VALE – Ken McCaffrey

Born: 27 September 1929
Passed Away: 6 February 2021
Men of League Foundation Member #1368

One of Australian Rugby League’s grand old men, Ken McCaffery, passed away in a Ballina nursing home on Saturday night, 6 February. He was 91. Ken played the first of his eight Tests, partnering Harry Wells in the centres, against New Zealand at Christchurch on 27 June 1953. This team was the first full Australian side to use air travel for an international trip and on the tour, Ken played six matches, including all three Tests and scored eight tries. The last game of this tour was at Whangarei on 15 July and Ken scored one of Australia’s 24 tries in the 98-7 win over Northland. Just five days after he returned from New Zealand, Ken and three of his Australian team-mates played for the American All Stars against NSW at the SCG on 25 July 1953. NSW won the match 27-18 and Ken, as the American captain, collected one of the team’s four tries.

Born at Paddington, Ken played junior football with Waverley in the CYO competition and was ballboy for the grade club from 1943 to 1945. He came into grade from the start of the 1948 season,
going straight into first grade because of injuries to East’s two best halfbacks. His debut was at halfback with international, Wally O’Connell at five eighth, at the old Sydney Sports Ground on 10
April 1948 in the 17-10 loss to Western Suburbs. He continued in the Easts first grade side until the end of the 1950 season and was selected as a reserve for City Seconds in 1950. He moved to
Toowoomba in Queensland for the 1951 season, after being encouraged to do so by the legendary Duncan Thompson. With Easts, Ken finished with 50 first grade games, 12 tries and nine goals for 54 points. Soon after arriving on the Darling Downs, he made an impact and was selected as the Queensland halfback for the 1951 three match series against NSW. Queensland won the series two
games to one. The Queenslanders won the first match 29-18 with Ken scoring a try and this was the first time since 1932, that the northerners had won the opening match. Later in that year, on 7 July, he kicked four goals in Toowoomba’s tight 20-17 loss to the touring Frenchmen. Altogether, between 1951 and 1956, Ken played 16 games for Queensland, several as captain and scored seven
tries. In early July 1952, Ken was named as a utility player for the 1952/53 Kangaroo touring side to England and France. He did not play a Test on that tour, and suffered some injuries, scoring nine tries in his 12 matches. On that tour Ken and Harry Wells developed a close friendship that has lasted for more than 60 years, until Ken’s illness.

In 1954, he played the first of three Tests against Great Britain, scoring two tries in the 37-12 win at the SCG on 12 June. His fifth Test was at the Brisbane Cricket Ground on 2 July 1955 in the 29-28 loss to France, while his last three Tests were in the 1957 World Cup. Selected as a reserve back for the World Cup, he had to play in the opening match against New Zealand when Greg Hawick was injured. With Brian Clay as his five eighth, Ken starred in all three winning matches, in Australia’s first World Cup win. In 1957, he returned to Sydney and in three seasons with North Sydney played 30 games and scored 34 points. Ken represented City Seconds in both 1957 and 1958. Knee problems caused him to retire at the end of 1957 and he then worked as a Channel 9 commentator as well as becoming assistant secretary of the NSWRL, school’s liaison officer and a member of the NSWRL coaching panel. Ken joined the Canterbury Bulldogs as club secretary in 1970 and in 1980 to 1982, held the same position with the North Sydney Bears. In 1988, he was made a Life Member of the NSWRL and is also a member of the North Sydney Team of the Century. Good at all sports, Ken was captain of Bronte Surf Club during his teenage years. In late 1997, he and Carmel moved to Knockrow on the far north coast of NSW. The couple were married for 62 years and have 10 children (nine sons and a daughter), plus 14 grandchildren. Because of the Covid situation, Ken’s funeral will probably be a private affair at St. Kevin’s Bangalow on Friday 19 February at 11am.


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