John Bernard (‘Ben’) Egan
Egan was a resolute centre who went straight into the State team from School, and toured Britain, France and North America with the Waratahs in 1927-28 as one of the youngest members of the team at the age of 18. Billy Mann was the other.
He was a brilliant runner with a great side step but could not cope with the muddy grounds of England. Also a leg injury suffered in the first game gave him trouble throughout the tour. He only managed to play in seven games but scored three tries.
He missed the entire 1928 season because of the injury. In 1930 he was back in representative rugby when he played for NSW against the British Lions. In the following year he represented NSW against Queensland and played in the Eastern Suburbs premiership side.
Egan was one of three brothers who were all centres, attended The Kings School, Parramatta, played for Eastern Suburbs Club in Sydney and represented NSW. His older brother Tom was a good amateur boxer and once represented NSW Colts in cricket as a leg - spinner.
There was a strong feeling amongst the team from 1927-28 tour which suggested to Tom Griffin, one of the selectors, that the wrong Egan was selected and it should have been the hard tackling Tom instead. Griffin said, “You wouldn’t want us to admit it now, would you?”
Younger brother Bryan toured New Zealand with the Australian team captained by ‘Dooney’ Hayes in 1936 and played three games but did not play in an international Test.
There had to be a high element of luck in Ben Egan getting selected for the 1927-28 Waratahs, as he had no representative experience against other countries. He was, however, loaded with talent. At the time of the tour he was 18-years-of-age and weighed 11st 5 lbs. Injured in the first game of the Waratahs tour, he would play in seven non - Test matches, scoring three tries.
In 1928 he went out country jackarooing, so he missed the season. While with Easts he played in the centre occasionally with his brother Tom.
It was in 1930 he got back into the representative mix, being selected with Cyril Towers in the centres for NSW against the British team. It was a 28-3 victory. Unfortunately for Egan, he was playing at a time when some of Australia’s finest -ever were in the centres; Cyril Towers, Syd King, Gordon Sturtridge and Jack Steggall.
Though he did not get another opportunity at the top, he was a vital part of Eastern Suburbs’ 1931 Premiership team. Eddie Kann in the Easts Rugby Story stated: “Easts have not had a better three-quarter line- up than the 1931 quartet of ‘Bluey’ Smail, Ben Egan, Mick Grace, Harold Cook."
Peter Fenton wrote in For the Sake of the Game: “When he retired he went back to the land at Warren, where he had grown up.”
Though he was destined never to play a Test, he was in seven non Test matches.
A product of The King’s School, brothers Ben and Bryan would play for their country, but neither was to play in a Test. Another brother, Tom, was also a fine athlete, but did not attain the heights of rugby that his brothers accomplished. His brother, Bryan, died at 54 years of age, and Ben at 53.
He, too, was a brilliant athlete at King’s. He was on the Athletics team 1924, 1925 and 1926 (and won the Higgins Cup as the Under 16 champion). In cricket he was on the First X1 1923/24/25/26, was captain 1925/26 and was on the GPS Second X1 (and captain) 1924/25, was on the First XV 1923/24/25/26, captain 1926, got an Honour Cap 1924/25/26, was on the GPS First XV 1924/25/26, and was captain 1926. On top of this remarkable record he was on the First Tennis team 1923/24/25/26.
Peter Fenton did a short sketch of Egan in’ For The Sake Of The Game: 1927/28 Waratahs’: “John Bernard ‘Ben’ Egan, aged 18, weight 11 stone 5, was a brilliant runner who went straight into the State team from school. Though not really suited by the many wet grounds confronted in Britain his greatest problem was a leg injury, suffered in his first game, which gave him trouble throughout the tour. He missed the entire 1928 season because of the injury but fortunately did not require an operation as was expected. “
After a stint of jackerooing he returned to Sydney to play for Eastern Suburbs and in 1930 represented New South Wales against the British Lions. In 1931 he played in Eastern Suburbs premiership side and represented New South Wales against Queensland. Ben Egan was one of three brothers, all New South Wales representatives, who played for Eastern Suburbs. When he retired he went back to the land at Warren, where he had grown up.”
Ben Egan supposedly managed seven games on the 1927-28 tour, but they are not obvious in the teams listed by Peter Fenton. He did not appear in a match of merit, and could only be considered a major disappointment on the tour. For whatever reason he did not have the support of the selectors, or his injury was so bad or persistent his appearance was adjudged as being too risky in the days when no substitutions were allowed. There had to be an element of luck in his original selection to tour, as Bryan Palmer and ‘Stumpy’ Crossman were unavailable, but the experienced electors, Tom Griffin, Harry Bosward and Arthur Walker obviously saw the great talent of Egan, the ‘baby’ of the Waratahs. He was a mere 18-years-of-age. That underlying talent was seen in his only appearance against a County side. The locals had 9-5 at halftime.
Then, as Peter Fenton saw it: ”The second half saw an immediate lift in form from the Waratahs, but still it was tough going against the speedy and well balanced Midlands combination. It was a magnificent counter-attack by Ben Egan, playing in Towers’ accustomed outside centre role that turned the game for the New South Welshmen. Taking a pass from Lawton in broken play, he skirted the touch-line then stepped infield and evaded tackle after tackle in a cross field run to score by the posts.”
He was picked on the wing in the next match against Bradford, won 9-3, and he scored one of the two tries. So he had two tries in two games. So he was picked again against Glasgow. Fenton noted, during the game:”Lawton, getting quick service from a scrum, beat a tackle and gave the ball to Ben Egan who dummied the defence and skirted along the touch-line. When challenged, he sent on an inside pass to Towers and the flying centre crossed by the goal posts...Of concern to the Waratahs was the recurrence of a leg injury to Ben Egan.”
However an injury to his leg persisted and he was unable to maintain his form on the tour. All the Egans were centre three-quarters, though Ben would frequently appear on the wing, particularly for his club, Eastern Suburbs. Eddie Kann, in his’ Easts Rugby Story,’ wrote:” Easts also have not had a better three-quarter line-up than the 1931 quartet...”Bluey’ Smairl, Ben Egan, Mick Grace, Harold Cook. The captain and the fullback was the greatest of them all, Alec Ross... the ‘Ross of Gibraltar.’”
His next appearance at the highest level was being selected for NSW against Britain in 1930, and it was some debut, as the team thumped Britain by 28 to 3. He partnered Cyril Towers in the centre, and Owen Crossman and Bill White were on the wings. This marked the end of his representative career.
Like his brother Bryan, he was destined never to play a Test. He did, however, play in seven representative matches. In total, he would play nine matches for NSW. His star shone brightly, but briefly. He was a brilliant player, but an injury and the form of others in his position such as Syd King and Cyril Towers limited his career.