Friday 15 December 2017 / 03:12 PM

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: KANGAROOS’ MATURE DEBUTANTS

James Maloney appears set to make his Test debut for Australia in this weekend’s Four Nations opener against minnows Scotland, marking a milestone the 30-year-old probably thought had passed him by. Meanwhile, Jake Friend is also likely to don the green-and-gold for the first time after nine seasons of NRL toil – and many years in Cameron Smith’s shadow in the rep stakes.

The duo, unlucky not win World Cup selection after being premiership-winning teammates at the Roosters in 2013, join a band of players who faced a lengthy wait to achieve rugby league’s greatest honour.

Rex Mossop

Manly prop Mossop became a dual international at the age of 30, representing the Wallabies before turning professional with English club Leigh. ‘The Moose’ was lured back to Australia by the Sea Eagles in 1956, before earning his first rugby league Test cap during the 1958 Ashes series. He played 12 Tests in the 13-a-side game, including the 1959-60 Kangaroo Tour and the 1960 World Cup, before becoming a legendary commentator.

Billy Wilson

The indomitable ‘Captain Blood’ debuted for St George in 1948 and played in the two grand final triumphs for the club before finally winning an Australian call-up in 1959, debuting mid-season against New Zealand at the age of 32. The ferocious prop ultimately played 10 Tests – including all five on the 1959-60 Kangaroo Tour – and became the second-oldest player in Australian Test history at 36 years and 23 days when he faced the Kiwis in 1963. The Dragons’ 1962 grand final captain, Wilson is the only player to feature in first grade at the age of 40 (as captain-coach of Norths in 1967) and to have a first-grade career spanning 20 seasons.

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Kevin Ryan

Ex-Wallaby forward ‘Kandos’ Ryan became the most feared defender in rugby league, but it took four premiership wins for the Dragons before selectors gave him dual international status by picking him in the 1963-64 Kangaroo Tour squad as a 29-year-old. The fearsome forward played just four games on tour due to injury, but made his Test debut on home soil against France the following season. Ryan won three more grand finals with the record-breaking Saints, before masterminding their downfall as captain-coach of Canterbury in 1967.

Johnny King

Gilgandra winger King established a record that is destined to stand the test of time, scoring tries in six straight grand final victories for St George from 1960-65, but the presence of Ken Irvine, Dragons teammate Eddie Lumsden and South Sydney’s Michael Cleary blocked his path to an Australian jumper. Although he was only 24 when he eventually debuted in the 1966 Ashes series, King had almost a century of first-grade tries to his name in six and a half seasons. He went on to score eight tries in 15 Tests, playing all six Tests on the 1967-68 Kangaroo Tour.

Ray Laird

Rockhampton Railways fullback Ray Laird, who spent a season at St George in 1962, played 15 interstate games for Queensland from 1963-70 before being selected for his one and only Test during the 1970 Ashes series. The 29-year-old replaced injured star Graeme Langlands in the No.1 jumper, but was dumped after the 28-7 loss in favour of Easts’ Allan McKean for the decider.

George Piggins

Take-no-prisoners hooker Piggins debuted for his beloved South Sydney in 1967, but his path to a regular first-grade spot – and therefore rep honours – was blocked by Elwyn Walters. Walters’ move to Easts opened the door for the rugged Piggins, who was just shy of his 31st birthday when he played the first of three matches for Australia in the 1975 World Championship Series.

John Ferguson

Electric winger ‘Chicka’ Ferguson didn’t venture to Sydney until the age of 26, playing in Newtown’s 1981 grand final loss in his first year. But after moving to Easts in 1984 and playing a leading hand in Wigan’s famous Challenge Cup final win at Wembley a year later, Ferguson debuted for NSW and Australia just shy of his 29th birthday. Arguably the best winger in the game during the late-1980s, Ferguson couldn’t force his way back into the Test team, but he remains the Blues’ oldest Origin player (34 years and 348 days in 1989) and was a hero of Canberra’s 1989-90 grand final successes.

Gavin Miller

Ball-playing back-rower Miller played for Wests, Easts and Cronulla from 1977-84, but his career truly took off after a stint with Hull Kingston Rovers that saw him named the English premiership’s player of the year. Returning to the Sharks in 1986, Miller was one of the Winfield Cup’s dominant players in latter part of the decade, winning back-to-back Dally M Medals in 1988-89 and jointly winning the ’89 Rothmans Medal with Mark Sargent. At the age of 28, Miller played three matches for Australia – a Test against Papua New Guinea at Wagga Wagga, a man-of-the-match display against Rest of the World, and the 1988 World Cup final victory over New Zealand. But despite captaining NSW in 1989 and producing outstanding club form, he was left out of Australia’s squad for the tour to New Zealand. 

Mark Hohn

A 1988 Broncos original, Hohn played in the club’s 1992-93 grand final wins and made his Origin debut for Queensland in the latter year. The industrious forward was a shock inclusion on Australia’s bench for their one-off Test against France midway through ’94, however, with the 30-year-old ousting the likes of Dean Pay for a Test debut. Left out of the Kangaroo Tour squad at the end of the year, Hohn extended his Origin career during his 1995 swansong with South Queensland Crushers, featuring in the no-name Maroons’ stunning 3-0 series win under the coaching of Paul Vautin. 

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Trevor Gillmeister

‘The Axe’ was a Maroons stalwart while at Eastern Suburbs – making his Origin debut in 1987 – before playing a vital role in Brisbane’s 1992-93 premiership successes. Reluctantly released by the Broncos, Gillmeister joined Penrith in 1994 but his rep career appeared over after he was dropped for that year’s Origin decider. His inspirational role as captain of the Super League-depleted Queenslanders’ series whitewash in ’95 catapulted him into the Australian Test side, however, becoming the oldest forward debutant since Billy Wilson. The 31-year-old played all three matches of the green-and-golds’ 3-0 series win over the Kiwis, before retiring a year later after two seasons with the Crushers.

Gary Larson

Another player to earn a belated Test debut on the back of Queensland’s heroic 1995 series win, North Sydney workhorse Larson had played 15 straight Origins before getting called into the Australian side to take on New Zealand at the age of 28. Larson, who debuted for the Bears in 1987, was desperately unlucky to miss out on the 1994 Kangaroo Tour squad, but played nine Tests during the Super League-affected mid-1990s and finished with a then-record 24 consecutive Origins for the Maroons.

Darren Smith

A super-consistent, prolific try-scorer at centre and lock for Canterbury – where he debuted in 1990 – and Brisbane, Smith had played 10 Origins for Queensland from 1992-98 before getting an Australian Test call-up two months before his 30th birthday. Smith, who had represented Super League Australia the year before, made his first official Test appearance at the end of ’98 after helping the Broncos to a grand final victory. He turned out for the Kangaroos seven times, including a controversial selection for the injury-ravaged Australian side in 2003 when he was based at St Helens and on the verge of turning 35. 

Darren Britt

One of the more remarkable representative stories of the modern era, Darren Britt played nine Tests for Australia from 1998-2000 – despite never representing NSW. The Orange product arrived at Canterbury in 1994 via Western Suburbs and won a premiership the following year, but made his Kangaroos debut on his 29th birthday at the end of ’98 after captaining the Bulldogs to an unlikely grand final appearance. A towering, durable prop with a magical offload, Britt featured in Australia’s 2000 World Cup success, establishing a record for most Test appearances without playing Origin football.

Jason Croker

Though a relatively youthful 27 when he was belatedly selected for Australia for the first time, Croker had 10 seasons, 200 games and 98 tries behind him for Canberra when he was named as part of the Kangaroos’ 2000 World Cup squad. The ultra-versatile Croker debuted for NSW in 1993 and had been extremely unlucky to miss Kangaroo Tour selection the following season after starring in the Raiders’ premiership triumph. He earned his Test spurs in a warm-up match against Papua New Guinea, before playing in four of Australia’s World Cup fixtures. Croker played on with the Raiders until 2006, finally hanging up the boots as a 36-year-old after three seasons with Catalans.

Luke Ricketson

Roosters stalwart Ricketson made his Origin debut in 1999 – eight years after earning his first-grade stripes – but a green and gold jersey seemed destined to elude the backrower, and he turned out for Ireland at the 2000 World Cup. But after starring in the Tricolours’ 2002 grand final win and playing six straight games for the Blues in ’02-03, Ricketson broke into the Australian side aged 30 for the mid-season clash against New Zealand in the latter season. The workhorse then went on to play in all four of the injury-hit Kangaroos’ post-season Tests, before hanging up the boots at the end of 2005 with 301 games for the Roosters to his name. 

Tonie Carroll

Blockbusting lock/centre Carroll snared a first-grade berth for Brisbane in 1996 and became a Queensland Origin regular two years later, but the Christchurch-born hitman’s first foray in the Test arena came for the Kiwis at the 2000 World Cup ahead of a move to Leeds. Returning to the Broncos and Maroons line-ups in 2003, the 28-year-old Carroll made his debut for Australia during the 2004 Four Nations, eventually racking up seven Test appearances in the green and gold.

Carl Webb

The burly, dynamic Webb broke into first grade with the Broncos in 2000 and made a stunning Origin debut for Queensland the following season, but injuries, suspensions and inconsistency prevented him from taking the next step. That was until 2008, when the 27-year-old was named in Australia’s line-up for the Centenary Test against New Zealand at the SCG. It was to be the Cowboys enforcer’s sole Test, however, and he played the last of his 12 Origins less than two weeks later before falling off the representative map. 

Josh Perry

A grand final winner during his first full season in first grade with Newcastle in 2001, fiery front-rower Perry played one match for NSW in 2003 but fell out of favour with selectors thereafter. However, after playing Manly’s 2008 grand final success, Perry snared a place in Australia’s World Cup squad at the age of 27. He ended a six-year Origin hiatus the following season and made the last of four Test appearances in 2010.

Corey Parker

A solid prop/backrower who debuted for the Broncos in 2001, Parker represented Queensland three times in 2004-05 but could not force his way back into the dominant Maroons’ squad despite developing into one his club’s most valuable and consistent performers. Finally returning to the Origin arena in 2011, Parker won Rugby League Week’s Player of the Year award that season and grabbed a Four Nations berth at the age of 29. The goalkicking lock was virtually an automatic selection for the Test team from 2013-16, before retiring from the NRL this year and controversially missing out on a Kangaroos swansong in the upcoming Four Nations.

[YouTube – NRL]

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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