By Greg Shannon, QRL History Committee
The QRL would like to pass on sincere condolences to the family of a truly remarkable rugby league identity, former Queensland and Australian player Ken McCaffery who passed away on February 6 at 91 years of age.
Ken had a long and eventual career in rugby league both on and off the field.
A New South Welshmen by birth, he was a Sydney Easts junior who made his first grade debut as a 19 year old in 1948 and by 1950 had played 50 first grade games for the tricolorsmainly at halfback.
Then in 1951, he took a chance to move to Queensland to play under legendary Toowoomba coach Duncan Thompson. Toowoomba was a powerhouse of the game in the 1950s winning many Bulimba cup titles and Ken became an integralpart of the garden city’s rugby league success.
He thrived under the coaching of Duncan Thompson and made the 1951 Queensland side, playing a role in helping his adopted state win the interstate title for the first time since 1940.
Apart from injury, he did not miss a game for Queensland for the next 5 seasons, playing 17 games and leading the state for the 1953-4 seasons. His versatility in the game meant heplayed centre as well as halfback for Queensland.
Australian honours soon followed with selection in the 1952-53 Kangaroo squad and in 1953 was named vice-captain of the Australian side to tour NZ. He also played for Australia in the 1954 world cup from Toowoomba.
Transferring to Brisbane in 1955 he played for Valleys for two seasons from where he continued to represent Qld and Australia before moving back south to link up with North Sydney from where he made the 1957 Australian world cup squad.
After his playing days were over Ken moved into several rolesin and around the game. He worked as a schools liaison officer developing junior clubs particularly in the North Sydney area and worked for the NSWRL for several years. During this time, he helped compile training manuals for coaches.
In 1970, he took on the role of Secretary-Manager of the Canterbury Bankstown club and then in 1980 moved over to North Sydney in a similar role. His tenure with North Sydney saw a revival in the clubs fortunes with some astute signings including NZ captain Mark Graham from Brisbane Norths.
Another player Ken signed to North Sydney was future NQToyota Cowboys captain and ABC commentator Laurie Spina who remembers Ken with great fondness “Ken came up from Sydney to our farm near Ingham and offered me a contract with North Sydney in 1982. I was still in my teens, and he promised Mum and Dad he would look after me, and he did. I actually lived with his family when I first moved down to Sydney, and I just cannot speak highly enough of Ken. I owe him a lot; he was a truly decent man and a great role model”
Ken and his wife Carmel were married in 1958 and had 10 children, and 14 grandchildren.
In later years, the McCaffery’s moved to Lismore to run the Tattersall hotel and later retired to a small farm. Ken gave much of his adult life to the game and was one of the games great students, and at the time of his passing was the oldest former Australian player.
Above all though, he was a thorough gentlemen and a family man who will be missed by all.
1 – Ken with Duncan Thompson.
2 – The team photo is the 1953 Qld side which Ken was captain of and includes dear old Cyril in the bottom right