There are a variety of reasons behind a player making just one appearance at club, state or international level. The most notable, laudable and regrettable are recalled below.
Despite being regarded as one of the 1920s’ truly outstanding players, South Sydney winger Benny Wearing was continually overlooked for Test duty. A club legend with a Rabbitohs’ record 144 tries and then-record 836 points in 173 games, Wearing represented NSW 12 times before finally winning an Australian cap in 1928. After missing out on the first two Test sides against England, Wearing scored two tries and kicked three goals in the 21-14 third Test victory – Australia’s only success of the series. But he was again left out when the following year’s Kangaroo Tour squad was named. Despite the snubbing, Wearing was recognised as one of the 100 greatest players of all time during the ARL’s Centenary celebrations in 2008.
Wests centre Col Maxwell was an unwitting player in the biggest selection controversy in the game’s history (see Bolters and Unlucky Omissions – Len Smith). In 1948 Maxwell debuted for NSW and was a non-playing reserve for Australia’s series with the Kiwis, but a dramatic loss of form saw him finish the year in reserve grade. Incumbent Test captain Len Smith was considered a certainty to lead the 1948-49 Kangaroos, but in an apparently politically and religiously motivated move, Smith was infamously left out of the squad, while Maxwell was a shock selection as captain-coach. Maxwell was hampered by injury throughout the tour, and played the only Test match of his career as skipper in Australia’s 16-7 loss to Great Britain in the second Ashes encounter at Station Road, Swinton.
Rock-steady fullback Allan McKean, the one-time holder of the Roosters’ career pointscoring record, was chosen for his one and only Test during the 1970 Ashes series. Injury had claimed skipper Graeme Langlands in the first encounter, and Australian selectors gave McKean the call-up for the deciding third Test. McKean starred on debut with seven goals, but it was not enough to prevent a 21-17 defeat. The Tricolours custodian was the competition’s leading pointscorer in 1972 but never received another representative opportunity, while Australia has not lost an Ashes series since.
Although his two appearances technically rule him ineligible for one-game wonder status, Roosters centre John Rheinburger made his only first grade start in the 1975 grand final. A member of the inaugural Australian Schoolboys squad in 1972, the youngster came on as a replacement in one match during the 1975 season, before being called up to replace Mark Harris, who broke his leg in the preliminary final. Rheinberger did his job in Easts’ 38-0 demolition of St. George, but did not play another first grade game. He went on to have a successful career in indoor cricket.
American Greg Smith was undoubtedly the most notable and notorious ‘one-game wonder’ during the NRL’s first decade, and perhaps in premiership history. Smith arrived at Newcastle in 1999 amid much hype, claiming to have been a former NFL player with the Philadelphia Eagles. Knights coach Warren Ryan fast-tracked Smith into the first grade side for the Round 3 clash with Canterbury – with disastrous results. But after starting on the wing, it all went pear-shaped for Smith. Newcastle led 24-4 with half an hour of the match remaining, but on the back of two lamentable Smith errors and some Rod Silva magic, the Bulldogs came back to snatch a 28-26 victory. Newcastle’s loss was generally regarded as the ‘choke’ of the season, and Smith was promptly dropped from first grade and departed the club. It was later revealed he had never played American football and he quickly earned rugby league curiosity status.
Despite being one of the most gifted fullbacks of his generation, Cronulla great David Peachey has just one NSW State of Origin jumper and one Super League Test guernsey to show for a thrilling 14-season career. A brilliant start to the 1997 Super League season saw Peachey selected for the rebel organisation’s Anzac Test against the Kiwis early in the year, but his position was usurped for the post-season internationals by a 20-year-old Darren Lockyer, who was preparing to launch himself into the realm of the all-time great custodians. Despite winning consecutive Dally M Fullback of the Year awards in 1999-2000, Peachey only made one Origin appearance for the Blues. Melbourne No. 1 Robbie Ross kept Peachey out of the side in 1999, and injury ruled him out of the final two clashes in 2000 after he scored a vital try in the series opener.
In 2007 Brisbane winger Alwyn Simpson became the first player since Parramatta livewire Dennis Moran a decade earlier to make his first grade debut in a finals match. Injury had ravaged the defending premiers during the second half of the season, and Simpson was selected on the end of a reshuffled backline to take on Melbourne in the qualifying final. Simpson, who was formerly contracted to the Raiders, experienced a torrid afternoon as his opposing winger Steve Turner crossed for three tries in a 40-0 drubbing. The Storm went on to emphatically claim the premiership, while Simpson was destined to slip out of NRL contention, instead plying his trade for the Redcliffe Dolphins in the Queensland Cup.