Robert Lester Onus
Rob Onus was a tough, athletic and highly regarded New South Wales Country No.8 / lock who toured to New Zealand in 1978. That tour saw Australia hand the All Blacks a comprehensive 14-point, final Test defeat, one of the largest in their 75-year history.
Onus was born in Sydney but raised west of Moree in New South Wales north-western districts and undertook his early schooling via correspondence. He played his first rugby, aged 10, for The King’s School, where he finished with two seasons in the 1st XV (1971-72) and in his final year represented both GPS and the New South Wales XV.
After graduation Onus played his rugby for Moree and from there represented Central North Kookaburras, alongside his elder brother Charlie, as they won three consecutive NSW Country Championships (1976-78).
In 1977 Sydney was humbled 9-28 by Queensland, a result which saw Waratah coach Barney Walsh hand Onus his state debut, at No.8, alongside fellow NSW Country back-rower Bob Monteath, against Queensland at Ballymore. Walsh said the inclusion of the two Country lads created a “50% more efficient pack than in the Sydney-Queensland clash, and Sydney were no slouchers”. Later that same season both Rob and Charlie toured with NSW Country to the Pacific, USA, Canada and New Zealand.
The following year Rob felt the full wrath of a fired-up Wales after the tourists were upset 16-18 by Sydney following Laurie Monaghan’s “monumental”, final minutes dropped goal. Wales went to Cobar with a point to prove and they did just that with a 33-0 victory, one in which Onus found himself involved in several skirmishes with rival lock, the 17 Test-capped Geoff Wheel. Despite that result, and Australia’s sweep of the Welsh series, Onus was named as one of five uncapped Wallaby forwards for the Australian tour to New Zealand.
Onus made his debut for Australia in the tour opener, the 16-9 win over Nelson Bays, where it was said he operated “skilfully” in a back row trio that included Gary Pearse and Greg Cornelsen. That victory was followed by a controversial loss to Southland when with the seconds ticking away, and Australia trailing 7-10, captain for the day Tony Shaw peeled off the back of a scrum packed a metre out from the local side’s try line. Shaw slipped the ball to Onus, “who with blood streaming down his face crashed over under the posts” for the winning score. Unfortunately referee Bill Adlam ruled that Shaw had picked the ball out of the scrum before he had detached himself and awarded the home side a penalty. Despite the loss it was said that the Wallaby pack were “outstanding” as they “smashed headlong into the tucks and mauls, stretching themselves to the limit to contain a superbly drilled Southland eight”. Onus’ next match was against Counties where an inspired return by John Hipwell saw the Wallabies “storm” to a 17-8 win. The press of the day wrote that Onus “assumed Mark Loane’s mantle magnificently" after the great No.8 had suffered a tour ending hamstring injury in the previous match, the 10-20 loss to Manawatu.
With Loane unavailable the Australian selectors opted for a back-row of Cornelsen, Pearse and Tony Shaw for all three Tests however with the series lost Onus came in for Keith Besomo to wear the No.21 jersey at Eden Park. That day will forever be forged in history as Cornelsen scored four tries, and Pearse the other, as Australia surged to a stunning 30-16 win, their first in New Zealand since 1964.
In 1979, Onus appeared for NSW Country in their 7-28 loss to Ireland before he was a reserve for the final selection trial between Australia and The Rest ahead of the Wallabies’ tour to Argentina. A year later Onus made his third tour of New Zealand, this time with Country, before drought conditions in much of Eastern Australia saw him move the family property to Central Western Queensland, around Longreach. As a consequence of that decision, Onus effectively retired from the game.
Onus played his first match for Australia against Nelson Bays (W 16-9) at Nelson. He started another four games on the tour of New Zealand: - vs. Southland (L 7-10) at Invercargill, vs. Counties (W 17-8) at Pukekohe, vs. Mid-Canterbury (W 19-12) at Ashburton, and Wanganui (W 8-3) at Wanganui.