Albert Matthew Thorn
- 173Wallaby Number
Joe Thorn promised to be one of the great figures in Sydney rugby just after World War I, but his career was all too brief for fans’ liking. One of two brothers who represented the State in the 1920s, Joe was younger and smaller than brother Ted, but he was still the first into the representative team. Actually Joe was probably fortunate that there were not bigger men around despite his skills, since an 11st 10lb (74kg) flanker is small in anyone’s book but the Waratah pack of the day was one of the lightest ever fielded. While the selectors would have liked more bulk, there were simply no bigger players of sufficient quality available.
Thorn made his debut against the 1921 Springboks – now there were some big forwards, as two of them were 17st (107kg) giants – and did well enough although the home pack was badly beaten in the first and third matches. The second, which saw the touring selectors make a number of changes to their lineup, was a closer affair that saw New South Wales claim a far larger share of play than many expected, mainly due to the aggressive, bustling style adopted by the home eight. Despite the lack of success in the home matches, there was never any question about Thorn’s right to a place in the team for New Zealand, and he was to prove one of the forward mainstays on this trip.
Thorn was shaking off a slight injury when the team arrived in New Zealand and did not play until the third match, against Bay of Plenty. From that point onwards he was an ever-present and formed an excellent trio with Viv Dunn and Darby Loudon in six of the remaining eight matches. Dunn did not play against Poverty Bay and only Thorn turned out against West Coast; otherwise the trio was retained intact. The 1921 Waratahs were noted for the speed at which they played the game and in this regard the work of the loose men was vitally important, as the pack lacked the size to get bogged down in slugging matches with much heavier opposing sides.
Speed to the loose ball was critical and in this regard few excelled Thorn, who won consistent praise from the New Zealand critics for a series of fine displays. Although he only scored one try, against West Coast, Thorn was prominent in a high number that were scored by the free-running backs after turnovers had been secured. Thorn was always going to play in the Test, which New South Wales won 17-0, inflicting on an admittedly under-strength All Black side the heaviest defeat ever suffered at home to this day. The tourists, having accomplished the main mission of the tour, then struck both Wellington and one of the few wet pitches they encountered all tour in the finale, losing their unbeaten record with an 8-16 defeat. Thorn was acclaimed as one of the tour’s successes, with his non-stop work ethic and good fitness catching the eye. He only played twice more for New South Wales, though.
He was a member of the State team that lost 22-25 to the 1922 New Zealand Maori team in the first of three thrilling matches and was dropped for the second match in a pack reshuffle that saw lock Charlie Fox reassigned to the loose forwards. Although New South Wales won, Thorn was returned to the team for the third match, only to be among those over-run as the visitors mounted a stirring comeback from 22-6 down. In the end the Maori, fired by four tries by Wattie Barclay, won the match by a single point. Thorn then played a further match against the tourists for the State 2nd XV, scoring a try, and his only appearances against the All Blacks, who toured a month later,were for the Seconds and for Metropolitan Union. At the end of that season Thorn retired from rugby, aged only 23, to concentrate on golf – a sport at which he became highly proficient.