John Cecil "Jack" Steggall
- 274Wallaby Number
Jack Steggall is arguably the premier Wallaby utility-back of all-time. That is a very big statement indeed given the extreme versatility of the professional era player however the facts justify the claim as Steggall, before James O’Connor ran out at 13 against New Zealand at Perth in 2019, was the only Australian rugby player to start a Test match at fullback, wing, centre and fly half. He was a Jack-of-all-trades and the press of his day wrote that ‘there is certainly something vivid and colorful in his play that sets the magnetic Queenslander apart from his peers. There is not a great deal of Steggall, just 10st. 7lbs, but measured in volts he is a one-man power plant.’
Born in the West Australian coastal city of Geraldton, Steggall was educated on Queensland’s Darling Downs at Toowoomba Grammar. After he left school Steggall played two seasons of rugby league with Valleys (Toowoomba) and represented South Queensland in 1929. When union was resumed on the Downs in 1930, after a lapse of 15 years, Steggall switched to the amateur code. His impact was immediate and he made a debut for Queensland in the opening interstate match of the season against New South Wales where he impressed with ‘magnificent defence’. He also enjoyed two strong games, for his state and an Australian XV, against the touring British Lions.
The following year Steggall was chosen for the Wallaby tour to New Zealand. Poor early form from the tourists saw Steggall selected as fly half - a position he had never played at senior representative level - for the uncapped but later-to-be-granted-Test-status match against the Maori. Australia won 14-3, the first victory of the tour after four losses and a draw, and Steggall was then named for his Test debut, against New Zealand, in Auckland. It was a wise selection as Steggall proved to be the star back on display.
In 1933 Steggall enhanced an already sterling reputation on the tour of South Africa where it was written that ‘he ranks among the greatest players Australia has produced for many years.’ A year later Steggall was lost to the game when he transferred to Cairns to take up practice as a solicitor. He played rugby league, as an amateur, for the Ivanhoe club before he moved to Murwillumbah, joined the Kangaroo FC and represented Group 1 against New South Wales. In 1936 he captained Northern Division at the country carnival and established a practice in Cessnock where he played, captained and coached through until 1939. During the war Steggall enlisted in the Volunteer Defence Corps, Australia’s part-time volunteer military force.
The sporting genes ran deep in the Steggall family. Jack’s son John played first grade rugby as a fullback with Sydney’s Northern Suburbs (1962-64). Jack’s granddaughter, Zali (OAM), a four-time Olympian, claimed Australia’s first-ever Olympic Games alpine skiing medal when she took bronze in the slalom event at Nagano (1998). She also won the slalom gold medal at the 1999 FIS World Ski Championships in Vail, Colorado. Zali’s brother Zeke was a snowboarder who represented Australia at two Winter Olympic Games (1998 & 2002).
Jack Steggall played 10 Tests for Australia in a three-year international career.
Steggall won his first Test cap at fly half, paired with Gordon Bennett, in the 14-3 victory over the Maori at Palmerston North. He earned a second cap, again at fly half but his time partnered with Syd Malcolm, in the 13-20 loss to New Zealand at Eden Park.
When Alec Ross withdrew from the first Test team with strained thigh muscles, Steggall was shifted from the right wing to fullback for the 1stTest, 22-17 win over New Zealand at the S.C.G. He moved back to the right wing upon Ross’ return for the 2ndTest, 3-21 loss in Brisbane. The selectors made wholesale changes to the backline for the third Test as captain Tom Lawton was axed along with Sid King. Gordon Sturtridge moved to fly half and the wingers, Steggall and Dave Cowper, shifted into the centres.
Steggall started at fullback in the first four Tests of the away series to South Africa. When Ross returned from his appendectomy, Steggall moved to outside centre alongside Dave Cowper for the 15-4, 5thTest victory at Springbok Park in Bloemfontein.