Australian Rugby League faced a new challenge in 1956, with captain and fullback, Clive Churchill unavailable for his country for the first time in 32 Tests, with the then 29-year-old ruled out of the series against New Zealand, after breaking his arm twice.
Dual international hooker, Ken Kearney was named his replacement captain-coach, with Brisbane Wests’ fullback, Ken McCrohon the new fullback for the First Test of the series.
Originally from Armidale in New South Wales, McCrohon had joined Wests at the urging of Jack Cunningham, a Sydney based scout for Queensland clubs.
In 2015, McCrohon told ‘The Courier-Mail’s Bernie Pramberg that Cunningham must have been a pretty fair judge, because he also sent the likes of Norm Pope, Ken McCaffery and Don Furner north, all of them internationals at some stage in their careers.
New Zealand named seven players from the Richmond club in Auckland for the tour, including captain, Tom Baxter, and coach, Bill Telford.
They opened the tour with a 19-16 win over Western Division at Lithgow, followed by a 26-17 win over New South Wales at the Sydney Cricket Ground, with centre, Bill Sorensen from the Ponsonby club, scoring three tries. But a 20-5 loss to Newcastle in quagmire like conditions dented their confidence leading up to the First Test.
Besides McCrohon, the other debutants in the Australian side were Maitland winger, Don ‘Bandy’ Adams; South Sydney speedster, Ian Moir; Rockhampton five eighth, Cyril Connell Jnr.; Toowoomba lock, Ian ‘Ripper’ Doyle and Brisbane Souths’ second rower, Tom Tyquin.
McCrohon was the first fullback chosen for Australia from Queensland since William ‘Circy’ Smith (Ipswich Starlights) in 1933 in England.
Australia won 12-9 in a torrid encounter, but the Kiwis were widely regarded as the better side, although the home side scored four tries to three in quagmire conditions, which played havoc with goal kicking.
Adams, a dairy farmer, was regarded as the fastest footballer over 20 metres in Australia, and scored two tries in a stunning Test debut, after getting a late call-up following the withdrawal of Brian Carlson through injury.
Australian centre, Dick Poole from the Newtown (Sydney) club had a great dual with Baxter, scoring a try and providing the break that led to Adams streaking away for the winning try in the final minute of play.
Poole’s co-centre, Alex Watson (Brisbane Wests) took a battering from Sorensen, but gave as much back, and was rated the best attacking centre in the game by The Courier-Mail’s Jack Reardon.
McCrohon made a shaky start, but gained in confidence and played a big role in Australia’s second try, scored by Moir.
The crowd for the Test was 46,766.
In the lead-up to the Test, the Australians were guests back stage at Sydney’s Tivoli Theatre.
In a Bulimba Cup (inter-city) match at Toowoomba, the home side beat Brisbane 33-25 with winger, Des McGovern scoring two tries.
Toowoomba scored 13 points in the first 15 minutes, with halfback and captain, Sammy Hunter in electrifying form. The State star shot away from the scrums and rucks, running semi-diagonally to find openings left by the lagging cover defence.
The Clydesdales had far more pace than Brisbane, and their backing-up was superb.
The first half highlight for Brisbane was a wonderful 50 metre try by halfback, Ken McCaffery, who was put into the clear by Ray Edwards.
Down 31-7 after 50 minutes, Brisbane rallied, largely through the efforts of forwards, Brian Davies, Fred Proberts and John Bruton, with Bruton scoring two tries. But the damage had been done in the first half.
The crowd was 6,800.
In Brisbane club football, Wests beat Brothers 30-21 in the Presidents Cup final, a match rated by Jack Reardon as the best of the season, to that point.
Wests’ five eighth, Norm Reynolds repeatedly slashed through Brothers’ defence and was directly responsible for three of the club’s six tries. New Test fullback, McCrohon played one of his brightest games, scoring two tries. Test prop, Brian Davies kicked six goals from seven shots for Brothers.
FOOTNOTE: Clive Churchill was chosen to make his third Kangaroo tour of Britain and France at the end of the 1956 season, but was dropped after the First Test loss to Britain at Wigan, and that was the end of his Test career. McCrohon was a reserve back for the Second Test against the Kiwis, with Newtown’s Gordon Clifford the new fullback. Norm Pope (Brisbane Valleys) was fullback for the Third Test. Australia won the series 3-0.