Frank Burge

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Frank 'Chunky' Burge (born 14 August 1894 in Darlington, New South Wales, died 5 July 1958 in Marrickville, New South Wales) was one of the greatest forwards in the history of rugby league in Australia.[1] Later he was one of the game's finest coaches.

His club career was with Glebe and the St. George Dragons. He represented New South Wales on eighteen occasions. He played thirteen Tests for the Kangaroos and played for Australia in a further twenty-three tour matches.

Club and representative career

Club career

Frank was a sensation as a teenager and played 1st grade rugby union at age 14, the youngest ever to play senior football in either code. Upon switching to the professional code, Frank was playing first grade for Glebe at age 16 and was selected for the state at age 18. He played 16 seasons and 148 first grade games for Glebe and was club captain for many years.

He moved to St. George in 1927, and retired as a player at the end of that season, and coached the club for a further 3 seasons.

Representative Career

He debuted for Australia in the domestic 1914 Ashes series against Great Britain appearing in all three Tests, and on the 1919 tour of New Zealand in all four tests. He is listed on the Australian Players Register as Kangaroo No. 88. [2]

Again in 1920 he appeared in all three Tests of the domestic Ashes series and then was selected on the 1921–22 Kangaroo tour of Great Britain where he played in all three tests and twenty representative tour matches scoring 33 tries in 23 matches, more than any touring forward before or since. Burge's representative record shows him appearing in every single Australian Test match played in the war-interrupted eight-year period between 1914 and 1922.

Records and accolades

He was the NSW Rugby Football League's top try-scorer in 1915, 1916 and 1918 an extremely rare feat in even one year for a forward. In the 1920 season, he was the League's top point scorer.

He holds the standing record for tries in a match set when he scored eight in a club match for Glebe in 1920. His career tally of 146 first grade tries stood for eighty years as the highest by a forward until Steven Menzies broke it in 2004. He maintained an average of a try a game for seventeen seasons scoring 218 tries in 213 senior matches with 146 coming from his 154 Sydney first grade matches. That try-scoring tally today stands at eighth on an all-time list dominated by backs.

Frank Burge was awarded Life Membership of the New South Wales Rugby League in 1934.[3]

In 2004 he was admitted into the Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame.[4]

In February 2008, Frank Burge was named in the list of Australia's 100 Greatest Players (1908–2007) which was commissioned by the NRL and ARL to celebrate the code's centenary year in Australia.[5][6] Burge went on to be named as an interchange player in Australian rugby league's Team of the Century. Announced on 17 April 2008, the team is the panel's majority choice for each of the thirteen starting positions and four interchange players.[7][8]

In 2008 New South Wales announced their rugby league team of the century, naming Burge at prop.[9]

The man and his playing style

After his attempt to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force was rejected because of a speech impediment, Burge devoted his energies to football.[10] At 93 kg and equally effective anywhere in the forwards from lock to prop, he had the speed of a back to complement his strength and an anticipation that made him a support player without peer. He was a teetotaller who was way ahead of his time in observing a strict diet, he used coaching concepts familiar in modern sports psychology and upheld an all-year training regime that continued right through the long Sydney summer off-season.

Revered Sun Herald sports journalist, Tom Goodwin said of Burge : "I believe Frank Burge was the greatest forward the game has ever produced. Indeed, he may of been the greatest league player ever." [11]

The Heads/Middleton reference quotes his colleague and former University rival Dick O'Brien who said on Burge's death in 1958: "May I say, as Anthony did of Caesar: his life was gentle, the elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up and say to all the world "This was a man" '.[12]

Glebe RLFC 1911 Veteran captain McKivat centre with ball, 17 yr old Frank to his left
Burge back row 3rd from right, coach of Saints' 1930 side


Frank Burge died suddenly after suffering a heart attack on 5 July 1958, after watching a Newtown versus North Sydney match at Henson Park. A large funeral for Frank was held on 8 July at the Woronora Crematorium where he was cremated. He was survived by his wife Millie.[13]

See also


  1. Century's Top 100 Players
  2. ARL Annual Report 2005, page 52
  3. Referee, Sydney. 13/12/1934: Greatest Rugby Forward (page 14)
  4. Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame
  5. "Centenary of Rugby League – The Players". NRL & ARL. 23 February 2008. Retrieved 23 February 2008.
  6. Peter Cassidy (23 February 2008). "Controversy reigns as NRL releases top 100 players". Macquarie National News. Retrieved 23 February 2008.
  7. Todd Balym (17 April 2008). "Johns, Meninga among Immortals". Fox Sports Australia.,8659,23557351-23214,00.html. Retrieved 17 April 2008.
  8. "Team of the Century Announced". NRL & ARL. 17 April 2008. Retrieved 17 April 2008.
  9. ARL (2008). "Australian Rugby Football League 2008 Annual Report" (pdf). Australian Rugby Football League Limited. p. 30. Retrieved 19 July 2009.
  10. Middleton, David (30 September 2013). "Ten of the most dominant seasons in rugby league history from historian David Middleton". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 6 February 2014.
  11. The Sun Herald, Sydney. "Greatest Forward" 06/07/1958 (page 63)
  12. A Centenary of Rugby League p110
  13. Sydney Morning Herald: Death/Funeral Notices. 08/07/1958 (page 20)


  • Andrews, Malcolm (2006) The ABC of Rugby League, Austn Broadcasting Corpn, Sydney
  • Whiticker, Alan (2004) Captaining the Kangaroos, New Holland, Sydney
  • Whiticker, Alan & Hudson, Glen (2006) The Encyclopedia of Rugby League Players, Gavin Allen Publishing, Sydney
  • Whiticker, Alan & Collis, Ian (2006) The History of Rugby League Clubs, New Holland, Sydney
  • Heads, Ian & Middleton, David (2008) A Centenary of Rugby League, MacMillan, Sydney.
  • Howell, Max (2005) Born to Lead: Wallaby Test Captains, Celebrity Books, Auckland, NZ.

External links