Ernest Arthur "George" Anlezark
- 64Wallaby Number
‘George’ Anlezark was a fine inside back in the early years of the 20th century and was commonly regarded as one of the most capable attackers in Australian rugby. Naturally he was caught up in the schism that occurred when there was a major push for players to be paid compensation for broken time or for when they were injured and, in common with most of his blue-collar colleagues, Anlezark changed codes and became a flagship signing for the Northern Union. Whether he was regarded as a turncoat or a pioneer depended on which side of the fence an observer sat but there is no doubt he retained his ability nicely. He became one of the many dual internationals of the time before heading to England and accepting the greater rewards available there. Anlezark came to the fore in 1903, when he played for his State against Queensland and New Zealand, as well as playing against the All Blacks for Combined Western Districts and New South Wales Country.
As has often been the case it was hard for a country player to be noticed by State selectors, although there were several very classy operators in country rugby at the time, and winning State selection gave a great fillip to the other players from his district. Anlezark was already something of a legend in the wide open spaces on the western side of the Blue Mountains, even though he was only 19, and big things were tipped for the breezy country lad. He failed to win Australian selection that year – the State selectors left him out of the second match against New Zealand and Queenslander Lew Evans played at fly half in the only Test – but his reputation was already made in town. His only appearance against the 1904 British team was for Western New South Wales on a foul day, which told against good handling, and he was not seen in State colours that season.
However, if his admirers thought he had been forgotten, they were wrong. He appeared in both matches for New South Wales against the 1905 New Zealand team, playing an outstanding hand in the second match which was drawn 8-8, and was a sure selection for the first Australian team to tour overseas – going to New Zealand later that year. That tour was a disappointment although there were a number of reasons why. In particular the team suffered badly from injury and illness, although some of the tourists did not appear to have the confidence of the selectors when the time came to choose replacements. The forwards were also on the small side, which is never helpful against aggressive New Zealand packs, and winning possession was difficult. Several matches were affected by bad weather, particularly the only Test, and Australia had great difficulty scoring tries. Anlezark played the first five matches and then missed the last two, presumably through injury, although press reports do not make that clear. His finest performance came in the Test. Originally the match was scheduled for Dunedin’s Caledonian Ground but days of heavy rain had rendered the surface unplayable. Consideration was given to abandoning the match but it was eventually transferred to Tahuna Park, a sand-based oval near the beach. The match drew a ‘crowd’ of 3000 – many of whom climbed over the low fences – and remains to this day the worst-attended Test played by any of the major countries. The gate takings, which amounted to ₤85, are also the lowest for any Test. Australia made a hash of this game, failing to take any advantage out of their first use of a strong wind and, when the teams turned at 3-3, the contest was almost decided. That New Zealand did not win by more than the 14-3 margin they eventually claimed was due to sterling Australian defence, with Anlezark right in the thick of it. Although on the beaten side he was chosen as one of the match’s leading figures and his tackling and covering were highly praised. He played against Queensland in 1907 but not the touring All Blacks and later that year changed codes when his Lismore club made the move en masse.
Although a New South Wales club, Lismore played in the fledgling Queensland league, so Anlezark is recorded as one of Queensland’s internationals. He played against the New Zealand Maori team and New South Wales in 1908, winning a place on the first Kangaroos tour of Britain. He played 17 matches on tour, including one Test, and then remained behind in England to play out the rest of a successful career with Oldham, winning championships with that club in 1910-11.