John Keith Wolfe
John Wolfe was a well-built, reliable, strong running fullback who had a Test debut - at the famed Newlands ground in Cape Town - stolen from him by injury.
Born in Sydney, Wolfe’s family soon moved to Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast. He attended Surfers Paradise State School at primary level and played junior rugby league. Wolfe’s first rugby was played at Brisbane’s Anglican Church of England Grammar School and in 1957 he captained the 15As. A decision by The Southport School to accept day boys saw Wolfe return home for his final two years of secondary schooling and he played in the 1959 1st XV.
After graduation Wolfe enrolled to study Commerce at the University of Queensland. His first taste of representative rugby came in 1962 when he played for Queensland U19s alongside fellow future Wallaby Dick Marks. The following year Wolfe was chosen for the senior Queensland side for their tour to New Zealand, an ambitious plan prompted by New South Wales’ rather shameful decision not to play their northern neighbours in 1962. In New Zealand, Wolfe made his state debut and scored a try in the 29-3 win over Wanganui.
Three days later, and back in Australia, Wolfe was shifted to the right wing for one of the early Wallaby trials -- Queensland’s 27-11 victory over Victoria -- ahead of the much-anticipated tour to South Africa. He then earned selection for the Probables vs. Possibles trial - the curtain-raiser to the main Australia vs. The Rest match - and scored a try in the Probables’ 26-11 win. Wolfe’s performance secured him a spot in the 30-man Wallaby squad ahead of the more fancied Queensland speedster, Jeff Collins, who started for Australia in the main trial and New South Wales’ Warwick Caisley who showed for the Rest. The Sydney Morning Herald’s Jim Webster wrote that Wolfe’s selection was something of “a gamble” given the selectors had only once seen him play on the wing. However, there was method in the madness given that Wolfe had a fullback’s ability to kick with both feet, a skill the selectors deemed invaluable for the style of play they wanted to undertake in the Republic.
Wolfe made his Australian debut in the tour’s second fixture, the 9-8 victory over North-Eastern Districts. He then marked Springbok great Jannie Engelbrecht in the tight loss to Western Province Universities. Wolfe learned a lesson or two about wing play that day however he also began what became a great friendship with his storied rival. In his book of the tour, ‘Ringside View’, Ace Parker wrote: “Keen as mustard, he [Wolfe] showed improvement as the tour got under way.”
Ahead of the second Test at Newlands several key members of the team were struck down by influenza. Right winger John Williams’ condition worsened into a severe bout of bronchitis. With Williams out of action, Wolfe was chosen for his international debut before disaster struck. Training in the wet at Newlands, Wolfe slipped, hit the unprotected goalpost, and broke the fifth metatarsal in his right foot. Dick Marks was dragged from his sickbed to replace Wolfe and Australia went on to record a famous 9-5 victory. Wolfe didn’t play again on tour.
In 1964 Queensland preferred Collins and Peter Dawson as their wing three-quarters however Wolfe did take part in the trials ahead of the Wallaby tour to New Zealand. Unfortunately, in the second round of those trials Wolfe injured his ankle. The injury ruled him out of the final trial and consequently all tour calculations. Later that same season Wolfe was selected in the Australian Universities team, captained by Peter Crittle, for their seven-match tour of the Dominion.
A year later Wolfe somewhat fortuitously missed Queensland’s domestic matches, including their thumping 5-50 loss to South Africa before he won a spot in the state’s end-of-season tour to Fiji. Wolfe finished 1965 in style when University defeated GPS 17-15 to win the Hospital Cup first grade premiership. Wolfe moved to Sydney in 1969 but later returned to University and coached various grade, aged and Colts’ teams from 1973 through 1989.
Wolfe started seven matches, for six wins, on the Wallaby tour of South Africa – vs. North-Eastern Districts at Burgersdorp (W 9-8), vs. Boland at Wellington (W 30-13), vs. Western Province Universities at Cape Town (L 9-11), vs. Rhodesia at Salisbury (W 12-5), vs. Griqualand West at Kimberley (W 14-6), vs. Border at East London (W 6-3), and vs. Western Transvaal at Potchefstroom (W 14-12).