Harold Edwin Primrose
Harold Primrose was born at Carlton, NSW, in 1910. A fly half, he played for Manly. He had no previous international experience when he was selected to tour New Zealand with Australia in 1931.
It was the first fully representative team to visit New Zealand since 1913. The game had ceased in Queensland from 1914 to 1929, when a group called the ‘Revivalists’ brought the game back to Queensland and Australian teams were seen again. In this interim period only NSW teams toured, and in 1986 these were ruled as international games. So though Australian teams had played in Australia from 1929 onwards, this team was the first Australian team to leave Australian shores.
There is always an element of good fortune in team selections, and this was certainly the case on this tour. Two five-eighths were chosen, and they were virtual youngsters, the 19-year-old Phil Clark from Queensland and the 20-year-old Harold Primrose from NSW. The famous Tom Lawton could not go, and he would have been a certainty. Other to shine at five-eighth the year before were Randwick’s Jack Duncan, Syd King occasionally played there for NSW, and Gordon Sturtridge and Ron Biilmann were possibilities. But two unknowns made it, Clark and Primrose.
This was the first Australian team to visit New Zealand with Victorians on the team, Owen Bridle and Dave Cowper. Though Cowper was born in NSW and Bridle England, they had been selected from the current Victorian team. There were some fine all-round athletes on the tour: Jack Steggall (utility back and swimmer), Dave Cowper (athletics and cricket), Gordon Bennett (wrestling), Eddie Bonis (swimming), Dinny Love, Jim Clark and Fred Whyatt (rowing) and Frank Reville (cycling).
The captain of the team was halfback Syd Malcolm and the Manager, Tom Davis, was adjudged as having played 20 Tests.
Primrose never played in a Test for Australia, but he would play in seven representative games for his country, all in New Zealand in 1931. It was a 10-match tour with 25 players. The first match was against Otago at Dunedin, and Primrose was selected.
As this was the highlight of his career, his first match for his country, the team is cited: Alec Ross, Bill Hemingway, Cyril Towers, Dave Cowper, Bryan Palmer, Harold Primrose, Syd Malcolm (capt.), Jim Clark, Len Palfreyman, Frank Reville, Fred Whyatt, Bruce Judd, Malcolm Blair, Eddie Bonis and Bill Cerutti. It was a 3-all draw, Cyril Towers getting Australia’s lone try. The Otago team was considered a strong one, so this was a fine result for Australia’s first game. As for Primrose, he held his own. As Chester and McMillan wrote in The Visitors: “In the circumstances[heavy conditions] the backs gave a fine display, indicating they would be formidable on a high ground.”
The second match was against Southland, and Primrose was selected, which meant that he was the number one five-eighth in the minds of the selectors. Australia lost the match 8 to 14. No Australian team had ever beaten Southland so the visitors fielded a strong team. Chester and McMillan wrote: “Malcolm sent out clean passes, but mishandling by the Australian backs cost the visitors the game. Apart from Malcolm and Ross, the visiting backs were disappointing.”
Despite the setback Primrose was picked as five-eighth for his third straight game against Canterbury, and it was another loss, 13 to 16. Primrose set up Australia’s first try, however. As described by Chester and McMillan:” The Australian forwards heeled from a scrum on halfway and Primrose shot through to give Cowper a clear run downfield until he encountered Roberts. Cowper passed to Towers, who ran over for a fine try which Ross converted.”
Primrose was rested for the fourth game against Seddon Shield Districts, Australia losing unexpectedly 5 to 14, with Bryan Palmer getting the nod at five-eighth. Palmer started the following game against Wellington (8-15), but he was replaced by Primrose during the match.
Next up was the NZ Maori, which resulted in a 14 to 3 victory. The five-eighth was utility back Jack Steggall, who scored a try. The next match was the sole Test (11-20), and Steggall was selected once more. He was also picked against Hawkes Bay (27-11), but was replaced by Primrose in the first half. Primrose was back at five-eighth in the final two matches, against Taranaki (10-11) and Waikato- King Country (30-10).
It is obvious that Primrose was a sound player, but had to be lacking that something extra as Bryan Palmer and Jack Steggall were tried out in the position. The 1931 New Zealand tour marked the end of Primrose’s representative career, Syd King, Gordon Sturtridge and Tommy Lawton being the preferred five-eighths.