The Burgess Brothers. As much as I love them, they are not in the same class as the Thornett brothers.
Let me explain.
The reason I love the Burgess boys is because they are good, honest, working class rugby league players (albeit living a different lifestyle now) from Dewsbury in West Yorkshire, who give 100 percent every time they take the field for South Sydney or England.
Sam is skilful, and an amazing athlete. George and Tom are robotic, hit-it-up-hard lads, although they have improved their ball skills, and ball security, in recent times.
It was a different story for the Thornett boys, now all deceased, following the passing of John, MBE, on January 4, aged 83
They were raised in Sydney and were all naturally gifted. All three were skilful and athletic, products of an Australian outdoors lifestyle which was envied around the world, and produced so many champions, especially considering our small population.
Ken was one of my childhood heroes. A superb fullback who may have dropped a ball, once or twice in his career. Ken started his senior career with Randwick Rugby Union, but was snapped up by Leeds rugby league in England when their scouts saw him playing union for London side, Rosslyn Park.
Dick was multi-talented. He represented Australia in rugby union, rugby league and water polo – the latter at the 1960 Rome Olympics.
He was the only one of the three brothers I saw play live, and also got to meet.
I saw him play for Australia in the 1968 rugby league World Cup, and met him when he was licensee of the Dolphin Hotel at Surry Hills.
Photo 1: Dick Thornett (left) and Ken.
John, who had studied engineering at university, had never been tempted by rugby league. He was likened to cricket’s Sir Donald Bradman, given his influence on the sport of rugby union, as an inspirational, gentlemanly skipper of the Wallabies.
The Wallabies always played second fiddle to league’s Kangaroos in John’s time at the helm, but they were always respected, given they were amateurs, who often made huge sacrifices to go on overseas tours.
The current Wallabies do not demand the same respect.
Footnote: Radio TAB’s John McCoy saw John Thornett captain the Wallabies against the British Lions at Lang Park, Brisbane in 1966. McCoy had played for Gregory Terrace against The Southport School in a curtain raiser, with lads from both sides allowed to sit on the sidelines for the Test. That British Lions side included future Great Britain rugby league reps., David Watkins and Terry Price. Four members of the Australian backline switched to league – John Brass (who made his debut against the Lions), Phil Hawthorne, Alan Cardy and George Ruebner. Brass and Hawthorne became dual internationals.
Photo 2: John Thornett