Edward Tasman Bonis
- 261Wallaby Number
Eddie Bonis was a tall, heavy, powerfully built hooker who dominated his position at national level for the best part of a decade. During his tenure as the game’s premier hooker Bonis established an Australian record of 20 consecutive Test matches from 1929 to 1937 that stood for 27 years. Born and bred in Brisbane, Bonis was an aspiring flanker, and an exceptionally promising middle distance swimmer, before he crossed paths with the school’s rugby coach. The coach had fourteen of his fifteen locked in however he lacked a capable hooker.
His eyes rested on a blocky youngster slightly smaller than the rest of the forwards. Beckoned to the sideline the coach said to Bonis, ‘you're about the slowest on the field, get into the scrum and see if you can rake.' That coach was Arthur Vennamore, future President of the Queensland Rugby Union, and so it came to pass that Bonis started upon his hooking road to fame. After he left school Bonis had little option but to play rugby league given that the QRU had yet to reform after it disbanded in 1914. He joined the City club and played several years with the club’s juniors side before he transferred to Carltons in 1926.
The QRU finally resumed the administration of rugby in 1929 and as an incentive to boost participation they offered a special dispensation to league players to switch codes provided that they had not been paid to play league. Bonis linked up with the YMCA club where he formed a powerful scrum with fellow future Wallabies Ted Thompson, Harry Hamalainen and Max White. Bonis quickly won a Queensland debut and proved to be such success that he was chosen for his Test debut against New Zealand in Sydney. The Australian scrum, which packed in a 3-2-3 formation, dominated an All Black side that retained their traditional two hooker, 2-3-2 scrum plus a rover / wing forward. In recognition of the Australian scrum’s superiority, the selectors were able to stick with the same starting tight five in all three Tests and that decision played a big part in a memorable series victory and the first sweep of an All Blacks’ side since 1884. For the next eight years, the ever durable Bonis remained the Wallabies’ No.1 hooker before he was eventually overlooked for Alby Stone in the second Test of the 1937 home series against the Springboks.
It was on the 1933 Wallaby tour of South Africa that Bonis really made his name. The South Africans had built their game on the scrum and, as the laws of the game stood at the time, they preferred to take scrums rather than line-outs. Initially the South African critics scoffed at the ineffectual scrummaging employed by the Wallabies, who adhered to the 3-2-3 formation that had been so successful against New Zealand four years earlier. Unfortunately Australia proved to be no match for the Springbok’s 3-4-1 scrum. However, with the aid of former Springboks 'Boy' Morkel and 'Tank' van Rooyen, the tourists soon discovered the art behind the 3-4-1. In an effort to further strengthen the scrum Max White was shifted forward to loosehead for the eighth tour match, against Northern Provinces, and the new-look Wallaby eight never looked back. In the second Test at Durban the Wallaby scrum matched the Springboks and Australia emerged with a famous 21-6 victory.
The Springbok selectors reacted savagely to the defeat and dropped both props for the third Test. Two years later South African hooker Bert Kipling paid a unique tribute to his rival when he stated that the Queenslander was the greatest exponent of the hooking art he had opposed. That opinion carried some weight given that Kipling had represented against the 1928 All Blacks, played each international on the 1931-32 tour of Great Britain and started five Tests against the Wallabies. Kipling wrote: “'In the seven years of International Rugby I have played against the hookers of New Zealand, Australia, and the four Great British countries, and I have no hesitation in naming Eddie Bonis, the Wallaby hooker, as the prince of hookers.” In 1939, ten years after his debut, Bonis was considered as a near-certain selection for the Second Wallabies tour to Great Britain however Victorian hooker Andy Barr was preferred to face off against Stone in the key Australia v. The Rest trial match.
Contrary to expectations both Barr and Stone were chosen for the ultimately ill-fated tour and Bonis missed out. Quite incredibly Bonis was selected to hook for Queensland in the first post-war interstate fixture in 1945 before he retired a year later to coach his beloved YMCA. In later years Bonis was both a Queensland selector and coach. He also served as an Australian selector and mentored many aspiring hookers including Wallaby captain Nev Cottrell. In 2018 Bonis was inducted into the Wallaby Hall of Fame. Eddie Bonis played 21 Tests for Australia in a nine-year international career.
Bonis won his first Test cap at hooker, propped by fellow debutant Ted Thompson and ‘Wild Bill’ Cerutti, in the 1st Test, 9-8 win over New Zealand at the S.C.G. That front-row trio were retained for the second and third Test victories in Brisbane and Sydney.
Thompson, Bonis, and Cerutti packed in the front-row for the one-off Test, 6-5 victory over the British Lions in Sydney.
Malcolm Blair and Cerutti joined Bonis up front in the one-off Tests played against the Maori in Palmerston North and New Zealand at Eden Park.
Bonis started alongside ‘Dinny’ Love and Cerutti in each of the three home Test losses to New Zealand.
Max White joined Bonis and Cerutti in the front-row for all five of the away Tests played against South Africa.
Bonis was partnered with Vince Bermingham and Ted Jessep for the two home Tests against New Zealand. Australia won the first Sydney match by 25-11 and held the All Blacks to a draw in the second to secure the Wallabies’ first ever Bledisloe Cup series victory.
The Wallabies did not play a Test match in 1935.
He started both away Tests against New Zealand and won a single cap in the 31-6 win over the Maori in Palmerston North.
Bonis won his sixth cap against the Springboks when he faced them in the 1st Test, 5-9 loss in Sydney.
Vay Wilson and ‘Mac’ Ramsay joined Bonis in the front-row for his final Test, the 9-24 defeat to New Zealand at the S.C.G. His 21 Tests was an Australian record until 1954 when Sir Nick Shehadie played his 22nd Test, against Fiji in Sydney. In 1986, when the ARU retrospectively granted Test status to the New South Wales international matches played between 1920 and 1928, it was discovered that Laurie Wogan had in fact accumulated 22 caps. As such Shehadie broke Wogan’s record against New Zealand at Athletic Park in 1955.