Ernest John Reid
- 217Wallaby Number
Ernie Reid was a physically imposing centre three-quarter who became the only Wallaby to play Test rugby while still at school. Standing 6ft tall and weighing 13st. Reid was bigger than most forwards of his era. His size, combined with surprising pace and robust defence, made Reid an extremely difficult proposition for every opponent he faced. Born in Samoa, Reid’s abilities were first noted during his time at Sacred Heart College in Auckland. A number of highly talented Polynesians also attended Sacred Heart at that time however Reid was as good as any of them. The fact that Reid played three seasons in the school’s 1st XV before he moved to Sydney certainly illustrates that point. Reid moved to St. Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill in 1924 and immediately caught the eye. Reports of the day said Reid was ‘splendid in every phase of play, with his headiness in keeping with his natural ability.’
He starred throughout the season and somewhat fittingly scored a wonderful late try in the final game of the season to defeat Kings and ensure Joeys shared the GPS premiership. Outside of rugby Reid was also a fine track athlete and a first-rate oarsman. A year later Reid unexpectedly returned to Joeys however to the great relief of rival schools was ruled too old to play in the 1st XV competition. As a consequence of that development Reid joined the Glebe-Balmain club and he made his first grade debut in the opening round of the competition, against Western Suburbs. Just over a month later he started for NSW against a Second XV to assist in the selection of a team for the first home Test against New Zealand. Somewhat surprisingly the selectors chose YMCA fullback Arthur Toby at outside centre for the Test, with Reid named as a reserve, however that proved to be a godsend for two reasons.
Firstly, New South Wales were trounced 3-26 and secondly Reid was subsequently picked in the 2nd XV side for the mid-week, second tour match where the home side stunned the tourists 18-16. In that fixture Reid was ‘the outstanding player on the field’. He scored the first three tries and ‘was unlucky in missing a fourth’. As a consequence Reid was one of an incredible 11 members from that starting 2nd XV who were promoted to the run-on side for the second test three days later and, despite the short turnaround, distinguished themselves in a narrow 0-4 defeat. Although Reid did not know it at the time that match was his 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).
Later that same season Reid was chosen for the return tour of New Zealand where he formed a formidable pairing with ‘Tug’ Morrissey. Looking back on that tour the great Cyril Towers wrote that Morrissey and Reid “was one of the best centre combinations ever to leave this country”. Reid’s performances raised the bar of expectations for the 1926 season. One scribe wrote: ‘Strong, fast and beautifully proportioned his success as a footballer was anticipated and the great experience gleaned last season should render him an even greater acquisition to the Rugby Union ranks this year. One wonders what brilliance he will reveal this season partnered with international A.C. (Johnnie) Wallace’. Unfortunately that hope did not become the reality after Reid made a very late return to Australia having spent the summer in Samoa. Although picked in the Possible v. Probables trial ahead of New Zealand’s inbound tour he ‘retired’, for reasons unknown, soon after the commencement of the game and then struggled into the Fourth XV for the next series of trials.
When it came to Test time, Cyril Towers, Morrissey and Syd King dominated the mid-field selections and Reid was overlooked for all four internationals. In the early spring of 1927 Reid broke his neck in a surf accident at Coogee Beach. Although he went on to make an amazing recovery the accident ended his rugby career. Having returned to Samoa in order to manage his father’s business Reid died from double pneumonia (an infection of both lungs) in 1938, somewhat tragically just a few months after his centre partner Morrissey. Ernie Reid played three Tests for Australia in a one-year international career.
Reid won his first Test cap at outside centre, in combination with ‘Tug’ Morrissey, in the 0-4, 2nd Test loss to New Zealand at the Sydney Showground. That centre pairing were retained for the 3rd Test, 3-11 loss in Sydney as well as the 10-36 humbling at Eden Park later in the season.