sort catchy out. I remember watching the whole event occur and seeing meads reach into the ruck and come out with a leg in his hands. To this day I will never forget how angry my father was. All the way home he was railing about it. He was a good mate of slaggies and the conversation at our place over Sunday lunch when the millers came over often turned to the event created by meads and how shocking it was to do such a thing. I’m not clear at that age how intentional it was. But it’s a memory I still carry.
      Vale the great ken Catchpole.

      • December 24th 2017 @ 3:37am
        Ken Catchpole's Other Leg said | December 24th 2017 @ 3:37am | ! Report

        Jigbon, like you I went with my Dad to the same game, and suffering a similar shock. I was scandalised when told by my Dad that Catchpole’s injury may have been deliberately incurred. Incredulous to my ‘play by the rules’ mind.

        Years later Catchpole was to do some work experience with my father who obtained from him an autograph.

        Judging from your family’s friendship with Slaggy’s, I am guessing that you were either a Marlin or a Rat?

        Thank you Ken Catchpole. For your efforts in a gold jersey and the autograph.

      • December 26th 2017 @ 10:04pm
        bozo said | December 26th 2017 @ 10:04pm | ! Report

        except the game was played at SCG

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