Michael Arthur Cleary
- 456Wallaby Number
Michael Cleary was a superb athlete with a magnificent physique and tremendous speed. He, like Dick Thornett, had the rare distinction of representing Australia in three sports - rugby, athletics and rugby league.
Born in Sydney, Cleary was educated at Waverley College and played in the school’s 1st XV. In 1958 Brother Lacey produced a well-drilled, superbly fit and fast moving team that played to its strength - Cleary on the wing - and the 18-year-old flyer ran in 23 tries during a season when Waverley was unbeaten in all Associated Schools fixtures. Cleary also competed in athletics as a track sprinter and notched many sub-even time sprints, including a sensational 9.6 secs. in the junior titles in Brisbane.
Cleary enjoyed a sensational debut season with Randwick in 1960 and earned his first taste of representative rugby when chosen to play for New South Wales against Queensland. He announced his arrival with three tries and in the return match three days later, he bagged another.
When the Fijians arrived in 1961, Cleary introduced himself by scoring another hat trick and with that performance was rewarded with a Test debut in Brisbane. Cleary scored one of Australia’s six tries and in the 2nd Test his second try proved a match winner. Cleary had been flattened and carried off unconscious after he was elbowed in the face by Fijian outside centre and captain Orisi Dawai. The blow dislocated his nasal septum but he returned in a show of grit and took a pass from outside centre Jimmy Lisle near halfway. Cleary ran along the touchline then at the quarter he stepped inside to beat Joe Levula and the fullback Gaunavou to touch down behind the posts for a memorable score.
He was chosen on his first Wallaby tour, to South Africa, where he opposed hard running former flanker Hennie van Zyl in both Tests. Unfortunately the crew-cut Van Zyl scored three tries at Ellis Park and then chipped in with another in the second Test.
The following season Cleary switched codes to play rugby league with South Sydney. The 1962 Commonwealth Games were to be held in Perth and Cleary had ambitions of representing Australia in the sprints so he maintained his amateur status with South Sydney until after his Games commitments were over. Immediately prior to the Games, on a grass track at Geraldton, Cleary ran 9.3 seconds for the 100 yards, just one-tenth outside the then world record that was co-held by Bob Hayes - the American who went on to win the 100 metres gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Cleary competed for Australia in the sprints in Perth and won a bronze medal in the 100 yard dash. Within a few months of his rugby league career beginning Cleary made his Test debut against Great Britain and became a triple international.
Michael Cleary played six rugby Tests for Australia in a one-year international career.
Later in life Cleary entered politics and was the State member for Coogee in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly from 1974 to 1991.
In 1992 Cleary was awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia “in recognition of service to the NSW Parliament”
Cleary won his first Test cap on the right wing in the 1st Test, 24-6 victory over Fiji at the Exhibition Ground. He scored his first Test try in that match to become the 40th Wallaby to score a try on debut. Cleary retained his spot on the right wing for the final two Tests of the Fijian series. He won three more caps against South Africa (2) and France (1).