Arthur Noel "Huck" Finlay
- 227Wallaby Number
‘Huck’ Finlay was a splendid lock forward who rose to prominence on the grand Waratahs tour to the northern hemisphere in 1927/28. A great leader of men, Finlay is remembered for his courage in adversity, his innate modesty, his basic decency and the respect with which he was widely held.
Born and bred in Sydney, Finlay was educated at the Sydney Grammar School where he became ‘one of the finest all-round athletes ever produced by the Great Public Schools’. Finlay played three seasons in the 1st XV (1921-23), the final year as captain, and was a member of the 1922 premiership winning side. He represented the All Schools 2nd XV in 1922 and the 1st XV in 1923. He rowed in the first eight for three consecutive years (1921-23) and was twice Captain of Boats (1922-23). Finlay won the 100 yards GPS sprint in equal record time (10.2secs) as a member of the Senior Athletics team (1922-23) and he was the fastest sprinting swimmer in the All Schools.
Finlay repeated these sporting successes during his years at the University of Sydney where he won a Blue for each sport in which he competed. After school Finlay swam at New South Wales state championship carnivals however details of his rugby career are scant until 1926 when he showed in first grade with University. Finlay then earned selection for the Probables v. Possibles state trial ahead of the incoming, six match tour by New Zealand and from there won a spot in the first match of the three ‘Test’ series. Although he did not know it at the time that match was Finlay’s official Test debut after an ARU decision in 1994 elevated the remaining 34 New South Wales matches played against international opposition in the 1920-28 period to Test status (the five 1927/28 Waratahs’ internationals were given Test status in 1986).
The following year Finlay was one of four locks chosen for the Waratahs tour. He played in all five internationals and was appointed vice captain after middle-row partner Charlie Fox suffered a nasty ankle injury against Oxford University. Finlay’s added responsibility of leading the Waratah forward pack seemed to elevate his play to an even higher level while his lineout prowess became a crucial factor behind the team’s successes.
Finlay went on to play a key role in two memorable series - the 3-0 sweep of New Zealand at home in 1929 and the one-off Test win over the British Lions (1930). Early in 1931 Finlay was appointed as assistant sports master / housemaster at Sydney Grammar and formally retired from rugby. Few Wallabies have walked away from the game on a greater high than ‘Huck’ Finlay.
In retirement he enjoyed marvellous success as a coach. Finlay led the SGS 1st VIII to a sensational victory in the 1934 Head of the River. In a wonderful tactical decision Finlay instructed his crew to row their much heavier practice boat due to the inclement weather. That call proved to be a masterstroke as the other schools floundered in their lighter craft due to the rough conditions. Later, during his time in Queensland, he became consultant coach to the state’s men’s VIII and in 1939 they won the King’s Cup for the only time in the event’s history.
In 1935 Finlay was appointed sporting editor for the Australian Broadcasting Commission in Sydney and later became manager of the ABC in Queensland. When war came to the world he joined the Royal British Air Force as the Australian Air Force had rejected him for active service due to the fact that his feet were flat. Finlay achieved the rank of Flying Officer with the 224 Group regiment and won a Military Cross. Finlay’s citation read: ‘…throughout the campaign displayed a spirit of fearlessness and determination which infected all who came into contact with him. He was indefatigable and only lived for the job of getting on with the war.’ Captured, he was a prisoner-of war in various camps, including the notorious Changi in Singapore for three and a half years.
Finlay returned home six stone lighter and despite ill health became Assistant General Manager of the ABC. He also played an active role in the network’s television coverage of the 1956 Olympic Games. In later life Finlay was awarded an Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) for his service to the communication industry.
‘Huck’ Finlay played 12 Tests in a five-year international career.
Finlay won his first Test cap at lock, alongside Charlie Fox, in the 1st Test, 26-20 victory over New Zealand at the Sydney Showground. He won caps in the second and third matches of the series before being rested for the hastily arranged, eleventh hour fourth Test.
Finlay and Storey were paired in the middle row for the four Tests against the Home Nations on the Waratahs tour. A review of the Ireland match stated that Finlay “was the best forward on the field and along with Jack Ford, gave the Irish team a lot of trouble”. He moved to No.8 when Fox returned from his ankle injury, to partner Storey, for the 11-8 win over France in Paris.
Finlay injured his ankle in a club match against Randwick and was therefore unavailable for the tour to New Zealand.
Queensland’s Harry Hamalainen joined Finlay at lock for all three Tests in the home series sweep of New Zealand.
Storey and Finlay were reunited for the one-off, 6-5 defeat of the British Lions at the S.C.G.