The NSWRL pays tribute to the great Ken McCaffery, who has passed away at the age of 91.
An Eastern Suburbs junior – he was the club’s ball boy in 1943 – McCaffery made his first grade debut in 1948 whilst still a teenager.
After appearing in a handful of matches in the top grade that year he quickly established himself as the club’s first choice halfback, and had good judges sitting up and taking notice in his three years with the Tricolours.
One of those judges was the great Duncan Thompson, who was coaching Toowoomba and at the end of 1951, McCaffery moved to the Darling Downs to be coached by one of the game’s legendary halfbacks and coaches.
McCaffery blossomed under Thompson and made his debut for Queensland that year, the first of seventeen matches for the Maroons, as they claimed the interstate series for the first time since 1940.
The following year he was selected for the Kangaroo tour but had to wait until the tour of New Zealand in 1953 to make his Test debut.
By then his versatility had become a byword, and while he made his Test debut as a centre, he would also play as a five eighth and halfback over his eight-Test career. He would undoubtedly have played many more internationals but for repeated injuries.
His international career ended on a high note when he was a star in Australia’s 1957 World Cup victory, scoring two tries against Great Britain and also starring against France and the Rest of the World XIII.
On the domestic front he switched from Toowoomba to Brisbane’s famous Fortitude Valley club in 1955 and helped them win the premiership undefeated.
He returned south in 1957, signing on with North Sydney and won a new legion of admirers in his three seasons with the Bears before a knee injury prematurely ended his career.
After retiring as a player McCaffery did a stint as a commentator with Channel Nine, served as a NSWRL Assistant Secretary and as Schools Liaison Officer and a member of the NSWRL Coaching Panel for several seasons before he joined Canterbury-Bankstown as Secretary in 1970.
He returned to North Sydney as Secretary in 1980 and helped drive a revival in the fortunes of his old club, overseeing the recruitment of quality players such as Kiwi Immortal Mark Graham, Stan Jurd and the return of wily English forward John Gray under the astute coaching of Ron Willey.
Norths made their first semi-final appearance for seventeen years in 1982 and appeared on the verge of a new era. Internal ructions ended his tenure with the club at the end of 1985 but in no way diminished his standing with the North Sydney faithful.
Universally admired and respected for his multi-faceted contribution to the game, McCaffery was voted as a member of the North Sydney Team of the Century and was made a Life Member of the NSWRL in 1988.