Happy Birthday Harry Wells!
One of Australia’s best ever players, Harry Wells, celebrated his 85th birthday on Monday 8 May.
Named as one of Australia’s Greatest One Hundred Players in February 2008, and Men of League Foundation member number 1,126, Harry played 29 Tests and made two Kangaroo tours to England and France in 1952 and 1959, as well as one tour to New Zealand in 1953.
Born in Wollongong, Harry and his wife, Yvonne live on the NSW mid north coast. As a schoolboy at Wollongong Technical College, he represented NSW schools in 1945 and after school, began playing junior football on the South Coast with the Wollongong and Tech OBU clubs
In 1950, while playing with Wollongong under 19s, he represented Illawarra under 19s against Newcastle and Lithgow, as well as playing some third grade games towards the end of the season. Still only 18 he tried out with South Sydney for the 1951 season and was graded with the reserves. He played the first three competition matches in reserve grade against North Sydney, Easts and Balmain, before making his first grade debut at the Sydney Cricket Ground on 28 April 1951 in the 36-14 victory over the Western Suburbs Magpies.
He only played five more top grade games in 1951 but the last of these was the 42-14 Grand Final win against Manly on 23 September at the old Sydney Sports Ground. Playing on the wing, Harry enjoyed the Grand Final success with team-mates such as Clive Churchill, Bernie Purcell, Ernie Hammerton and his captain, Jack Rayner.
He returned to the Wollongong club in 1952 for the next four seasons and in this period played four games for Country Firsts and 13 matches for NSW. The 1953 Country Firsts side beat City 28-27.
Days after his 20th birthday, on 24 May 1952, he made his debut for NSW in the 18-17 win over Queensland at the SCG. He played his second interstate match four days later and again NSW won, this time by 27-10. Harry did well in his two interstate games and a few months later was rewarded with selection in the 1952/53 Kangaroos to England and France.
He made his Test debut on this tour, at Leeds on 4 October 1952, in the 19-6 loss to Great Britain. In 1954 he played a key role in Australia’s two Tests to one series win over the touring Great Britain side, scoring the winning try in the third Test at the SCG on 17 July.
In 1956, he signed with the Sydney Western Suburbs club and in six seasons with the Magpies played 94 matches (33 tries) including the 1958 Grand Final loss to St. George, when he captained Wests.
With his South Sydney games, Harry finished with 100 first grade games and 36 tries. He played a total of 35 games for NSW and three matches for City Firsts.
Harry was partnered with Reg Gasnier for the first time against New Zealand on 13 June 1959 in the 9-8 win over New Zealand. This duo played 12 Tests together and many people rate it as Australia’s best ever centre combination. They played all three Tests together in the 1959 home series against New Zealand and all six Tests (3 vs Great Britain and 3 vs France) on the 1959/60 Kangaroo tour.
Harry played in three World Cups, 1954, 1957 and 1960. On the way home from the 1954 Cup in England, Harry and the Australians played two promotional games against New Zealand in Los Angeles, during November 1954. The last of his 29 Tests was at Bradford on 8 October during the 1960 World Cup. Harry was partnered by Gasnier but the Australians were beaten 10-3. Altogether, including his 29 Tests, Harry played 67 matches for Australia, scoring 32 tries.
After finishing in Sydney football, Harry played at Goulburn, Young, Longreach and Port Macquarie. In 1966, the big centre represented Monaro from the Goulburn Workers club, against Great Britain at Cooma. He retired after the 1972 season with Port Macquarie when he was 40 years of age.
By Barry Ross