The NSWRL was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of John Elford, aged 76.
Hailing from Casino on the north coast of NSW, Elford was a beach sprint champion which assisted him with his speed and fitness. He started his Rugby League career with the Smithtown Tigers before joining Western Suburbs in 1966 after being scouted by Noel Kelly.
Elford began his career on the wing but was later shifted to the forwards where he remained for the rest of his career. A great defender and a confident ball player, Elford represented NSW in 1972 and represented Australia on four occasions. He was selected to be part of the Australian World Cup side in 1972 but broke his arm in a warm-up match and was unable to take part.
Injuries would continue to plague Elford for the latter part of his career – he missed the entire 1973 season with a broken arm – and he eventually retired in 1976. He returned home to captain/coach Smithfield, steering them to a Group 2 premiership in 1977 and a Grand Final in 1978.
Elford was also passionate about players’ rights and fought a legal battle unsuccessfully against the NSWRL’s transfer system in the NSW Supreme Court, leading him to sit out the 1969 season in protest. Former Balmain second-rower Dennis Tutty also challenged the system and sat out two seasons in 1969-70 before winning his case before the full High Court of Australia.
Elford eventually resolved his differences with the Magpies and remained a one-club man for the rest of his career.
The NSWRL passes its sincere condolences on to Elford’s family and friends.