Alfred James Kelly
- 8Wallaby Number
Better known as ‘Curley’, Kelly was born in Sydney in 1874 and initially played for the Wallaroos Club, Sydney. Perhaps an over-vigorous player, he represented NSW on seven occasions from 1898 to 1900 as a front-row forward. On 24th June 1899, in Sydney, he played, as hooker, in Australia’s first-ever Test match against the Reverend Mathew Mullineaux’s Great Britain side, a match won by Australia, 13- 3. Did ‘Curley’ Kelly score Australia’s first-ever try? Controversy still exists. According to some lists of Test scorers in ‘Rugby Annuals’, A.J. Colton, Queensland, is the try scorer. Unofficially it was ‘Curley’ Kelly, whose name does not appear on these lists. In 1900, Kelly joined the Eastern Suburbs Rugby Club, Sydney, and he is acknowledged as the first Easts player to play for NSW when he represented his State against Queensland on 21 July 1900 in Sydney. Kelly died in 1913.
The Eastern Suburbs rugby club was formed on March 22, 1900, and it was interesting that they voted that the colours of the club would be red, white and blue, similar to those worn by Rev Mullineaux’s British team in 1899. Kelly came to Easts club in their initial year. When the British arrived in 1899, Kelly played as hooker for NSW in the 3-4 loss. He also was in the Metropolis match. Eddie Kann, in Easts Rugby Story noted: “Kelly did gain a dubious distinction of being sent off in the Metropolitan versus Great Britain match in 1899 by referee W.Speight for ‘vicious kicking’. “’Evidently’, said the Sydney Mail, ‘Kelly did not exercise sufficient care when kicking in the scrum and was censured.’” Reporter Jack Davis described him as ‘a big, fast powerful breakaway [?], and Jack Pollard wrote: “The first Eastern Suburbs player to represent NSW, a rough, tough labourer with vast shoulders, a bushy black moustache and a fondness for mixing it.” One of the British team said to him on tour, “I like you, Kelly, but you’re damned rough.”
Kelly has the distinction of playing in the first-ever Test by Australia, on 24 June 1899 at the SCG. The team was Bob McCowan, Charlie White, Frank Row (capt.), Lonnie Spragg, Poley Evans, Peter Ward, Austin Gralton, Alf Colton, Charlie Ellis, Alex Kelly, Walter Davis, Hyam Marks, Paddy Carew, Jum Carson and Bill Tanner.
Re who scored. The Sydney Morning Herald report noted: “… in front of the goal Gralton secured and passed back to Evans, who took a flying shot for goal. The ball went high, failed to score, dropped in front of Martelli, who allowed it to bounce and Kelly and Colton came with a rush. The former jostled the English fullback, secured the ball, and scored a try.” The Annual Report of 1899 has Kelly scoring the try. The author of the Report was the official Hon. Secretary who travelled with the team, and he of all people should know. So in the opinion of the authors Kelly goes down in history as scoring Australia’s first-ever try. Though Kelly played for NSW and the Metropolis again, this would be his sole Test. He was also occasionally called ‘Tiger’.