Denis 'Dinny' Lutge
- 39Wallaby Number
North Sydney’s club captain in the early 1900s who later joined League, “Dinny” Lutge was held in high regard by all. While many of his contemporaries were publicly vilified for their illusory comments made while secretly helping to form rugby league, Lutge maintained a dignity throughout the tumult that illustrated his consummate character. Born in Sydney in 1879, Lutge attended Mosman Public School on the city’s (then) quiet north shore suburbs. A strapping young man, his early employment as a stevedore (ship-loader) no doubt aided the physical development of his muscular body.
Lutge also later worked as a beach inspector (life-saver) at Mosman’s Balmoral Beach. He first came to prominence as a rugby footballer with the Marrickville club in the late 1890s. In those days there were no residential qualifications, and suburban teams often included many players from elsewhere in the city. In 1898 Lutge was chosen in a “Combined Juniors XV” representative team, playing alongside promising cricketer Victor Trumper (from Newtown) and Harry “Jersey” Flegg. With the introduction of the district scheme to Sydney club rugby in 1900, Lutge was graded at North Sydney (later re-named Northern Suburbs).
Cementing a place in the club’s first grade team as a second-rower, Lutge began to win golden opinions for his resolute forward play, “always being conspicuous”. He was rewarded by the State selectors with his inclusion in the NSW team for its seven-match tour of New Zealand in August 1901. Still honing his craft as a forward, Lutge was in and out of favour with the NSW selectors for most of 1902 and 1903. However, in mid-August of 1903 he was suddenly back in “the good books”, and was chosen for Australia against New Zealand in the inaugural Test between the two adversaries. Unfortunately the blue-clad Aussies were no match for the All Blacks, losing 22-3 in front of 30,000 supporters at the SCG.
It is revealing to note that many of Lutge’s State and national team- mates in this period would become the chief agitators in the formation of rugby league four years later; notably fellow forwards Alec Burdon, Arthur Hennessy, Sine Boland (Queensland), Edward Larkin, Tom Costello, Peter Moir and “Jersey” Flegg. 1904 proved to be Lutge’s most outstanding season. While match reports provide scant offerings of the contribution of the forwards (is it any different today?), the fact that Lutge was selected in all eight of NSW’s representative matches (against Queensland and Great Britain) that winter speaks volumes of his contribution and value to a rugby team. Lutge also played in all three Tests against Great Britain.
Though Australia failed to win a match, and its combined points tally amounted to just one three-point goal, Lutge came through the series with his reputation intact. The following season though, in what was an all too frequent occurrence for Sydney footballers, suddenly found Lutge out of favour with the State selectors. After having played twenty times for NSW between 1901 and 1904, and appearing in all four of Australia’s Tests in the same period, Lutge was abruptly banished from representative football. He made no public outcry, and got on with the business of club football, assuming the captaincy of Norths in 1906.
He continued to lead “the Shoremen” through the winter of 1907, and was surprised to read in the newspapers in early August of that year that he was one of the many club captains in Sydney involved in the formation of the NSWRL. Lutge wrote letters to the newspapers, setting out clearly that he had nothing to do with the professional movement, and demanding the editors make his position plain to the public. He remained aloof from the League, but by early 1908 had been convinced by many of his former State team -mates to switch allegiances; no doubt his continued exile at the hands of the NSW selectors contributed to his eventual decision.
Lutge was elected inaugural captain of the North Sydney rugby league club, and chosen as the club’s delegate to the NSWRL. Unsurprisingly, given his experience and leadership, Lutge not only took a prominent place in representative matches under the League, but was also appointed a NSW and Australian selector. He made his debut appearance for NSW in an 18-10 win over the New Zealand “All Golds”, who had just returned to Australia from England. Lutge then played in all three Test matches against the New Zealanders, and had the good fortune to score Australia’s first -ever rugby league Test try after a strong bumping run through the Kiwi forwards. The visitors, though, won the first two Tests, and with much pressure to turn-the-table in the final Test, Lutge was voted captain by the team. The home team rallied behind Lutge, and pulled out a 14-9 win to recover some prestige from the series.
Lutge was included in the first Kangaroos tour party for their trip to England and Wales. Once the team had left Sydney, a vote was held to elect a team captain, which Lutge duly won despite the presence of Dally Messenger. The team recognised, though, that the captain’s duties extended far beyond the football field, and needed someone who could speak well, and knew how to conduct themselves at post-match functions and other public outings. Messenger, who abhorred public speaking, was content to leave it to Lutge. Far from being second choice though, one Sydney newspaper applauded the election of Lutge, noting that: “The men will do more for ‘old Dinny’ than for three of the others together.” Lutge’s on field duties were unfortunately brought to a sudden end after just five tour matches when he broke a limb (variously reported as an arm or leg).
The injury ended Lutge’s career. He remained involved with rugby league ,though, as a State and national selector. However, in July 1909, while continuing to select representative sides, Lutge caused a minor newspaper sensation when he took on the role of coaching a visiting New Zealand Maori team- who were to play against the teams he was selecting! Under Lutge’s tutelage the Maori proved to be quite formidable opposition, and in their opening three matches defeated NSW (twice) and Australia. Their success and flair attracted crowds of 30,000 to games in Sydney. The lucrative gate-takings effectively saved the NSWRL from what appeared to be almost certain collapse and bankruptcy. Lutge spent the rest of his life in Mosman, passing away in 1953.