William Dennis Canniffe
- 88Wallaby Number
A rangy lock forward who learned his football at the St Joseph’s College, Gregory Terrace, in Brisbane, Bill Canniffe was born on 1 April 1885 on Keppel Island where he developed a love of the sea that led him to become a master mariner. He developed into one Queensland footballer who impressed New South Wales rugby critics with his speed and athleticism in the open. Today, he would probably have figured as a blindside flanker because he lacked the essential bulk for the second row lock position. After playing with Combined Juniors in 1905, Canniffe became a member of Valleys senior team in the following year.
His rapid improvement led to his inclusion in the Queensland team for the opening interstate match. Canniffe was pitted against two of the roughest footballers in Australia in Harold Judd and Peter Burge. After leading 9-0 at halftime, Queensland lost narrowly by 11 points to 9 and Canniffe was not chosen for the remaining interstate matches that year. By the 1907 season, Canniffe had matured and he played in every game for Queensland in a splendid season that culminated in selection for Australia in the second Test against the All Blacks. Australia’s lightweight pack was outplayed and the entire New South Wales team was chosen to represent Australia in the third Test.
In 1908, Canniffe was included in one of the finest packs ever to represent Queensland. The front row comprised Voy Oxenham, Harry Brighton, Len Brown, Canniffe and big Jack Egan were in the second row, while the loose forwards were Tom Richards, Brickey Farmer and Peter Flanagan. Brown was a Rhodes Scholar who was to captain England, Oxenham, Canniffe, Farmer, Flanagan and Richards represented Australia (and Richards the 1910 British Lions). Brighton later switched to rugby league and scored a Sydney contract, while Egan was a legendary, hard-drinking, rough tough forward from Charters Towers who could play outstanding football when in the mood.
With his good, clean ball winning at the lineout and speed in the loose, Canniffe so impressed the New South Wales selectors, Jim McManamey, James McMahon and Iggy O’Donnell, who chose the team, that he was invited to tour Britain in 1908-9 with the team under the auspices of the New South Wales Rugby Union that became known as the first Wallabies. After initially accepting the invitation, Canniffe was forced to withdraw as he was just about to enter the sea-faring phase of his master mariners certificate. Canniffe’s place went to the Balmain flanker, Bob Craig. Swallowing that disappointment, Canniffe was unavailable for Queensland’s first game against the touring Anglo-Welsh side that visited Brisbane just after the Wallabies left for Britain.
It was a mid-week match and he could not get leave to play. The inexperienced State side went down 20 points to 3 but it was a different story three days later. With Canniffe and Oxenham back in the pack, the home forwards produced a fiery display that rattled the tourists. Playing with the confidence he felt after his selection for the Wallabies, Canniffe was the best forward on the field and the visitors were hard pressed to win narrowly by 11-8. Four days later, Canniffe had a further meeting with the Anglo-Welsh when he turned out with a scratch Brisbane team that was easily defeated 26-3.
Next season, Canniffe went to Sydney with an inexperienced Queensland team to meet the New South Wales side bristling with Wallaby stars. He played in both matches, in which Queensland was hammered 37-0 and 21-11, before retiring to follow his career as a master mariner on the Wyreema. Bill Canniffe was an outstanding forward whose determination to follow his profession cost him a chance in a lifetime trip to Britain with the 1908 Wallabies.
He represented Queensland each year from 1906 to 1909 and figured in a total of 14 matches for the State - 11 against New South Wales, two versus the All Blacks and one against the Anglo-Welsh . His sole Test appearance for Australia was in 1907 against the All Blacks. He died in 1956.