Wednesday, 26 October 2011

One Game Wonders

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. 

Benny Wearing
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.

Col Maxwell
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.   

Allan McKean
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.

John Rheinberger
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.

Greg Smith
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.

David Peachey
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.

Alwyn Simpson
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.

State of Origin
Queensland’s selectors have long been regarded as being more loyal than their New South Wales counterparts, evidenced by the fact that the Blues have used over 60 more players in 30 years of Origin football.  It is also backed up by the number of players that have made just one appearance in the Origin cauldron – NSW’s figure is more than double that of Queensland’s.  The Blues have 44 players with only one match to their name – although 2010-11 debutants Jamal Idris, Josh Dugan and Michael Gordon are likely to add to their tally, while Dean Young, Terry Campese, Steve Turner and James McManus are still prominent NRL players capable of forcing their way into the future squads.  North of the border only 20 players have been given just one chance to prove themselves in the Maroon jumper.  Just five of those have been in the last decade and, importantly, only Antonio Kaufusi and David Stagg (both still playing and in the Origin mix) have not made it past their debut match since Queensland’s remarkable five-series winning streak began in 2006.

In 1995, when Super League-aligned players were ruled ineligible, NSW used three different players on the right wing during the series – and it was to be each player’s lone Origin appearance.  Steady Manly veteran Craig Hancock was dropped after the Blues’ shock loss in the opening match, replaced by his Sea Eagles team-mate John Hopoate.  The volatile rookie was also dumped after Queensland’s series-sealing victory at the MCG, and North Sydney speedster David Hall came into the side for the third encounter, also won by the Maroons.

Injury has often played a role in a player being consigned to one-match wonder status at Origin level.  Such was the case for NSW’s Illawarra centre Brett Rodwell, who injured his knee scoring a try in the Blues’ 20-12 loss to Queensland in the second match of the 1995 series, and for the Maroons’ Antonio Kaufusi in 2007.  Others, unfortunately, have never been given the chance after a horror debut – the most pertinent example being Moree winger Phil Duke, who was involved in an infamous in-goal gaffe during his only Origin appearance for NSW in 1982 (see Minties Moments).

Michael Buettner, Hazem El Masri and Antonio Kaufusi are the only players to have played just the one Test match and made a solitary Origin appearance.  North Sydney centre Buettner was rewarded for a breakthrough year in 1996 with selection for Australia’s post-season Test against PNG, before coming off the bench in the Blues’ 18-12 loss to Queensland in the dead-rubber third encounter of the 1997 series.  El Masri, chosen on the wing in the 2000s’ Team of the Decade by David Middleton’s Rugby League Annual in 2009, was largely ignored by rep selectors during his stellar career.  A Lebanon international, El Masri played his only Test in the green-and-gold at the end of 2002, kicking four goals in Australia’s 32-24 defeat of the Kiwis in Wellington.  He had to wait until 2007 to win a sky-blue jumper – and like Buettner, it was for a dead-rubber encounter.  But El Masri proved pivotal in NSW’s 18-4 victory to avoid a cleansweep, scoring a crucial try and kicking three goals.  Kaufusi benefitted from his role in the front-row for the NRL’s newest superpower, making his Test debut for Australia shortly after playing in Melbourne’s grand final loss to Brisbane.  The dynamic prop came off the bench in the Kangaroos’ 33-10 thrashing of Great Britain at Suncorp Stadium, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in his first Origin match, as an interchange in the first match of the 2007 series.  Failing to recover his best form for the Storm, Kaufusi headed north for disappointing stint with the Cowboys, before transferring to Newcastle midway through 2010.  Kaufusi played three Tests for Tonga at the 2008 World Cup.

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