Ken Irvine

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Ken Irvine
Personal information
Full name Kenneth John Irvine
Nickname Mongo
Born (1940-03-05)5 March 1940
Cremorne, New South Wales
Died 22 December 1990(1990-12-22) (aged 50)
Gold Coast, Queensland
Playing information
Height 5 ft 8 in (173 cm)[1]
Weight 12 st 4 lb (78 kg; 172 lb)[1]
Position Wing
Years Team Pld T G FG P
1958–70 North Sydney 176 171 59 1 633
1971–73 Manly-Warringah 60 41 11 0 145
Total 236 212 70 1 778
Years Team Pld T G FG P
1959–67 New South Wales 24 30 4 0 98
1959–68 Australia 31 33 11 0 121
1960–67 City Firsts 8 7 0 0 21
Source: Rugby League Project and Yesterday's Hero

Kenneth John Irvine (5 March 1940 – 22 December 1990)[2] 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".[3]

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.[2] 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.

Playing career[edit]

North Sydney Bears[edit]

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. Irvine made his Australian debut on the tour against France at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on 31 October 1959.[4]

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 1962 Commonwealth Games 100 yards Bronze Medallist who beat Irvine in 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.

In total, Ken Irvine was selected to three Kangaroo Tours. He toured in 1959-60, 1963-64 where he repeated his feat from 1962 of being the only Australian to score a try in each test of an Ashes series against Great Britain including 3 tries in the 50-12 second test win at Station Road in Swinton in a game that became known as the "Swinton Massacre",[5][6] and finally 1967-68.

Ken Irvine was involved in one of the most talked about and controversial passages of play in rugby league test match history in 1962. In the third Ashes test against Great Britain at the Sydney Cricket Ground, referee Darcy Lawler awarded a try to Irvine late in the game, ignoring a forward pass from Johnny Raper amid howls of protest from Lions players. Australian captain Arthur Summons then gave him the goal kicking duties leaving him with a sideline conversion. As he lined the ball up for the kick, Lawler allegedly gave Irvine some 'advice' about how the ball was placed, telling him that he would miss the kick if he didn't line the ball correctly (Irvine denied this in his memoirs, though Lawler maintained until his death in 2004 that it was true). Irvine then moved in and re-adjusted the ball, walked back to his mark and kicked the goal. The goal gave Australia a 17-16 win and in doing so saw to it that they avoided losing the series 3-0 to the tourists after the Lions had won the first test 31-12 in Sydney and the second 17-10 at Lang Park in Brisbane.[7]

Irvine's Test career ended in 1968 when he suffered a broken leg against in the first test against France on the 1967-68 Kangaroo tour at the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille, 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 Sports Ground (Norths won the game 9-8). He would go on to make 176 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[edit]

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, Bill Hamilton, Graham Eadie and Terry Randall. Irvine went on to make 60 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). 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 February 2016 Irvine holds the record for tries scored in the premiership (212) in front of Steve Menzies (180), Billy Slater (172), Andrew Ettingshausen (165), Terry Lamb (164) and Brett Stewart (162).


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, Terry Lamb and Brett Stewart. Menzies, Ettingshausen and Lamb achieved their 160+ totals in 349, 328 and 350 first grade games respectively. The only active players in 2015, Slater is presently on 172 tries in 277 first grade games while Stewart (both fullbacks) sits on 162 tries from 221 games. Irvine held 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. However, this was surpassed in 2015 by Melbourne Storm's fullback Billy Slater.

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[edit]

Games Tries Goals F/G Points
236 212 70 1 778

(Note - the above total represents points the total for points at the value they were during Irvine's playing days. Since his retirement, field goals have been reduced from two points to one while tries have increased from three points to four. Adjusted for 2016 figures, Ken Irvine would have scored 989 points in club football)


Ken Irvine died in Brisbane at the age of 50 in 1990 after a long battle with leukemia. North Sydney Oval's Ken Irvine Scoreboard was named in his honour.


Irvine was inducted into the Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame in 2004.[8] In August, 2006 he was named at winger in the North Sydney Bears' Team of the Century.

In 2006 Ken Irvine was named on the wing for the Manly Sea Eagles Dream Team to celebrate the club's 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'.[9]

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.[10][11] 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.[12][13] In 2008 New South Wales announced their rugby league team of the century and Irvine was again named on the wing.[14]


  1. ^ a b "1960 World Cup Match". ebay. Retrieved 17 September 2016. 
  2. ^ a b Moore, Andrew. "Irvine, Kenneth John (Ken) (1940–1990)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 8 June 2014. 
  3. ^ Century's Top 100 Players
  4. ^ France vs Australia 1959
  5. ^ 1963 Ashes series 2nd Test
  6. ^ 1963 2nd Test Highlights
  7. ^ Ken Irvine Tribute
  8. ^ Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame
  9. ^ AAP (1 August 2007). "Team of the 50s named". The Daily Telegraph. Australia: News Limited. Retrieved 6 October 2010. 
  10. ^ "Centenary of Rugby League – The Players". NRL & ARL. 23 February 2008. Retrieved 23 February 2008. 
  11. ^ Peter Cassidy (23 February 2008). "Controversy reigns as NRL releases top 100 players". Macquarie National News. Retrieved 23 February 2008. 
  12. ^ Todd Balym (17 April 2008). "Johns, Meninga among Immortals". Fox Sports Australia. Retrieved 17 April 2008. 
  13. ^ "Team of the Century Announced". NRL & ARL. 17 April 2008. Retrieved 17 April 2008. 
  14. ^ ARL (2008). "Australian Rugby Football League 2008 Annual Report" (pdf). Australian Rugby Football League Limited. p. 30. Retrieved 19 July 2009. 

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