EIGHTY-four-year-old Tommy Ryan has not pulled on a pair of boots for decades, but he was a household name as a rugby league centre/winger. He played for St George, represented Australia as a Kangaroo and coached in NSW and Queensland.
Ryan was born in Bingara and went to primary school in Delungra. He left in sixth class to become a boarder at St Josephs College Hunters Hill in Sydney, where he played Rugby Union for the First XV in 1947. He moved to rugby league when he played for Cronulla juniors from 1949-50
“It was a completely different game then,” Ryan said.
“It was a lot better game than what it is today.”
Ryan played in the Cronulla open side until he and his brother were called up to St George in 1950.
“I was a 20-year-old in 1951, and I played nine games in 1952 and got selected for the Kangaroos to go to England,” Ryan said.
He made his Test debut in the Third Test against England, and a switch to the wing yielded him two tries for Australia’s 27-7 victory. Ryan remembered the trip fondly.
“We had the last of the good trips really, we were away for nine months. We left in July and came back in March. We went by ship to England and we played 26 games,” he said.
“We were over there during the autumn. We left England during the December and went to France.”
Ryan said he played 14 games in France and saw a lot of the country in the seven weeks the team was there. He played in three tests against France and crossed for 24 tries.
He said England still had rationing at the time.
“The day we left to come home, in February, was the day they took sweets off the coupons!” Ryan laughed.
“For young blokes like us, who’d never been anywhere. It was fantastic and six weeks each way on the boat was terrific.”
He scored four tries in four tests, but did not represent Australia again.
Ryan played for St George until 1953, he then tried coaching, and took on the Temora team in 1954 and Rockhampton in 1955.
“I came back in 1955 and played the last game with St George in the finals,” Ryan said.
He then played 94 first grade games with St George until 1958, and clocked up 81 tries during that period.
“I still hold the record at St George for the number of tries in a season,” Ryan said.
“I scored 26 tries in 1957, and it can’t be broken because it’s St George-Illawarra now. I think Nathan Blacklock, from Tingha, holds the record of 27, but that’s with St George-Illawarra.”
Ryan had seven children, 22 grand children and now lives in southern NSW