He also played full-back in the Halifax team which surprised everyone in English rugby league by winning the Rugby Football League Championship in 1985-86 under player/coach Chris Anderson.
Early in his football career Joe Kilroy played for Brisbane's Northern Suburbs club, with a man-of-the-match performance in their win over Souths in the 1980 Brisbane Rugby League grand final. He later played for Brothers, playing for them in the 1987 BRL grand final and scoring two tries. His big year however was 1988, when he played in the first ever Brisbane Broncos match as well as the State of Origin. He was nicknamed 'Smokin' Joe, because of his great speed on the football field.
In 1983 Kilroy was ranked as the world's best fullback, but in 1989 he was sent to jail for three years on drug-related charges. On his release in 1991, he played one game for the Broncos.