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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 2 (May 1, 1935)

Panorama of the Playground

page 61

Panorama of the Playground.

Mr. J. W. Heenan, LL.B.

Everybody, and especially everybody in the world of sport, is proud to be an “old friend” of Mr. J. W. Heenan, who has just recovered from his severe illness and operation to be greeted with the welcome news of his promotion to the responsible but congenial post of Under-Secretary for Internal Affairs.

Mr. Heenan attended Mt. Cook school and Wellington College, and completed his law course at Victoria College. With his native enthusiasm for sport and inspired by the wonderful sporting record of Mt. Cook school in the 'nineties (it produced such heroes as Billy Wallace and Billy Woodger) he naturally played football and ran races; but he cheerfully admits he never reached champion standard; it is as a lover, judge, and administrator of football, amateur athletics and boxing that he has made his mark upon the tablets of New Zealand sport.

His knowledge of all these sports is encyclopaedic and his wonderful memory has made his mind a record of all the stirring feats and matches of his generation. He cemented friendships with virtually all the visiting athletes and sportsmen of his time, and is a mine of stories relating to all the world champions. His burly figure and rugged features are as well known at Trentham as at Athletic Park, and one is sure that he looks on the many constitutions and rules he has drafted for racing and sports bodies as a prouder monument to his legislative skill than all the Bills he has drafted during his career as Parliamentary Draftsman.

The “Railways Magazine” congratulates him warmly and sincerely on the latest recognition of his merit and on his return as Head to the Department he entered many years ago as a cadet. We have indeed a personal reason for our pleasure, since it is to Mr. Heenan that we owe the suggestion that the very column in which this note is printed be incorporated in the Magazine. The appropriate title, “Panorama of the Playground,” is his, and, if the nom-de-plume “Playboy” is not entirely his, this is so only because his illness, now happily past, compelled it. We have grounds for hoping that New Zealand's gain will not be the Magazine's loss, and that Mr. Heenan will continue to direct, inspire, and enlighten these pages.


A quite remarkable coincidence attended the drawing of the stumps at the end of the 1934–35 competition in each of the four centres this year. In each the competition was very close the result depending upon the fortunes of the last match. In three centres the first and winning team compiled a reasonably good total on the first day and left the losing team a fighting chance on a somewhat poorer wicket on the second day. These losing teams all gave a more or less disappointing display, redeemed in each case by only one feature—a stern fight by one batsman to rise superior to adverse fortunes and conditions and hit off the necessary runs to snatch victory for his side.

In Auckland, Bob Steho was the hero, and his 48 represented a much better performance than the figures indicate. Digging himself in after his earlier comrades failed, he showed that he could find the boundary even with the featherweight bat he insists on using, in spite of expert advice. In Wellington, the youthful ex-Otago all-rounder, Moloney, made 103 in a great innings, inspiring for its courage and determination. In Christchurch, Charley Oliver did equally well with his 162, displaying a great variety of scoring strokes and, in the latter part of the innings, banging the ball to all parts of the field. M'Mullan, in Dunedin, made only 40, but his, too, was a dogged display given when all seemed lost and raising the hopes and cheers of the spectators.

Such efforts to turn defeat into victory are among the most stimulating features of the old game, and it is pleasing to record these and also to remind you that Steho and Oliver are Railwaymen.

The season was rather a lean one in each of the four centres. Despite the wonderful weather, no outstanding innings was recorded, the bowling lacked distinction and the fielding, taken on the whole, was poor. A ray of hope comes from the country districts, particularly perhaps Hawke's Bay and Taranaki, where the average of the play is distinctly higher than of old, and the play of the locally nurtured cricketers shows that to acquire free batting style and sound, accurate bowling free from body-line tactics, it is no longer necessary to learn one's cricket at an English university. I am afraid that even that good sport D. Blundell will, on this year's play, have to admit that there is something in this latter contention. Earlier in the season, Mark Nicholls promised to shine equally well as a batsman-wicket-keeper, as he did as a five-eighths, but the hopes faded and the younger half-back, Tindall, is still the star candidate for the batsman-wicket-keeper position in a New Zealand team.


Now that Time cries “Over” and white flannels leave the green, the whistle is blowing for a strenuous season for the striped jerseys, and a harder one still to follow for the “All Black” ones.

I did not see the victorious Poverty Bay team of last season that downed the colours of Hawke's Bay (Ranfurly Shield holders), and gladdened the heart of their selector, “Shag” Thomas, ex-Petoneite and now in the Railway District Office at Gisborne. I saw, however, most of the other provincial teams playing, and also watched club matches in the various centres, and was not surprised at the somewhat inglorious display of the New Zealand team in Australia, nor am I hopeful of the prospects of the coming tour.

The most disheartening feature of present day football is the lack of “football brains” among the inside backs. This was noticeable in club games everywhere last year. Wellington club football was certainly the best in this respect, but this best was a long way behind the Wellington standard of the previous year, which showed such promise that even men over fifty admitted it was hopeful. Outside Wellington the only senior club that showed a glimmering of the proper piercing strategy was the Otahuhu club in Auckland, coached by railwayman Pat O'Hara. While here I must mention that the Mt. Albert Grammar School team in Auckland is being coached by someone who knows how the inside game should be played. While inside back play was disheartening in club football, it was atrocious in the representative games. Not since that terrible display by the New Zealand team against Australia in Auckland, when the referee and Bush saved New Zealand with penalty goals, has such a low-water mark been reached as in the first spell of the Wellington-Auckland game last year. One could understand our “All Blacks” being off colour in that game so soon after their return from Australia, but the display of Kilby, Lilburne, Page and party was beyond all excuses. However, the game did encompass one good object page 62 since it enabled Hedge, of Otahuhu, to play himself into the New Zealand team, and the retirement of Kilby for the second spell did the same good deed, clearly and beyond cavil, for young Sadler, of Wellington. This boy is the best half-back we have seen for a long time, but one would like to see Hedge playing behind him in order to gauge how good Hedge really is. In Auckland club football and in the Auckland representative team he was, I am certain, not seen at his best, but among players of class, like Sadler, I consider Hedge will win a great reputation.

I spoke of playing oneself into the New Zealand team. There are many rumours afloat that it cannot be done unless one plays for the right club team. Joe Dellabarca, the Eastbourne fisherman forward, is an instance in support of the rumour. In the Wellington representative team this player has eclipsed all records ever attained by any forward in New Zealand (and by very few backs) as a dangerous scoring man. He has averaged better than one try per match, and his tries were achieved by honest-to-goodness hard work and almost miraculous (for a hard-working forward) speed and dash, with such sense of anticipation of play as is rare in any player. His try from a break-away at half-way in the Canterbury match, when he outpaced Hart and Co., will surely long remain as one of the great tries of history, certainly I have never seen such a try scored by any other forward. The tries he has paved the way for and handed over on a plate for some of his heavier waiting (very much “waiting” in many cases) conferees to score are more numerous than his own. But Dellabarca, an All Black if ever there was one, cannot play himself even into a North Island team. The fact that Fuller of the same club cannot play himself out of one seems to prove that club influence is not the prevailing factor. Personally, I put it down to the fact that the majority of the selectors were bullocking forwards of the over 14 stone in weight type when they played football.

The only other outstanding feature of last season's play was the devastating attack of Smith, the Hawke's Bay wing three-quarter. Why one should connect him with “bodyline bowling” in cricket is not altogether clear. His play, though fierce to a degree, was absolutely clean and fair as far as one could judge from the line. Certainly it was just as pitiless and effective as “bodyline bowling” proved at Adelaide.

However, we must wait for the tests!