William Robert Hardcastle
- 31Wallaby Number
Bill Hardcastle was already an experienced player when he won Wallaby selection for the fourth Test of the inaugural series against Great Britain, as he had represented New Zealand on its 1897 tour of Australia. He played on long enough to become a triple international, as he switched to rugby league in 1908 although 33 years of age, and played Tests at home as well as making the pioneering league tour of Britain in 1908-09. He made his first-class debut in New Zealand in 1895, representing Wellington from the famous Petone club, before switching his allegiance to Melrose, a power in the old days of Wellington district rugby.
By 1897 he was on the fringe of national honours and when Barney O'Dowd pulled out of the touring party for Australia, Hardcastle was included. He began the tour as part of the Saturday pack and played in the first two matches against New South Wales, but following the heavy defeat inflicted on the tourists in the second match (22-8), Hardcastle became something of a spare part. He had three more matches in Australia which were either up-country affairs or against Queensland, a team that was hardly formidable at the time. He played his last match in New Zealand colours against Auckland after the side returned home, coming onto the field to replace Joe Calnan when the latter was injured. Hardcastle, who had been acting as a touch judge, handed his flag over to another member of the team as he raced off to change. That match, incidentally, had a sensational aftermath as four of the New Zealand players were suspended for two years following an incident where they were accused of drunkenness and using foul language in public.
The following year Hardcastle shifted to Australia, a not uncommon move in the uncertain economic times of the 1890s. He was soon picked in the New South Wales team, and while he represented the State in only the one year his name was still to the fore when representative teams were being chosen. He secured his first Wallaby selection with a good performance for Metropolis in the return match with the British tourists, scoring the winning try in a mudbath, although there were some doubts expressed as to whether the ball was still in play – a regular feature of matches on this tour when the visitors questioned a number of rulings that went against them. The only man whose opinion mattered, the referee, said it was and the home team eked out a narrow 8-5 win. Hardcastle was not chosen for the third international, which immediately followed this match, but was picked for the fourth as the Australian selectors shuffled through their players again and again. In all, 35 were chosen in the four matches. The frequent alterations in playing personnel made no difference as Australia crashed to a 0-13 loss and the visitors claimed the series, 3-1, after dropping the first match. Hardcastle continued to battle away in club rugby and his next Test selection, against New Zealand four years later, came out of the blue. Not having been required for either State match against the tourists or for the Metropolitan Union fixture, he probably had faint hopes of playing if he entertained any at all. Still, he was included in the home pack although this Test was one-way traffic and a fine New Zealand side won 22-3 in that country's inaugural Test.
Hardcastle was nearing the end of his career when the new rugby league code was formed, so it was probably a natural to change over. He initially began in Queensland, where he played for Ipswich, and won State selection for matches with New South Wales, the touring New Zealand Maori team and the famous All Golds (New Zealand's pioneering team that had been in Britain). Good performances here saw the veteran picked for two of the subsequent Tests, Australia's first home series. After making the tour to Britain but playing only six matches Hardcastle, who played prop in the new code, returned to Sydney and played his final two years with Glebe, although he only played nine first-grade matches.
New Zealand born forward Bill Hardcastle was a dual international representative in both countries and rugby codes, which if not unique is certainly a rare achievement. He toured Australia with the New Zealand team in 1897 and the following year he returned to Sydney to settle in Australia. He made the Australian side in 1899 and in 1903 before switching to play rugby league and won a place in 1908-09 Kangaroo tour of England. Hardcastle was born in Wellington, New Zealand. He attended Petone High School and played for Petone and Melrose Clubs. He was an aggressive backrower who represented Wellington between 1895 and 1897. Having switched to Melrose club in 1897 he was promoted to the North Island side. He was not an original selection for the 1897 tour but when Taranaki’s Barney O’Dowd withdrew, he got the call. He played seven of 11 matches on that tour and scored only one try against Central-Western District at Orange. He made an instant impression on his move across the Tasman and played for NSW against Queensland, scoring a try to win 13 to 4.
He helped Glebe win the inaugural Sydney Club competition in 1900 and 1901, with fellow New Zealander and team-mate Jimmy Clarken. He first played for Australia in the fourth Test against the visiting British team in 1899, which Australia lost 13 to nil. His next Test appearance was against his country of birth, New Zealand, in 1903. This was not only the first Test between the two countries but also the first-ever for New Zealand against any other nation. New Zealand won the Test 22 to 3. Hardcastle became one of the early converts to the new league code in 1908, which was quickly gaining strength in NSW and Queensland. He was chosen on the Australian team against his old countrymen, the All Golds from New Zealand, and played two Tests. At the age of 34, he was in the first Kangaroo tour of England 1908-09. Unfortunately injuries limited him to play six of the less important games. He served with the Australian forces in World War I and played a leading role in organising Services rugby. He died in Sydney and was buried in Botany Cemetery in 1944.