Sydney James Malcolm
- 242Wallaby Number
Syd Malcolm was one of Australian rugby’s finest halfbacks. There is no greater appreciation for that recognition than the consideration of Malcolm’s rivals for the title - Chris McKivat, Cyril Burke, Ken Catchpole, John Hipwell, Nick Farr-Jones and George Gregan, just to name a few. Somewhat remarkably three of those players, Malcolm included, were born in the Newcastle region of New South Wales. While Malcolm had a fast but not overly long pass, he punished any defensive line that offered him an opening. Above all he was both hard and courageous, and never backed down when the going toughened.
Malcolm played rugby league for South Newcastle and in 1924, his first year of first grade football, he was chosen to represent his City against England and in the country week carnival. With the likelihood of a State jersey seen as somewhat remote Malcolm responded to overtures made by the Ipswich League in Queensland to head north at the end of that season. The move paid dividends in 1925 when he represented Queensland as they defeated New South Wales 23-18 in the fifth match of the Interstate Series.
Malcolm returned to Newcastle in 1926 where he switched to rugby union and showed for the Cook’s Hill Surf Club. He played for Newcastle in union’s Country Week Carnival and from there earned an invitation for the New South Wales’ trials. Malcolm took part in both matches where he ‘caught the eye, being smart in attack and tackling solidly’ and was deemed a ‘distinct possibility’ for the Waratahs’ northern hemisphere tour. Four days later Malcolm was chosen alongside Randwick’s Jack Duncan as one of the two half backs with Duncan’s teammate Wally Meagher picked as the utility back.
Disappointingly some viewed Malcolm as ‘a sympathy selection’ but it was not long before the error of that opinion became glaringly apparent despite the fact that he went away as the No.3 half. A dislocated shoulder against Oxford University sidelined him for the Irish and Welsh Tests however he returned to earn a Test debut against Scotland in Edinburgh and finished the tour with three Test caps from just 11 appearances. From that Scottish international Malcolm played in 18 of Australia’s next 23 Tests.
Four of the five Tests he missed were due to injury and the other (1931 v. Maori) was not classified as a Test at that time. In 1928 Malcolm was named captain of a New South Wales side that contained just two other Waratahs - Cyril Towers and Geoff Bland - for the tour to New Zealand. Although he did not know it at the time Malcolm became the 24th Wallaby to captain his country in a Test given that is was not until 1994 that the ARU granted Test status to all remaining New South Wales fixtures played against international opposition in the 1920-28 period (The five Waratahs internationals of 1927/28 were elevated to Tests status in 1986).
The Wellington (N.Z.) Truth reviewed the tour and wrote glowingly of Malcolm: “Wellington critics had two opportunities of watching Malcolm play, and most agreed that he is as good a half as has been seen in New Zealand for many years. “Truth” would go as far as to say that Syd Malcolm is about the best half in the world today. A born tactician, a clever opportunist and a wonderful defender, he has all the attributes of a brilliant half. He is a sterling footballer, a real sport and a gentleman”. In 1929 Malcolm teamed up with the legendary Tom Lawton and that association brought Australia their great, undefeated successes against New Zealand and, the following year, against the British Lions.
Malcolm remained the first choice half back through to the end of the 1934 series against New Zealand when he formally retired from international rugby. At the time it was written that Malcolm’s intention to retire “will rob the amateur game of one of its greatest stars.” In 1937 he became a State selector and a year later coached first grade at Gordon That same year Malcolm wrote a wonderful series of 18 articles for “The Referee” in which he detailed his experiences in the game.
In 1940, and by now an Australian selector, Malcolm enlisted with the RAN as an engine room artificer having previously been a qualified tradesman at the Walsh Island dockyard in Newcastle. He rose to the rank of Petty Officer in the RAN at Flinders (Vic) and played for the Navy XV. Syd Malcolm played 18 Tests for Australia, six as captain, in a wonderful eight-year career.
Malcolm won his first Test cap at halfback, alongside Tom Lawton, in the 8-10 loss to Scotland at Murrayfield. Lawton and Malcolm remained the halves pairing for the 11-18 defeat to England and the 11-8 victory over France.
Lawton captained New South Wales in the both the first and second away Tests in New Zealand but missed the third match due to bronchitis. He picked up a third cap in the 8-9 loss to the Maori in Palmerston North.
With Lawton as his captain, Malcolm started at halfback in all three home wins against New Zealand.
The Lawton / Malcolm combination led Australia to a 6-5 win over the British Lions at the S.C.G.
Malcolm partnered Jack Stegall in the 13-20, one-off Test loss to New Zealand at Eden Park.
He won caps in all three home Tests against New Zealand, the first two alongside Lawton and the third, as captain, with Gordon Sturtridge outside him.
Malcolm dislocated his shoulder in the fourth tour match, against Pretoria, in South Africa and missed the next nine matches, including the first two Tests, as well as the third international in Johannesburg. He returned to play in each of the final two Tests with Ron Biilmann and then Sturtridge as his fly half.
Malcolm earned his final two caps against New Zealand at home as Australia won the Bledisloe Cup for the first time.