- 120Wallaby Number
Because Bill Murphy played for Brothers and Queensland in the same era as that great forward, Pat Murphy, it was generally assumed that they were brothers. In fact, they were unrelated. When interviewed at her Surfers Paradise home, Bill Murphy’s daughter, Mrs Mary Dingwell, claimed, “Yes, I had heard that people thought Dad and Pat Murphy were brothers but that was not the case. They were not related at all. I read in Jack Pollard’s book that he gave ‘Spade’ as Dad’s nickname. He probably meant ‘Spud’. Some people tried to call Dad ‘Spud’ but he hated it and would not allow it.” Born in 1880 in Ireland, Bill Murphy developed into quite a field athlete and played in an All-Ireland team before migrating to Australia in 1906.
He found employment as a policeman and, after a few years, developed an interest in rugby. After a few years, he met the sister of Queensland and Brothers hooker, Albert Scanlan, known as ‘Ginger’, who was also a boxer of note. In 1910, Ginger Scanlan persuaded Murphy to come down and try out for the powerful Brothers club. Among the players of note at Brothers were the Carmichael brothers, Vin and Joe, ‘Skeet’ Ahern, Dinny Guilfoyle, Voy Oxenham, Tom Ryan, Dan O’Sullivan, Bill Swenson and Pat Murphy. Because of his speed and athleticism, Bill Murphy fitted into this team as a number 8 and played in the premiership winning team for Brothers.
The 1910 season was a learning curve for the rugby novice but he improved so rapidly that he was tipped for representative honours in the following year. However, he was plagued by injuries during the 1911 season and missed out on representative honours. However, Murphy was not to be denied in 1912. He was chosen to play for the Brisbane team that beat a strong Toowoomba side by 22 points to 3 and there followed his selection in the Queensland team to meet New South Wales in Brisbane. This Queensland team was greatly strengthened by the return after five years of veteran Wallaby forwards Allen ‘Butcher’ Oxlade and Bill Richards. ‘Copper’ Kent, Dave Williams partnering Pat Murphy in the second row and Peter Cunningham were other strong forwards in the side. In this match, the Queenslanders cast aside their traditional white knickers and wore navy blue shorts for the first time. Richards, Kent and Bill Murphy gave Queensland the edge in the lineouts and the home side scored a thrilling victory by 18 points to 15 – breaking a drought of six straight losses.
Queensland made one forced change at fullback where Bunny Newell replaced Frank Rigby and had an emphatic 23-8 victory. This was the first occasion that Queensland had won both home games since 1900. Murphy travelled to Sydney with the Queensland team and had high hopes of repeating the triumphs in the return matches in Sydney that were to serve as trials for the tour of America later in the year that had been organised by the New South Wales Rugby Union who also decided that it would be known as the Waratahs. Unfortunately, after two weeks of rain, the visitors were greeted by unspeakable conditions at the Sydney University Oval and the northern hopes floundered in the mud. Murphy had better luck in the midweek Bank holiday match when Queensland drew 9-all with a powerful Sydney team in a match where no goals were kicked.
The return match with New South Wales doubled as the final selection trial for the tour to America but the rubber also hinged on the result. Queensland started well when ‘Tat’ McMahon dropped a goal, but, when New South Wales led 6-4, Oxlade was injured and taken from the field. When Bob Willcocks asked Leo Reynolds, the opposing captain, for a replacement, Reynolds ignored the custom and refused. After losing their captain and hooker, Queensland plummeted to a 19-4 defeat. After the game, the New South Wales selectors initially named five Queenslanders in the tour party – Bob Willcocks, Lou Meibusch, Jimmy Flynn, Copper Kent and Peter Cunningham – and omitted Bill Murphy. However, Willcocks withdrew and Bill Murphy was added to the touring team. The American tour proved a wonderful experience for Murphy. He bought a convertible motor car and had great fun seeing the sights in his car, touring the city and countryside with his pals, WG ‘Twit’ Tasker and Peter Cunningham.
On the football side, Murphy immediately impressed the tour committee and became a first choice on tour and he played in eleven of the sixteen matches and scored tries against Stanford University and the University of Southern California. In the Test match against the United States of America, Murphy packed down at number 8 in the back row with Tom Richards and Copper Kent. The match proved far tougher than anyone expected and the Waratahs were fortunate to scrape home by 12 points to 8, although they scored three tries to one. On his return to Australia, Murphy considered it was time to quit rugby. By now, he was 32 years of age and he was transferred to Ipswich. In three short years in rugby, he had not only picked up the new sport but had played it successfully at the highest level – a remarkable achievement for one who only took the game up relatively late in life.