|Full name||Kenneth John Irvine|
5 March 1940|
Cremorne, New South Wales
|Died||22 December 1990
|Height||173 cm (5 ft 8 in)|
|Weight||73 kg (11 st 7 lb)|
|1959–67||New South Wales||24||30||4||0||98|
|Source: Rugby League Project and Yesterday's Hero|
Kenneth John Irvine (5 March 1940 – 22 December 1990) was an Australian rugby league footballer of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. He holds the standing Australian record for the most number of tries in a first-grade career – 212. No other player has yet managed 200 tries in their Australian club career, with the closest to Irvine's tally being former Manly-Warringah and Northern Eagles player Steve Menzies who scored 180. He is also the 2nd all time top try-scorer for the Australian national team with 33, two behind Darren Lockyer's 35. Irvine's great speed is legendary and he is regarded as Australia's greatest ever winger, being named in 2008 in the list of Australian rugby league's 100 greatest players, as well as being an automatic selection for the Australian Rugby League's "Team of the Century".
Irvine played his club football for the North Sydney and Manly-Warringah clubs in the New South Wales Rugby Football League premiership, winning the premiership with Manly in 1972 and 1973. His great speed saw him play primarily on the Wing.
Born in Cremorne, Sydney, to John Bernard Irvine, a butcher, and his wife Doris May, née McCabe, Irvine attended Marist Brothers College Mosman. Irvine originally excelled in both baseball and sprinting, playing in the New South Wales junior baseball side alongside future New South Wales and Australian team mate Reg Gasnier, while also competitively running for the Randwick-Botany Club. After deciding to attend a trial at Wentworth Park for the North Sydney Bears rugby league club as a 17-year-old, their first grade coach Ross McKinnon stated "sign that kid for life", and Ken was signed and playing for the club the following year.
North Sydney Bears
Making his debut for the club on the wing in 1958, he was an instant success for the club, proving to be a frequent try scorer. After only one full club season with Norths, Irvine was selected for New South Wales in 1959. He was the 1959 NSWRFL season's leading try-scorer with 19 and was rewarded with selection in the Australian side for the 1959–60 Kangaroo tour of Europe. Irvine made his Australian debut on the tour against France, scoring a try on debut.
In 1961 Irvine showcased his speed at a specially-arranged event specifically in an attempt to break professional world record over 100 yards. Irvine won the event and equaled the record of 9.3 seconds. During the same event he would also win the 120-yard Dubbo Gift after starting a yard behind scratch, again displaying his much-publicised speed. Irvine's speed was such that he is still considered by many to be the fastest player ever to lace on a boot, and is favorably compared against other noted rugby league speedsters such as Johnny Bliss, Michael Cleary (a Commonwealth Games 100 yards Bronze Medallist who beat Irvine in a A£2,000 match race at Sydney's Wentworth Park in 1964), Martin Offiah and Darren Albert.
Ken Irvine excelled at running with pace along the sideline, his small frame in perfect balance as he did what all great wingers must do, finish the play and score. His very high leg speed and balance allowed him to make larger defenders grasp at straws as he evaded them with ease. There is little doubt among Rugby League historians that Irvine was one of the quickest accelerating and highest top speed players ever seen, certainly capable of International athletic medals.
Irvine's Test career ended in 1968 when he suffered a broken leg against France, ruling him out for much of the 1969 NSWRFL season.
Irvine had the honor of captaining the Bears on occasions, although he infamously threatened to lead his team off in protest of referee Keith Page during in a 1970 match against Canterbury-Bankstown at Belmore Sportsground (Norths won the game 9-8). He would go on to make 174 appearances for the side, scoring 171 tries. His stint with the Bears ended at the end of 1970 after disagreements with head coach Roy Francis.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
Irvine was quickly signed by Manly club secretary Ken Arthurson in 1971. The Sea Eagles club Secretary knew the value of adding the games best winger to what was already a quality team that included the likes of Bob Fulton, Fred Jones Mal Reilly and Terry Randall. Irvine went on to make 58 appearances for the club, scoring 41 tries and showed he had lost none of his speed at the end of his career. He overtook Harold Horder as the NSWRFL's all-time top try-scorer, and was finally able to win a premiership when he helped Manly to claim successive premierships in 1972 (19-14 over Eastern Suburbs) and 1973 (10-7 over Cronulla-Sutherland). Ironically Irvine didn't score a try in either of his Grand Final wins with the Sea Eagles.
Ken Irvine retired after the 1973 Grand Final win over Cronulla, becoming the first player to score 200 tries in NSWRFL Premiership history. As of March 2012 Irvine holds the record for tries scored in the premiership (212) in front of Steve Menzies (180), Andrew Ettingshausen (165), Terry Lamb (164) and Matt Sing (159).
Irvine's 212 career tries is the standing NSWRL/NRL career record for the most first grade tries. This extraordinary tally was achieved in only 236 first grade games and is 32 tries clear of his nearest rival in the rankings: Steve Menzies, and almost 50 ahead of Billy Slater, Andrew Ettingshausen and Terry Lamb. Menzies, Ettingshausen and Lamb achieved their 160+ totals in 349, 328 and 350 first grade games respectively and Slater is presently on 166 tries in 260 first grade games in 2014. Irvine also holds the record for the highest amount of tries scored for a single club, recording 171 tries during 176 games at North Sydney between 1958-1970.
Irvine's 33 tries for Australia was eclipsed by Darren Lockyer during the 2010 Four Nations tournament against Papua New Guinea. Lockyer, who started his test career at Fullback before moving to Five-eighth, broke Irvine's record while playing in his 52nd test. Ken Irvine scored his 33 tries in 33 test matches, scoring at the remarkable rate of one try per test.
Point scoring summary
(Note - the above totals represent points at present-day values. When Irvine played, a try was worth 3 points, and goals and field goals were each worth 2 points, thus his total points scored was actually 778.)
In 2006 Ken Irvine was named on the wing for the Manly Sea Eagles Dream Team to celebrate the clubs 60th anniversary. The team, selected by a panel of selectors which featured former Manly-Warringah administrator Ken Arthurson, respected rugby league writer Ian Heads, the club Chairman Kerry Sibraa and journalist Phil Rothfield, included six of Irvine's team mates from the 1972 and 1973 premiership teams.
In 2007 Irvine was selected by a panel of experts as a winger in an Australian 'Team of the 50s'.
In February 2008, Irvine was named in the list of Australia's 100 Greatest Players (1908–2007) which was commissioned by the NRL and ARL to celebrate the code's centenary year in Australia. Irvine went on to be named as one of the wingers, along with Brian Bevan, in Australian rugby league's Team of the Century. Announced on 17 April 2008, the team is the panel's majority choice for each of the thirteen starting positions and four interchange players. In 2008 New South Wales announced their rugby league team of the century and Irvine was again named on the wing.
- Moore, Andrew. "Irvine, Kenneth John (Ken) (1940–1990)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 8 June 2014.
- Century's Top 100 Players
- Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame
- AAP (1 August 2007). "Team of the 50s named". The Daily Telegraph (Australia: News Limited). Retrieved 6 October 2010.
- "Centenary of Rugby League – The Players". NRL & ARL. 23 February 2008. Retrieved 23 February 2008.
- Peter Cassidy (23 February 2008). "Controversy reigns as NRL releases top 100 players". Macquarie National News. Retrieved 23 February 2008.
- Todd Balym (17 April 2008). "Johns, Meninga among Immortals". Fox Sports Australia. Retrieved 17 April 2008.
- "Team of the Century Announced". NRL & ARL. 17 April 2008. Retrieved 17 April 2008.
- ARL (2008). "Australian Rugby Football League 2008 Annual Report" (pdf). Australian Rugby Football League Limited. p. 30. Retrieved 19 July 2009.
- Ken Irvine at northsydneybears.com.au
- Ken Irvine at eraofthebiff.com
- 20th Century Top 10 Rugby League Players