John Reginald (‘Happy Jack’) McLean
‘Happy Jack’ earned his nickname because he seldom smiled. Possibly the reason was that heavy expectations were placed on him very early in his Rugby career. Educated at St Laurence’s Christian Brothers’ College, ‘Happy’s’ only option in football was Rugby League because the college only changed to Rugby after World War II. It was not until he joined his brothers, Bill and Bob, at GPS Rugby Club, that he launched his Rugby career.
Playing on the wing he was conscious of the legacy left by his father and brother, Doug, whose illustrious careers set the benchmark on requirements to be a great Rugby winger. ‘Happy’s’ finishing skills as a winger were soon recognised not only by the club but caught the eye of the State selectors and he represented Queensland in 1941 against Combined Services War intervened and Jack joined the Air Force.
After training he was assigned to an RAAF Squadron in England where he continued his association with Rugby, playing for the Air Force alongside future great Wallabies in Ken Kearney and Eddie Broad. A plane crash during a training exercise resulted in injuries to the back and shoulder which would plague him for the rest of his career.
After the war ‘Happy’ resumed playing with the GPS Club. It was at this time his heavily padded right shoulder was to be his trademark. State selectors remained loyal and he was in the State side for the Wallaby trials for the 1946 tour to New Zealand.
Jack was selected along with wingers Jimmy Stone, Charlie Eastes and Terry MacBride. You would have thought this would have brought a smile to the face but, no - there was more work to do. Being in such illustrious company drove Jack to new heights. After a loss in the opening tour game to North Auckland, ‘Happy Jack’ was selected for the second game against Taranaki-King Country - a close win, and Jack was up and in the mix. That opportunity came prior to the first Test when the Wallabies played the powerful Canterbury side. Jack was on the wing but a loss brought dramatic changes and ‘Happy’s’ dream was dashed.
Injury and selection pressures prevented Jack from appearing for the remainder of the tour, so a Wallaby number eluded this charismatic character.
‘Happy’ was a shadow of his 1946 season when he appeared for Queensland in 1947 but, at the Exhibition Ground, he left us with a trademark McLean winger try - Jack received the ball early, allowed space, he skirted touch, swerved infield, left the fullback grasping air on a typical in and away, to sprint for a diving try, taking the corner post and finishing on the speedway track. Not only did the crowd embrace this brilliant try but so did his team -mates and opposition. STILL NO SMILE.
Jack’s treasured Wallaby blazer pocket is in very safe hands. ‘Happy’ presented the pocket to the future Grand Slam Rugby Captain - Andrew Slack - when he was selected in the Villanova College First Fifteen.
Jack McLean fulfilled all the obligations of the dynasty and Happy Jack will never be forgotten.Jack McLean was 24 years of age when he went on the 1946 New Zealand tour, was 5’ 11” in height and weighed 13 stone 2lb, making him the heaviest back in the Wallaby team. Not overly blessed with speed, much of his success was due to a high level of conditioning and fine positional sense.
Jack was on six of the games against New Zealand teams, and they were: Taranaki-King Country (9-8), Manawatu-Wanganui (17-15), Hawkes Bay-Poverty Bay ( replacing Jimmy Stone, and scoring a try, 19-11), Seddon Shield Districts (15-12), Canterbury (11—20, try) and Hanan Shield Districts (9-21, try).
He did not play in a Test but he was in six Australian representative games.