He played 178 games with South Sydney between 1949 and 1960, scoring 36 tries and 509 goals for a total of 1,126 points. A Souths junior, he was the Australian first forward in the game to score over 1,000 career points. He was also the first Australian forward to kick over 500 career goals a record only matched by three other players up till 2011. He played in the 1950 - 1951 and 1954 - 1955 victorious RabbitohsGrand Final teams shouldering the goal-kicking responsibilities in each of those matches.
Purcell represented for Australia in one Test match (1950) and appeared four times for New South Wales (1951–1956). Purcell's sole Test appearance was in the third Test against Great Britain in 1950. This was the famous 5-2 victory that gave Australia the Ashes for the first time in thirty years. He was selected to represent Sydney against France during their 1951 tour of Australasia in a match that ended in a 19-all draw. Purcell also toured Great Britain with the 1956-57 Australian Kangaroos, playing seven tour matches against English sides but no Tests.
Purcell coached the Rabbitohs (1962–1966) after his retirement as a player, the highlight being the 1965 Grand Final against St. George played at the Sydney Cricket Ground in front of a record crowd of 78,056. Souths lost a hard fought encounter 12-8 against the then nine-times champions. Bernie Purcell passed away on 31 December 2001.