Royle Charles Cooney
- 180Wallaby Number
Better known as an international referee than as an international player, Roy Cooney was one of the select group to have played and refereed at the top level. His playing career was relatively short at international level, even if he did enjoy reasonable success, but his contribution with the whistle was more prolonged. Cooney only appeared on the big stage for one season, 1922. He was promoted to the New South Wales side for the second of three matches against the New Zealand Maori team that year after Wakka Walker had been injured in the first match and the backline reshuffled.
Cooney played a sound game and scored a try although many felt, ironically in view of Cooney’s career path, that the future Test ref knocked on as he regathered a kick. New South Wales won this match decisively but Cooney was dropped for the series decider, although few could quibble with his replacement, Larry Wogan. New South Wales lost this match 22-23 after a thrilling contest. Cooney did turn out for the State Second XV and had another sound match, again bagging a try, but was still relegated to the also-rans when a full All Black side toured later that year.
His only appearance against the All Blacks was for New South Wales Second XV and, despite the New Zealand forwards dominating this match – they scored seven of the 11 All Black tries – Cooney got what was by now his customary touchdown. He dropped out of big-time rugby as a player after that season and took up refereeing. It did not take long before Cooney was being noticed in high places and he was controlling big games as early as 1929, when his first international fixture was the return match between New South Wales and the All Blacks.
Cooney quickly made a mark as a fearless referee when he awarded Bob Loudon a penalty try when he had been obstructed near the line. Cooney was promoted to Test ranks for the second match of that series, which Australia won 17-9 to secure its first-ever series win over the All Blacks, and he also controlled the closing fixture of the tour, involving the New South Wales Second XV. He controlled all three Sydney games against the 1930 Great Britain side – the two State fixtures, which were won 29-10 by the tourists and then, remarkably, 28-3 by the Blues as well as the Test, which Australia won 6-5 after a thrilling match.
Cooney refereed the return game between the 1932 All Blacks and New South Wales as well as the third Test of the series; he had the whistle for the first four matches of the 1934 All Black tour, including the first Test; before he ended his career as the 31stman in one match between New South Wales and the New Zealand Maori team in 1935. Throughout Cooney’s refereeing career he, Arthur Irving and Cocky Mayne were the big three in New South Wales and it was a sure bet that one of the trio would be appointed to any match of significance played in Sydney. Cooney’s son, Warwick, emulated his father by controlling four Tests between 1972 and 1976 in his own worthy refereeing career. This feat by a father and son combination is one of the rarest of all family connections in international rugby.
Cooney was never known as Royle, but he was known as ‘Roy’, though the 1947-48 Wallabies called him ‘Zed’. He was the Official Visitor on that tour, and was much beloved by the team as he travelled everywhere with them. It was his trip of a lifetime, and his even disposition, sense of fun and loyalty to the Wallabies made him an essential part of the touring party. Though he was unostentatious generally, none of the team realized his importance in rugby, being one of the rare ones to play for his country and also to referee internationally.
His son Warwick also refereed at the international level. A centre in his playing days, he was more renowned for his defence than his offence, and his year at the top was 1922. A graduate of Sydney Boys’ High School, he played for North Sydney. In 1922 a strong Maori side toured Australia, with players of the calibre of Harry Jacob, Pat Potaka, Wampy Bell and Sam Gemmell. This was the time period when Queensland had opted out of rugby, and all tours were to NSW, occasionally including Victoria. Any NSW games were regarded as Tests many years later. Cooney died without knowing he had played a Test for Australia. Cooney did not appear in the first NSW game against the Maori, the centre pairing being University’s duo, Johnnie Taylor and Ronald Stanley.
Taylor was more famous on the cricket field, having already played for Australia, and being a member of Warwick Armstrong’s 1921 Ashes tour to England, where he particularly impressed with his brilliant outfielding and aggressive hitting. The second match was on the Monday at the Sydney Agricultural Ground, and Cooney got his one and only run at the top. The NSW team was Otto Nothling, another who played cricket for Australia, Jackie Shute, Roy Cooney, Ronald Stanley, ‘Pup’ Raymond, Johnnie Taylor, Oney Humphreys, Darby Loudon, Charlie Fox, George McKay, John Holdsworth, Ray Elliott, Tom Smith, Duncan Fowles and Tom Davis. It was a 28-13 NSW victory, Cooney scoring a try. Cooney did not play in the final NSW match, lost 22 to 23, but was in the final tour match, for NSW Second XV, lost 18 to 27. Cooney scored once more. He turned to refereeing and would referee four times in an Australian game.
His first was in 1929 (Australia versus NZ) and the last was in 1934 (Australia versus NZ). Modest and popular, Roy Cooney was one of the few to play for his country and referee his country.