VALE – NOEL KELLY
Born – 22 January 1936
Passed Away – 14 June 2020
Noel Kelly was much more than an outstanding Rugby League player. He was a much-loved husband, father and grandfather, as well as being cherished and highly respected by his numerous friends and acquaintances. He was one of the few people to whom the word legend really applied.
A genuine, compassionate and friendly man, Noel always had time for anyone of all ages, both sexes and from all walks of life. He was equally at home with a high ranking politician as he was with a labourer at the bar. He cared for people and over his 84 plus years helped many individuals and also groups.
Born at Ipswich hospital, he grew up at nearby Goodna, 27 km south-west of the Brisbane. Noel played junior football with Goodna and began his grade football with Ipswich Brothers, before playing with Ayr in North Queensland. In 1957 and 1958, he was a member of the Ipswich Bullima Cup-winning team and on 27 May 1959, made his debut for Queensland in the 17-15 win over NSW at the Exhibition ground. He played three matches against NSW in 1959 with Queensland winning all three and another against the touring Kiwis. In 1960 he played two more games for Queensland against NSW and one against France, finishing with a total of seven games for the Maroons.
At the SCG on 13 June 1959, he made his Test debut in a tight 9-8 win over New Zealand. He played all three Tests against New Zealand in that series and then went away to England and France with the 1959 Kangaroos. He also toured with the 1963 Kangaroos and in 1967 became the first forward to make three Kangaroo tours. Noel also went to England with the Australian team for the 1960 World Cup.
The last of his 28 Tests was against France at Toulouse on 7 January 1968. He scored one try each against Great Britain, France and New Zealand, while he played 16 Tests at hooker and 12 in the front row. Noel played nine Tests against both Great Britain and France, eight against New Zealand and two against South Africa in 1963. Altogether, including his 28 Tests, he represented Australia in 72 matches. In 1961, Noel moved to Sydney to join the Wests Magpies, where he played 111 first grade games in his nine seasons including three successive Grand Finals from 1961. He captain/coached the Magpies from 1966 for three seasons, represented NSW in six matches and played two games for City Firsts. His last year as a player was as captain/coach of Wollongong in 1970. He then coached North Sydney for four seasons from 1973 and coached a Combined Sydney team on a New Zealand tour in 1978.
One of his most memorable Tests was at Swinton on 9 November 1963 when Australia beat Great Britain 50-12 in the second Test of the series. He scored one of Australia’s 12 tries in this game. Following the 28-2 win in the first Test, the second Test victory meant that the 1963 team was the first all Australian team to win the Ashes in England. One of the toughest men to play the game, Noel was sent off 17 times, but several of these were from scrum infringements. During his career, the scrums were a real contest.
In 2008, Noel was named as the hooker in the Australian Team of the Century and also as one of Australia’s greatest 100 players. He has won many awards and accolades over the years and these include an Australia Day Ambassador for 10 years, Australian Sports Medal in 2000, Life Member of the SCG and the Wests Magpies, as well as being a popular and intelligent member of the Channel 7 Sports Action programme. Noel was passionate about the Men of League organisation from its beginning and was a Founding Board Member (2002-2014), a Welfare Committeeman and Officer (2002-2014) and a Life Member. The award for the Wests Tigers best forward each year is called the Noel Kelly Medal. Noel and his wife, Chris, who was a local Ipswich girl, were married for 63 years.
The Men of League really valued Noel’s contribution and sound advice over the years and send their deepest sympathy to Noel’s wife Chris, his five children, Greg, Judy, Paul, Natalie and Danny, plus his six grandchildren.