Kenneth "Doc" Tarleton
- 221Wallaby Number
‘Doc’ Tarleton gave rugby union a decade of sterling service and made two overseas tours with New South Wales in the mid-to-late 1920s. A hooker, Tarleton was more suited to the flank rather than the front row however there were a raft of high-class loose forwards - Ted Thorn, Derby Loudon, Ray Elliott, and George McKay just to name a few - when he came into the senior ranks. Undeterred he found a position few else were keen to fill however his opportunities at the top level were limited by the presence of the great ‘Jock’ Blackwood.
Born in Goulburn but educated at Sydney Boys’ High School, Tarleton was a latecomer to rugby having played association football until he was about 17. He then joined his mates at North Sydney and by 1923 was playing in the club’s first grade side. A year later Tarleton’s good form was recognized when chosen in the No.1 team for the state trials ahead of the inbound tour from New Zealand. Unfortunately Blackwood, selected in the No.2 team, snuck past him to secure the hooker position for all three Tests.
Tarleton’s big break came the following season after he was added to the NSW ‘second team’ to practise ahead of another home series against the All Blacks. Blackwood got the nod for the first Test however New South Wales were trounced 3-26. Four days later the NSW 2nd XV, with Tarleton at hooker, 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 Tarleton, 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 Tarleton’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). New South Wales made a return tour to New Zealand just two months later and although Tarleton went away as the incumbent rake it was Blackwood who played in the one-off Test.
In 1926 Tarleton suffered an injury playing for a NSW XV against New Zealand at University Oval and subsequently missed the final two Tests of that series. A year later the sole focus for all senior rugby players was the Waratahs tour to the Northern Hemisphere. Tarleton won the back-up hooker’s spot however he played second fiddle to Blackwood who started all five internationals. Tarleton made just nine appearances on the European leg of the tour however the team, in recognition of his unfailingly strong efforts throughout, gave him the match against London that brought the tour to a close.
In 1928 he was unavailable for the tour to New Zealand and by 1929 had moved to Scone in the Hunter Region of New South Wales. Tarleton returned to the big smoke in 1931 and won the first grade premiership with Easts where he "gave his backs a feast of the ball” in the ‘Challenge Final‘ against Manly and "to this may be attributed their victory on Saturday." Tarleton then retired from rugby however he was a key driver behind all subsequent Waratahs’ reunions. In 1934 he became the holder of the Gordon Shaw Pot for the Waratahs' annual golf fixture.
The little hooker, was the rank outsider of the party, but came home well to head Alec Ross and Arnold Tancred for the coveted 'quart' holder. Tarleton played off 32 and returned a net 64 and within that was an 11!! Tarleton's win was viewed with some suspicion as Syd Malcolm, who drew him in the sweep, also marked his card. In later years Tarleton became a selector for NSW Country. Many teams have found they are only as strong as the bench and in Ken Tarleton the Waratahs had the perfect reserve. ‘Doc’ Tarleton played two Tests for Australia in a one-year international career.
In 1925 Tarleton won his first Test cap at hooker, propped by Arthur Erby and Vic Ritchie in the 2nd Test, 0-4 loss to New Zealand at the Sydney Showground. Tom Smith joined Tarleton and Ritchie for the 3rd Test, 3-11 defeat three days later.