- 164Wallaby Number
Norm Mingay rose to rugby prominence in the immediate aftermath of World War I, proving a highly skilled halfback and goal-kicker, although there were several occasions when he was not the team kicker despite a lack of success attending the efforts of others. A small man – at 9st 7lb, he was one of the lightest players to have appeared for Australia in international matches - Mingay was still a class act and his accurate boot allowed him to become the first player ever to record 100 points in a Sydney club season. He was young enough to have avoided call-up and was ready to take his place in the top bracket of footballers when armistice was declared, making his debut against the returning servicemen of the AIF.
This side had shaken down into a strong combination, with several players of high pre-war standing and others who would become household names in the 1920s, and proved too strong for the best that Australia could field against them, winning all three representative matches as part of an unbeaten 8-match tour. Mingay opposed them for the first time as New South Wales halfback, kicking two conversions and playing well in a 14-42 defeat for the State, although the papers noted that he was unable to do much because of a paucity of possession. He played the three ‘Tests’ at five-eighth, Arthur Walker filling the halfback role, but was again starved of usable ball.
After playing for both Metropolitan Union and the State Second XV (which he captained despite his youth) against the 1920 All Blacks, Mingay displaced Walker as the Test halfback for the third match of the series. His good form from the minor matches was carried over into the big game, when he scored two of New South Wales’ three tries and converted one, accounting for the majority of his side’s points. His strong showing in this match led critics to publicly wonder why he had taken so long to be recognised. He could have done without his fourth game against the tourists in 10 days, as Metropolitan Union caved in and suffered a humiliating 5-79 defeat in the tour finale, although the gallant halfback was the one home player whose effort did not flag as the points piled up. Mingay’s tough run in international football continued in 1921, when the Springboks toured for the first time.
Their huge forward pack dominated every match and the home backs were forced to make do with scraps of possession. Mingay, at five-eighth in the first and third Tests and behind the scrum in the second, did as well as possible in the circumstances and he was a sure selection for the New Zealand tour a month later. Walker continued as the main halfback on that tour and a new challenger, Oney Humphreys, emerged in the five-eighth role. Mingay had two matches at halfback and four at five-eighth and he played in the five matches preceding the Test – only to lose his place for the main match. He had demonstrated the value of his kicking in his first match, against Waikato, getting the board moving with a couple of early penalty goals and converting a mark into three points before the tourists ran away with proceedings after halftime.
As well as his kicking, Mingay was outstanding in general play and was, by all accounts, the player of the day. He continued to be a success in his next two matches, with his sharp running and good vision creating try after try against willing opposition and his goal-kicking remained sound. If not quite as sharp against Marlborough, who put up a better than expected fight, he was back in top form against the two West Coast unions and again made material contributions to a number of tries registered by team-mates. He was surprisingly left out of the Test side – Humphreys was preferred at five-eighth – and did not play against Wellington, the only match the tourists lost. Walker captained New South Wales throughout 1922 which meant Mingay took no part in either series, against New Zealand Maori or the full All Black side.
There was a degree of shuffling at five-eighth but Humphreys, cricket star Johnny Taylor and Billy Sheehan were preferred. Walker was again first-choice for the home series with the Maoris in 1923, although the captaincy had passed to Watty Friend, and Mingay only played the first Test where his accurate kicking was important in the final result. Walker did not make the trip to New Zealand that year and Mingay was one of the most experienced men in a party with too many greenhorns for comfort. No fewer than 10 of the State’s leading players were unavailable for one reason or another, a danger in itself, and the pack was again too small (averaging 12st 7lb or 86 kgs per man) to compete with some of the rugged forward outfits waiting across the Tasman. The programme was stronger than in 1921 and, with an All Black team scheduled to tour Britain in 1924-25, all leading players in New Zealand were keen to prove their worth.
Thus the young touring party was up against it from the word ‘go’. Mingay began with an outstanding effort against South Canterbury, but this was one of the easiest matches on tour and the visitors still battled to win it. New Zealand was vastly superior in the three internationals, posting more decisive wins each time with greatly changed teams, and Mingay’s form, both in general play and when kicking for goal, fell away as a result of the constant harassment he received behind a beaten and outweighed forward pack. He played one of his poorer games in the second Test and was dropped for the third, to be replaced by Wally Meagher, and ended his tour with a so-so outing against Wairarapa-Bush. As it turned out, that was the last time he was chosen for New South Wales although he was still only 24 and with a good amount of experience behind him.