Roger George Warcup Cornforth
- 345Wallaby Number
Roger Cornforth was a wonderful all-round sportsman who overcame the horror of being a prisoner of war to play Test rugby for Australia. Armed with a fiercely competitive and indomitable spirit Cornforth was a goal-kicking three-quarter during his years at North Sydney Boys’ High School. He also excelled at swimming, track and field, cricket and was named school captain in 1935. After he graduated Cornforth won a New South Wales hurdles title and the 1939 Australian 220 yards breaststroke title. He played State water-polo, First Grade cricket for Mosman and rugby with Northern Suburbs.
In 1939, and still a three-quarter, Cornforth emerged as an outside chance for the Third Wallabies. Described as the ‘Ajax’ of the teams in a key club match against Randwick it was opined that “if he doesn’t get a trip abroad, I’m as green as the green jerseys worn by Randwick.” Cornforth did not win a place on the ill-fated tour and unfortunately that disappointing experience was not to be his last when it came to tours.
A year later Cornforth joined the army where rose to the rank of lieutenant with the NSW 2/20th Infantry Battalion who were sent to Singapore. Despite honorably commanding a rearguard action with 7 Platoon of A Company Malaya soon fell to the invading Japanese. Cornforth was captured in February 1942 and sent to Changi Prison. Later in the year he was transferred to Japan where he worked half to three quarter day shifts in a scrap metal furnace north of Tokyo. Constant beatings were par for the course and on one occasion Cornforth suffered a beating that left with impaired hearing for the rest of his life.
Cornforth returned home almost unrecognisable, a near-skeleton having lost eight stone, yet within six months of being discharged he was back in shape and playing rugby, as captain no less, for Norths 1st XV. His ‘brilliant form’ had him ‘assured him of a place’ in the State side before he was king hit in a club match and fractured a cheekbone. The injury ultimately ruined his chance for a spot on the tour to New Zealand.
In 1947 Cornforth was not to be denied and thoroughly earned his debut for New South Wales, against Toowoomba, at No.8. Five weeks later Cornforth was selected at flanker for the 1st Test against New Zealand. To the astonishment of the All Blacks and many respected rugby pundits Cornforth was then overlooked for the Third Wallabies touring team to the U.K. and Europe.
Syd King, Wallaby #229, criticised Cornforth’s omission. He described it as ‘more inexplicable than the omission of Cyril Towers from the 1933 Wallabies who toured South Africa [and] less excusable than the omission of Bill Cerutti from the 1939 Wallabies. It was the more disgraceful that he was left out because some of the selectors were prepared to bargain among themselves to ensure the selection of their particular fancies. There could have been no more worthy representative of Australian sport abroad than Cornforth. As a footballer he has proved himself a matchwinner.’ Then, as a mark of the man he was, Cornforth shrugged aside the disappointment and was present to farewell the Wallabies as they sailed from Sydney for London.
In 1948 Cornforth dropped out of rugby to concentrate on water-polo, and was duly chosen to represent Australia at the London Olympic Games. He returned to rugby the following year and was a member of the first Australian team to win the Bledisloe Cup on New Zealand soil. Roger Cornforth played two Tests for Australia in a four year international career.
Cornforth won his first Test cap at flanker alongside Col Windon and Arthur Buchan in the 1st Test, 5-13 loss to New Zealand in Brisbane. In that match he became the 30th Wallaby to score a Test try on debut.
Cornforth was paired with Rex Mossop at lock for the 2nd Test, 3-24 loss to the British Lions at the S.C.G.