Harold William "Slogger" Snell
- 220Wallaby Number
‘Slogger’ Snell was yet another of the fine halfbacks to emerge from the Newcastle / Hunter Region of New South Wales who have graced State and Wallaby teams for many years. Syd Malcolm, Cyril Burke and John Hipwell each went on to be inducted into the Wallaby Hall of Fame and unfortunately for Snell it was the presence of Malcolm which limited his opportunities in the national team. Although Snell was one of the smallest players to play Test rugby for Australia, he stood just 5ft 3in (1.6m) and weighed a mere 10st. (64kgs), he fought well above both when out on the rugby field.
In 1924 Snell was playing rugby league in Newcastle and at that point had never seen, let alone played, a game of rugby. Nonetheless he enjoyed a meteoric rise from running around with Surf Club in the 1925 local Newcastle first grade competition. In late May he was named to represent Newcastle against the Navy. NSW selector (Wallaby #77) Tom Griffin ventured north to see the match following reports that Snell was ‘worthy of a trial for state honours.’ Griifin’s review of Snell’s general play, allied with ‘pluck and tenacity’, suggested he was most impressed: “Snell, I consider, is a second Freddy Wood (Wallaby #85), and will certainly he recommended by me as halfback for New South Wales team to play the All Blacks in the coming tests." While Norths’ Onny Humphreys ultimately won the halfback spot for the opening Test of the three match series New South Wales were humbled 3-26.
Four days later the NSW 2nd XV, with Snell at halfback, stunned the visitors with an 18-16 victory. The combination of the poor first Test result and the surprising 2nd XV victory triggered a selector axe swing like few seen before or since. Eleven of the 2nd XV, including Snell, were named in the run-on side for the next Test, just three days hence. Although he did not know it at the time that match was Snell’s 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).
Snell went on to play in the third match from where he won ‘all-round applause’ for his play and it was written that ‘Sydney critics are unanimous in acclaiming him the most promising half Australia has produced for many years’. While that may well have been the case Randwick’s Wally Meagher returned three months later to win back the starting jersey for the one-off Test on the tour to New Zealand and then retain it through the 1926 season. While Meagher proved difficult to budge it was the emergence of Syd Malcolm a year later that appeared to cruel any ambition Snell had of returning to the Wallaby test side. Snell subsequently missed selection for the Waratahs’ tour from which Malcolm returned as the incumbent half.
Undeterred Snell’s play rose to another level in 1928 and he was picked for a second tour of New Zealand. When Malcolm suffered bronchitis to miss the final Test it was Snell who came in and played a starring role to prevent an All Black series sweep. In Malcolm’s own words, Snell ‘played a great halfback's game,….he often left Cliff Porter standing with quick deliveries from the scrum and rucks’. Snell played out his senior career with Easts and captained them to the 1931 premiership. ‘Slogger’ Snell played three Tests for Australia in a four-year international career.
In 1925 Snell won his first Test cap at halfback, alongside fellow debutant Bill George, in the 2nd Test, 0-4 loss to New Zealand at the Sydney Showground. Both were retained for the 3rd Test, 3-11 loss, also at the Showground.
In 1928 Snell earned his third career cap when Syd Malcolm withdrew, with bronchitis, from the 3rd Test against New Zealand at Lancaster Park.