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Kangaroos without borders: Australian internationals who represented other nations

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Roar Guru
20th January, 2022
30

Plenty of Australians have taken the opportunity to play international rugby league for another nation in lieu of a Kangaroos call-up that was never likely to come.

Many players of Pasifika heritage have contributed to challenging international rugby league’s status quo, especially since the relaxation of eligibility rules shortly before the 2017 World Cup.

Australians have also represented France, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Portugal, the Philippines, Serbia, the USA and Malta, among others.

The list of players who’ve represented Australia and another nation is much smaller. Here is a selection of the best to attain intra-code dual international status prior to the 2017 World Cup.

1. Anthony Minichiello, Italy
‘The Count’ began and finished his international career with the Azzurri, who kindly loaned him to Australia for 19 Test matches between 2003 and 2005. He debuted for Italy in a 14-10 victory over France at Avignon in 1999 and finished alongside James Tedesco, Paul Vaughan and Anthony Laffranchi at the 2013 World Cup.

Anthony Minichiello

Anthony Minichiello (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

2. Hazem El Masri, Lebanon
‘El Magic’ debuted for Lebanon alongside Darren Maroon and John Elias in a 52-28 victory over Japan at Fukuoka in 1998, represented the Cedars at the 2000 World Cup and appeared for both Australia and Lebanon within a three-week period in 2002.

3. Dally Messenger, New Zealand
The man widely credited with popularising rugby league in Australia through his remarkable point-scoring feats and premiership victories with Easts played four games for New Zealand in early 1908. One of those four games was the first Test match between discrete nations, Wales’ 9-8 victory over New Zealand at Aberdare on New Year’s Day 1908.

4. Bill Kelly, New Zealand
Kelly didn’t play an official Test match for New Zealand but did tour Australia in 1912 and 1913, played in tour matches against New South Wales and Queensland and became a significant figure in Australian rugby league.

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He joined Balmain in 1914, played one Test for Australia against England the same year and was captain-coach of Balmain’s unbeaten premiership team in 1915. He later coached Balmain to the 1939 premiership and had stints at University, Newtown, St George and Canterbury.

The Bill Kelly Memorial Trophy was first awarded to the winner of the trans-Tasman Test in 1997.

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5. Graham Mackay, Scotland
The well-travelled Mackay played for nine clubs in a 15-year professional career, so he naturally got itchy feet when not asked to reprise his lone appearance for the Kangaroos against Papua New Guinea in 1992.

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He made one appearance for Scotland at the 2000 World Cup – a 16-17 defeat to New Zealand Maori – alongside compatriots Adrian Vowles, Scott Logan and Geoff Bell.

6. Braith Anasta, Greece
Anasta has a perfect goal-kicking record in international rugby league. He landed his only conversion attempt on debut for Australia against Papua New Guinea in 2001 and kicked a remarkable 15 goals from 15 attempts in Greece’s 90-0 victory over Hungary at Budapest in 2013.

7. Terry Campese, Italy
Campese played for Australia at the 2008 World Cup and for Italy at the 2017 tournament. He debuted for Italy in a 62-14 victory over Serbia at Belgrade in 2016. Jordan Grant, who debuted for Melbourne in 2021, represented Serbia that day.

8. Jim Bennett, combined New Zealand-Queensland
This is stretching the concept, but why did New Zealand and Queensland join forces in 1921? Was Queensland thinking of seceding and becoming an exclave of New Zealand?

It seems Queensland needed international reinforcements to combat the NSW team of Frank Burge, Sandy Pearce, Duncan Thompson, Jim Craig and Harold Horder.

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On the day of the game – the combined team’s one and only outing, a 24-36 defeat at the SCG – Rugby League News published a cartoon featuring two scrawny, battered fighters clambering into a boxing ring to face a behemoth from NSW.

As for Bennett, he played three Tests for Australia in 1924, later became a selector and was awarded life membership of the Queensland Rugby League in 1963. The same year, Rugby League News described him as “a giant forward who helped give the name ‘galloping Clydesdales’ to the Toowoomba pack of which he was a member in the 1920s”.

9. Robbie Farah, Lebanon
Farah played 300 first-grade games, won a World Cup, a State of Origin series and an NRL premiership. He bookended it all with two of his six appearances for Lebanon: a 36-6 victory over France at Tripoli in 2002 and a 14-58 defeat to Fiji at Leichhardt Oval in 2019.

10. Con Sullivan, New Zealand
Sullivan toured with New Zealand in 1909 and played in their 19-11 victory over the Australian team of Larry O’Malley and Arthur Halloway at the Sydney Showground. He was persuaded to stay in Australia and join his future brothers-in-law, Sid, Oswald and Lal Deane at Norths. He ended up playing six Tests for Australia between 1910 and 1914, and his son, Bob Sullivan, played one Test for Australia in 1954.

11. Luke Ricketson, Ireland
Ricketson played four games for Ireland at the 2000 World Cup as part of a formidable forward pack that also included fellow Origin representatives Kevin Campion and David Barnhill, Great Britain internationals Terry O’Connor, Barrie McDermott and Chris Joynt, and the notoriously volatile former Norths and Melbourne utility Danny Williams.

12. Tyson Frizell, Wales
As a Dragons supporter with a Welsh parent I’ve a certain affinity for Frizell. Unfortunately he lost all five of his games for Wales, but he did manage to win a Four Nations title and the 2017 World Cup with Australia.

Tyson Frizell

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

13. Tonie Carroll, New Zealand
Carroll’s representative career followed an unusual path. After debuting for Queensland in 1997, he represented New Zealand at the 2000 World Cup, including the defeat to Australia in the final, before disappearing to Super League for two seasons. Upon his return he reprised his role with Queensland and played six Test matches for Australia in 2004 and 2005.

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Bench
Brett White (Ireland), Anthony Laffranchi (Italy), Anthony Tupou (Tonga) and Josh Mansour (Lebanon).

The former Parramatta, New South Wales and Kangaroos prop Michael Vella was going to be part of this team because, according to multiple sources, he also represented Malta. But Malta Rugby League, who very kindly and promptly replied to my email, advised that this is not true. Vella was involved with Malta in a coaching role from 2004 to 2005 but never played for the national team.

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