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Opinion

The greatest ever Queensland pre-Origin side

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Roar Guru
2nd July, 2021
18

Given that Origin is now unofficially dead, at least according to a smattering of pundits south of the border, it’s time to retreat into fond memories of the past, like this article.

But even though articles like this get me all misty eyed remembering Darren Lockyer picking up a lose Brett Hodgson pass, or Gorden Tallis rag-dolling a loose Brett Hodgson body, it’s still a painful reminder that Origin was once something to be cherished north of the Tweed, so I’m going back even further for comfort.

Here is my take on the best Queensland 13 prior to Artie Beetson belting ‘The Crow’ Mick Cronin to start the Origin roadshow. Note that this is mostly based on performances for Queensland, not Australia or club footy, so it will lean fairly heavily on our great pre-Origin periods in the 1920s and 1950s when Queensland won their fair share of matches and series.

Note: in a spectacularly lazy effort, many of these bios are based on my series of Roar articles on Australia’s greatest Alphabet Rugby League teams from a few years back.

Fullback

Eric Frauenfelder (1921-25)
To start off our trip right back to the dim past, I’m emphasising that Queensland was always the home of the very best footballers – like Eric Frauenfelder, our first great fullback from that famous northern outpost of Albury.

Frauenfelder moved to the mining town of Ipswich in 1920, after growing up excelling to various levels in athletics, boxing, cricket, tennis and Australian rules football. His Aussie rules background made him an ideal rugby league fullback and his Queensland lightweight boxing championship made him a player not to be trifled with.

The Ipswich fullback played for Queensland from 1921 to 1925. Around that time Queensland won five interstate series in a row (1922-1926) and eight in 11 years – I guess you could call it a dynasty! Frauenfelder’s record against NSW was eight wins from ten attempts. He played a further 15 matches for the state including a 1925 tour of New Zealand, where Queensland won ten from 11 matches, including splitting the two matches against the New Zealand national side.

Frauenfelder played three home Tests for Australia in 1924. The Queensland Times said of Frauenfelder in 1944: “Frauenfelder took risks which broke all recognised rules of safety, but those are the players who make the turnstiles click. His finger-tip control of the ball was uncanny – a result of an apprenticeship served in the high-marking Australian rules code. If we could produce a man as spectacular as Frauenfelder today the crowds would go mad.”

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Honourable mentions: Dan O’Connor (1939-41), Frank Drake (1959-63), Bill Smith (1925-36).

Wingers

Cecil ‘The Red Flyer’ Aynsley (1923-30)
Cecil Aynsley is one of only two players included in the Queensland Team of the Century but not in the ARL Hall of Fame and it’s frankly ridiculous. He only played four Tests for Australia but scored a try in each one.

Aynsley scored Australia’s only try in his Test debut against England in 1924, playing alongside Harold Horder, Tom Gorman and Cec Blinkhorn in a legendary three-quarter line. He also scored 34 tries in ten matches on the 1925 Queensland tour of New Zealand.

Aynsley was also part of the Queensland dynasty in the 1920s. During that period Aynsley scored 14 tries from only 11 appearances. He only was on the losing side twice during this era.

Denis Flannery (1948-56)
By coincidence Flannery is the other player to be a member of Queensland’s Team of the Century but not the ARL Hall of Fame, although he was nominated in 2018. Queensland wingers are not popular.

Flannery was a mainstay of the national side in the 1950s, including two Kangaroo tours. On the 1952-53 Kangaroo tour, he scored 23 tries in 14 games, including hat tricks against Featherstone Rovers, Doncaster and Hull Kingston Rovers.

Flannery played 27 games for Queensland and was a member of the 1951 side that took a series from NSW, scoring two tries in the deciding match.

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The great Noel Kelly was quoted as saying: “Denis was a big lad and I once saw him hurdle his opposite winger. I thought to myself: ‘How do you do that?’.”

Honourable mentions: Lionel Morgan (1960-63), Bill Paten (1918-28), Bill Spencer (1922-31), Jack Upton (1927-32), Des McGovern (1949-56), Mick Maloney (1931-33).

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(Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Centres

‘Gentleman’ Tom Gorman (captain) (1921-30)
Tom Gorman was one of the greatest centres of all time. Gorman was part of the famous Toowoomba team of the 1920s that was undefeated between 1921 and 1925. During that period they beat all comers, including New Zealand (twice), NSW (twice), Great Britain and the Sydney rugby league premiers, South Sydney.

In 1926 Gorman captained sides to the BRL premiership, Brisbane to win the Bulimba Cup and Queensland to defeat NSW, scoring in two of his state’s three victories.

Gorman was a mainstay of the Queensland side during a strong era. Between 1922 and 1928 Queensland with Gorman won six from seven series (including their first ever) and won 14 from 20 games against NSW. He captained the 1928 series-winning team.

Gorman became the first Queenslander to captain a Kangaroos team on the 1929-30 Kangaroo tour and appeared in ten consecutive Ashes Tests.

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His contemporary, the great halfback Duncan Thompson wrote of Gorman: ”Tommy Gorman was an artist… he shunned such crudities as power and beat men with acceleration and swerve that was just sheer grace. Having once seen him, I knew I had seen greatness.”

Alex Watson (1953-57)
Alex Watson played 19 Tests between 1954 and 1957. He took a liking to NZ scoring six tries in four Tests against the Kiwis, including a 40-metre effort in 1956 at the Gabba to hand the Australians their first series win at home over the Kiwis since 1909.

At state level Watson appeared in almost every interstate match between 1953 and 1957 playing 20 times in all. Queensland squared the 1953 and 1955 series (when they played four games per year).

In 1954, for Wests in Brisbane Watson scored a hat trick of tries in the major semi-final and then scored another two in the grand final to be named man of the match, despite leaving the field after 50 minutes with a broken collarbone.

Honourable mentions: Jack Reardon (1936-41), Bob Hagan (1961-63), Fred Laws (1927-35)

Five-eighth

Jimmy Craig (1923-28)
Jimmy Craig may just be the best player Queensland produced prior to 1980. He was one of the most versatile players of his era, equally at home anywhere in the back line and was a core member of the great Balmain side that won five premierships in six years from 1915 to 1920.

Craig moved to Ipswich in 1923 and won his first seven interstate games straight from 1923 to 1925. Craig’s overall record was seven series wins from eight attempts with 13 wins and only five losses. He also toured New Zealand in 1925 with the state and captained Queensland from 1923 to 1925.

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He returned to the Sydney competition and in 1930 he led Wests to their first ever premiership. They destroyed St George in the grand final by 27-2, with the captain-coach Craig playing halfback, scoring a try and kicking two goals.

Craig played seven Tests for Australia, captaining them three times. He was once described by Dally Messenger as the greatest player he ever saw. Legendary Balmain administrator Norm ‘Latchem’ Robinson called him “the greatest all round player Australia has produced”.

Honourable mentions: Jeff Moores (1925-27), Bob Banks (1952-62), Cyril Connell Jnr (1952-57), Johnny ‘Rubber Hips’ Gleeson (1961-68), Geoff Richardson (1974-75)

Halfback

Duncan Thompson (1915-25)
From Queensland’s greatest player to their greatest tactician, one of the all-time finest running halves, creative, successful and who spent most of his adult life with a bullet lodged in his chest.

Thompson started his career in Ipswich and first represented Queensland in 1915. In 1918 he received a bullet in his chest but survived carrying the bullet fragment inside him for the rest of his life. After the war Thompson was instrumental in North Sydney winning their only two premierships, in 1921 and 1922. From 1917 to 1923 Thompson played and toured many times for Australia and NSW and captained the state.

After a dispute with the NSWRL over a suspension for kicking, Thompson returned to Queensland where he captained the great ‘Galloping Clydesdales’ of Toowoomba in 1924 and 1925. He pioneered ‘contract football’, a possession-based game focusing on skills and team work and is considered the father of modern attacking play.

Sean Fagan from1908.com writes: “Thompson said ‘Attack is the keynote to success’.” Thompson perpetually backed up teammates, and insisted that they never succumb in a tackle until they had offloaded the ball. The player does not die with the ball. It moves on and on, ideally no ball carrier is so smothered that he must play-the-ball. It was new thinking, bringing a science of team combination to the fore, rather than relying on the raw instinct of one or two naturally gifted individuals to achieve victory. A champion team must be almost obsessed with teamwork, individual brilliance is expendable.

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Thompson also played in Queensland series wins over NSW in 1924 and 1925, NZ in 1919 and 1925 and a victory over Great Britain in 1924. Herb Steinohrt from the NRL Hall of Fame said: ”Without a doubt the best attacking halfback in the history of the game”.

Thompson also won a first grade cricket premiership in Brisbane with Valleys and played tennis for Toowoomba and Queensland. He also played golf off a three handicap and was a note lawn bowls player, representing Toowoomba in that sport as well. All with bullet fragments in his chest…

Honourable mentions: Barry Muir (1959-66), Arthur ‘Fatty’ Edwards (1924-31), Hector Gee (1930-32), Ken McCaffery (1951-56), Fred Gilbert (1932-39)

Props

Peter ‘Mick’ Madsen (1928-37)
Mick Madsen was part of the mighty ‘Galloping Clydesdales’ Toowoomba team of the 1920s. Despite never leaving his hometown, Madsen made two Kangaroo tours and played in two other Ashes series and captained his country in a Test.

Madsen was an incredibly strong front rower and was durable as well, representing Toowoomba every year for 12 years. With Madsen in the front row with fellow Hall of Fame member Herb Steinohrt, Queensland defeated NSW in the 1928, 1931 and 1932 interstate series.

Duncan Hall (1948-55)
A member of the Australian Team of the Century and nominated for Immortal status in 2018, Duncan Hall was a colossus of Queensland and Australian rugby league in the post-war years.

Hall went on two Kangaroo tours, the first after his first year in Brisbane, and was a mainstay of the Queensland and Australian sides for eight years. He was considered the premier prop of the era and Australia won the Ashes twice with him in the team.

Hall was Queensland’s player of the year in 1951 when he captained them to victory in the interstate series for the first time in a decade, scoring a double in the decider. He also won the Bulimba Cup four times, two with Brisbane and two with Toowoomba.

Hall won a premiership with Wests Brisbane in 1954 and was named best player in the competition that year. Every club team that Hall ever played in qualified for finals and in addition to his Brisbane premiership he won three in Rockhampton.

Duncan Thompson described Hall as “the ultimate footballer, with the perfect balance of brains and brawn”.

Honourable mentions: Herb Steinohrt (1925-33), Jim Bennett (1921-30), Dud Beattie (1958-62), Eddie Brosnan (1946-48), Greg Veivers (1970-78), Peter ‘Pedro’ Gallagher (1962-67), Les Heidke (1931-41), Gary Parcell (1956-62), Perce Parcell (1923-26), Dennis Manteit (1964-69)

Hooker

Dan Dempsey (1925-34)
Another from the great rugby league nursery of Queensland’s Darling Downs, Dan Dempsey represented his country at second row, prop and hooker.

Alongside Herb Steinohrt, Tom Gorman and Duncan Thompson, Dempsey was in the Toowoomba sides which beat all comers in the 1920s. When he moved to Ipswich, that region dominated South East Queensland rugby league, winning Bulimba Cup titles against Toowoomba and Brisbane.

During his career, Dempsey played in three winning series for Queensland and went on two Kangaroo tours (1929-30 and 1933-34). He was the first forward to play in four Ashes series.

In The Kangaroos, Ian Heads related a story by Ray Stehr, of Dempsey at St Helens, being ”kicked across the face when he fell in a scrum in as vicious and foul an incident as I have ever seen”. Dempsey was carried off, blood spurting from a cut above one eye. Stehr then recalled how, suddenly, Dempsey sat up and held the edge of the gash together, and said, ”put a safety pin in it, and let me get back there”.

Dempsey was Australia’s hooker in the famous ‘Battle of Brisbane’ Test that Australia won in 1932. In that game, Dempsey’s left forearm was fractured, but he played on for quite a time until the doctor forced him off and he began weeping on the touchline because both the ambulance man and the team’s manager, Harry Sunderland, wouldn’t let him back into the game.

Honourable mentions: Arthur Henderson (1923-29), Jack Little (1931-41), Noel Kelly (1959-60), John Lang (1972-79)

Second row

Norm Potter (1918-27)
Norm Potter was an imposing prop forward or second rower during the successful Queensland era of the 1920s. Playing all his football in Queensland, Potter represented alongside Hall of Famers such as Duncan Thompson, Jim Craig, Tom Gorman, Vic Armbruster and Herb Steinohrt.

He was captain of the first Queensland side to ever win the interstate series against NSW and played and captained Queensland continuously between 1918 and 1927. In all Queensland won five from eight series with Potter in the team, including eight wins in a row at one point. Including various tour games Potter played as many as 53 games for his state.

Potter played in two home Ashes series in 1920 and 1924 and toured NZ in 1919 and again with the 1921 Kangaroos.

By the mid 1920s Potter was captaining a strong Ipswich representative side that defeated NZ in 1925, won the Bulimba Cup in 1926 and defeated NSW in 1927.

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Brian Davies (1950-58)
A second rower for the Queensland Team of Century, Davies was a mainstay of the Queensland and Australian teams though the 1950s, appearing more than 30 time for each. Davies captain-coached Australia in their 1958 series against England despite being the only Queensland representative in the team. For Queensland Davies was a part of the 1951 series win and the split series in 1953 and 1955.

A staple of the Brisbane Rugby League scene for Brisbane Brothers, Davies was named BRL player of the year for four years in a row from 1955 to 1958, and won two premierships with the Brethren, before moving to Sydney to join Canterbury for four years.

Honourable mentions: Vic Armbruster (1924-31), Harold ‘Mick’ Crocker (1949-53), Kel O’Shea (1953-55), Des Morris (1969-79), ‘Gunboat’ Jack Ryrie (1938-46), Jim Paterson (1958-66), Elton Rasmussen (1959-69).

Lock

Ed ‘Babe’ Collins (1932-41)
But for the Second World War, ‘Babe’ Collins would be much more well known. Collins served in both the Army and the RAAF in World War II and his representative career was over by 1941.

Collins played 36 matches for Queensland between 1932 and 1941 and toured with the 1938 Kangaroos. He was a dominant force in the BRL, being man of the match in three grand final victories for Norths.

In 1940 Collins produced one of the all-time great seasons. He led Norths through a great year, scoring 39 tries in his last 12 club games, which was double the next best for the entire season and being named man of the match in the grand final. Collins also led Brisbane to victory in the Bulimba Cup.

He then captain-coached Queensland to win their first match over NSW in eight years by a whopping 45-8, along the way to an interstate series victory where Collins scored in every match Queensland won. Collins had also been involved in squared series in 1934 and 1939. In all Collins scored 20 tries against NSW from just 29 matches.

Honourable mentions: Ignatius ‘Bill’ Tyquin (1945-49), Ken Day (1961-64), Col Weiss (1966-72)

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