Harold Arvit Hamalainen
- 263Wallaby Number
Harry Hamalainen was a big, burly truck driver of Finnish descent who proved to be a tower of strength in a forward pack that led Australia to a 3-0 sweep of the All Blacks in 1929. Standing 6ft. and weighing 17st., Hamalainen had little option but to play rugby league in the mid-1920s given that the Queensland Rugby Union had yet to reform after it disbanded in 1914. He joined the Christian Brothers side and started in their “A Seniors” side of 1924 from where he was chosen to represent Brisbane against Fleet (Navy). Two years later he was in the Brisbane side that defeated Toowoomba for the first time since 1923.
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. Hamalainen jumped at the opportunity to play rugby and linked up with the YMCA club where he formed a powerful scrum with fellow future Wallabies Ted Thompson, Eddie Bonis and Max White. With his impressive size, the state selectors immediately drafted Hamalainen into the Queensland side. Alongside Thompson, Hamalainen was ‘the pick of the Maroon eight’ in the first interstate clash since 1919 yet the decision to select the big lock for a Test debut against New Zealand at the expense of the Waratahs’ Don Telford was deemed to be an unequivocal shock.
The selectors felt they needed the Hamalainen’s weight to combat the massive All Black forwards. Critics complained that he would be too raw to be exposed to the All Blacks at Test level. All prevailing disbelief was cast aside on match day as ‘the fine form of Thompson and Hamalainen, who were in the thick of every ruck in the tense moments of the closing stages, thoroughly justified their inclusion.’ 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 stuck with the same starting tight five in all three Tests and that decision played a big part in a memorable series victory. Surprisingly that was the end of Hamalainen’s representative career although he continued to show for YMCA (1930-31) and Brothers (1932). He switched back to rugby league, firstly for University and then Eastern Suburbs before he went on to become a highly successful axeman in wood-chopping competitions run by Queensland’s Axemen’s Association in the late 1930s. With Australia at war, Hamalainen enlisted in the 2nd Australian Imperial Force in Apr-1940 and was discharged in Nov-1943.
Hamalainen won his first Test cap in the middle row, partnered with ‘Huck’ Finlay, in the 1st Test, 9-8 defeat of New Zealand at the S.C.G. Hamalainen and Finlay remained at lock for the each of the final two Tests as the All Blacks suffered their first series sweep since 1884.