Francis Drake was born in the Sydney suburb of Balmain on 15th February, 1939. In his very early years there were two family tragedies that were to have a major impact on his life. The first was when his father fell off a crane when Frank was four years old. He sustained severe injuries and was lucky to survive. He deteriorated gradually over the years, becoming an epileptic and spending a lot of time in the Prince Alfred Hospital where Frank would often visit him. The second was towards the end of World War II, when his aunt came to visit. His Uncle Freddy was serving overseas, but had been captured by the Japanese. He was standing behind his mother at the front door when he heard his aunt say that his Uncle Freddy has been beheaded. So, by the time he went to school, he was no stranger to life’s hard knocks. With having such a sombre upbringing and having to deal with significant issues at a very young age, the later controversies that embroiled him didn’t really seem that important, compared to what he had already been through. When people started calling him a ‘bodgie’ (an unruly young man) or a ‘lair’ (a show-off who dresses garishly), it didn’t really worry him.
His mother placed him in Rozelle Christian Brothers College, one of Sydney’s private Catholic schools. He wasn’t a really bright student, but he did have a good relationship with the teachers. He quickly became known as one of the foremost athletic kids in the school and excelled in several sports – including rugby league. Interestingly, Newtown Christian Brothers played in the same inter-school league competition as Frank’s school, and Newtown had a lock in their side by the name of John Raper. The two met several times in competition, and not just on the football field. In a Combined Schools Sports Carnival in a race over 400 metres, both Johnny and Frank entered. Raper was quick, but Frank was even quicker and won the event. 400 metres was probably Frank’s best distance. He couldn’t go much past that because he didn’t have the stamina. He was a bronchial asthmatic, so he had a lot of problems with breathing.
Frank’s hero when he was growing up was Clive Churchill and he looked for any opportunity to see him in action. Frank first saw him play in 1948 for Souths against Balmain at Leichardt Oval. In 1950 he was at the Sydney Cricket Ground when Australia won back the Ashes and saw Clive being chaired off the field by his teammates. In 1955 he saw him play against the Frenchmen and Puig-Aubert, and in 1956 he went to see NSW play against Queensland. At 18 years of age, Frank actually got to play against his idol and that was one of the highlights of his career. From the time he started watching Clive play, Frank knew that he wanted to be a full-back. Ironically, he wanted to be a different kind of player, as he saw Clive as a ‘playmaker’, whereas he wanted to make his mark as a ‘running full-back’ – a concept that was not in vogue at the time. Frank aimed to be a speedy, try-scoring, attacking-minded player that consistently joined the backline when his team had possession.
At 14 he left school and got a job as an apprentice electrician. As his father was unable to work, he felt he had to take the financial burden away from his mother. He started playing rugby league seriously at 15 at five-eighth. He was happy playing in that position and thought he was making a success of it. Ex-Balmain player Frank O’Brien took an interest in Frank and became a father figure when Frank joined Gladesville Sports Junior RLFC. O’Brien was president and coach. He selected Frank to play full-back and he immediately began to have an impact, scoring more tries than the wingers. In 1957 he won selection to the Balmain President’s Cup team and was chosen as captain. After the President’s Cup fixtures were over for the season, he started playing grade football with Balmain.
In 1958, Frank made his first grade debut at full-back with Balmain in a game against Parramatta. Observers of the game felt that Frank had a lot of potential – and noticed that the Balmain backs had trouble keeping up with him in backline movements. Backs from other teams were having problems with him as well, as he scored in four of his first five games. Apart from Ken Irvine, Frank was the fastest player in Rugby League and could match Irvine over 30 yards. On top of that, he had a very good sidestep, swerve and change-of-pace – the three skills that backs needed to reach the top level. He was also a very sure handler of the ball, could kick well in general play and positioned himself well in attack. His only downside was that he was caught out of position quite a few times in defence, being up too close to the backline. Still, he felt that his focus on becoming a ‘running full-back’ was paying dividends. He was able to continue playing as full-back for a time when Keith Barnes was injured. However, as Keith was captain of Balmain and Australia, there was no possibility for Frank to continue to stay in his preferred position. When Barnes returned to play, Frank was put on the wing.
While he was doing extremely well on the field, he was starting to receive some negative attention off it. The mid-to-late 1950s was a time when pop culture in America saw the birth of rock’n’roll in music and the rebellious anti-hero in movies. Elvis Presley was the undisputed ‘king’ of the new music craze. One of the biggest hit movies of this time was The Wild One, starring Marlon Brando as a motorbike-riding, leather-clad gang leader. When this culture started to have an impact in Australia, older citizens were horrified. Parents were worried that their children would start to act and dress like these stars, and that this would lead to juvenile delinquency. Frank rode a motorcycle, wearing leathers, ‘spaceman’ boots and gauntlets, and had long ‘Elvis-like’ sideburns. He was considered good-looking, and while he signed autographs for all kinds of fans before games, a significant percentage of them were young and female. He was the antithesis of how many in society thought a ‘decent young man’ should be.
Frank was labelled as a nonconformist and therefore a ‘troublemaker’ by fans, game administrators and the media. One fan was overheard to say that he looked like a man from Mars in his motorbike- riding attire. When Balmain coach Johnny O’Toole banned him from riding his motorcycle, partly due to ‘safety reasons’ and partly because engine trouble sometimes made him late for games, Frank was not interested in complying. The media targeted him off the field like no other player, always looking for a negative slant on the guy with the three nicknames: ‘Twinkle Toes’, ‘Elvis Presley’ and ‘Sir Francis Drake’. All this attention ensured that he gained a measure of notoriety as the most talked about player in the Sydney competition.
The public perception of Frank led to him being possibly the most misunderstood player of his time. Comments about Frank being ‘radical’ and ‘a bad influence’ bewildered the young player, because in reality Frank was the cleanest-living, most ethical person you could imagine. He didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, had no tattoos and was a devout Christian, who took his beliefs very seriously and at one stage considered becoming a parson. On the field he never got involved in ‘dirty play’ and avoided fights. He didn’t set out to be rebellious just for the sake of being rebellious – he was being who he was and it happened to be different to other people. He didn’t view himself as anti-authoritarian – he felt that if no-one could give him a good reason why he couldn’t ride a motorcycle, and wear leathers and long sideburns, he should be allowed to continue doing so, without criticism. Frank was also not afraid to stand up for himself. When referee, Henry Albert, said that Frank was ‘the original lair’, Frank commented that Albert was ‘the original grandstander’.
1958 was a particularly good year for Balmain. In a playoff for fourth place, Balmain were up against Newtown, with Frank having another opportunity to meet his schoolboy rival Johnny Raper on the field. With the game in the balance and just a few minutes before full-time, Raper had the ball and was sprinting towards the goal line, looking to score the try that would give the ‘Bluebags’ the win. Frank was able to run him down and pull off a match-saving tackle. Balmain then faced St George in the Preliminary Final on September 6th, 1958 – a day that would turn out to have a profound effect on his career.
For some time, Frank had found the boots that footballers generally wore were cumbersome and uncomfortable – to the point where his toenails were black. As a high school track athlete, he had often worn running shoes. He thought he might try to be a bit innovative and put aluminium football studs on his track shoes instead of the spikes used for athletics, and see how they felt. After he did some running and training in them he loved the lightness and the comfort. He decided to wear them in the preliminary final. When he ran on to the field, old-timers were shocked. Harold Matthews, the secretary of the ARL, stormed into the dressing room and told Frank in no uncertain terms that his shoes did not meet the ‘dress code’. Frank calmly replied that he did not bring any other shoes. Matthews walked out of the room in a huff.
Frank was a little nonplussed over getting an official reprimand after the match. He hadn’t realised that wearing the white shoes was ‘unacceptable’. If Graeme Langlands wearing white boots in 1975 was somewhat controversial, Frank wearing them 17 years earlier was doubly so. Debate raged about whether or not he should be castigated. Some were in his corner – none of the players came to him to tell him to apologise and fans at the game felt he had played a very good match and were quick to ‘forgive’ him. Jack Pollard, a leading journalist at the time, called the officials that were angry with Frank ‘old-fashioned fuddy-duddies’. However, many officials were slow to forgive Frank for breaking the time-honoured tradition of wearing black boots. The uproar made Frank determined to continue wearing the offending shoes and just accept whatever criticism was going to come his way as a result.
At the end of the season, Balmain give Frank a good offer to stay, but with Keith Barnes immovable at full-back, Frank decided to change clubs. His goal was to make the Queensland representative side as there were too many good full-backs currently playing for Sydney clubs. He looked at several options north of the border, but settled on Toowoomba. Frank knew that Toowoomba had a good reputation as a rugby league city. Also, one of Frank’s favourite teachers from Rozelle Christian Brothers College by the name of Brother Mullane was now teaching in Toowoomba and was prepared to act as a ‘scout’. When Brother Mullane started looking at local clubs, he naturally approached All Whites, given its connection to the Catholic Church. They had just set up a Supporters Club, led by hoteliers Jack Crawford and Geoff Godsall. Through the running of raffles and barbecues, the club had established a player fund, and Frank was the one of the first beneficiaries. When he joined the club, All Whites paid his board to stay with the Murphy family.
On his arrival in ultra-conservative Toowoomba, he was front-page news. Headlines spoke of “Sydney’s ‘Rugby League Elvis Presley’” and pictures labelled ‘Twinkle Toes’ showed him in his now infamous white boots. Of course, in order to reach his goal of playing for Queensland, he first had to show good club form. All Whites had not had a good campaign in 1958, winning only seven of 17 games. However, the following year they were a different proposition. With the help of their three key signings – Frank, Alan Gil and John Gleeson – they were able to win 15 out of 21 games. Frank scored 14 tries in the 17 games he played in and was instrumental in their Grand Final victory over Toowoomba Souths, 27-12.
A measure of their vast improvement was demonstrated when they beat reigning Brisbane premiers Brothers 27 to 6. One of the most talked about incidents in the game was when Ian ‘Ripper’ Doyle scored a most unusual try. Ripper had played seven times for the Maroons, seven Tests for Australia and was a 1956-57 Kangaroo. He was singled out by Duncan Thompson as being the best exponent of Thompson’s ‘contract football’ philosophy, as he was always backing up the man with the ball. Doyle got the ball near his own line and after beating his man, raced towards the other end, leaving the defence in his wake. Frank came up quickly and they were the only players in that half of the field. Doyle passed the ball to Frank, but he felt it was Ripper’s try, so he passed it right back. Doyle then just strolled over the try line to score. Frank was one of the stars of the game and played brilliantly. He was especially dangerous in back-line movements, and was always backing up or looking to make a break.
There were some rumblings at All Whites about his goal-kicking ability, or lack thereof. It was a commonly held belief at the time that the full-back on a rugby league team was invariably expected to be the goal-kicker. Frank had tried to have a go at it, but wasn’t really interested. As early as 1958, while he was in Sydney, it was viewed as a ‘weakness’. At that time he was therefore viewed as a ‘utility back’, one of the main reasons he moved north. An All Whites official was noted as saying that Frank was very fast, moved beautifully, was a quick thinker, handled well and was a very good kicker in general play – but he didn’t kick goals at the moment. The words ‘at the moment’ were indicative of the general feeling about full-backs and their role. The implication was that he would be kicking goals in the future and that was a foregone conclusion.
With his personal training, there were two important components that helped greatly with his conditioning. One was that he joined an athletics club, so he could train all year round and compete in local athletics meets in 100-metre events, which he usually was able to win. The other thing he did was take a gymnastics class. He went to practise every Wednesday for five years. This may have actually saved his life. When he was going to work one morning on his Triumph Thunderbird, a car came out of a side street. He hit it and he somersaulted over the bonnet of the car. Due to his training, he was accustomed to the sensation of flying through the air and how to react, and so he was able to land on his feet.
Frank was overlooked for the first Bulimba Cup game of 1959, which was a huge disappointment. The selectors chose Toowoomba Newtown’s Len Lewis, who was a fine full-back and goal-kicker. Many thought that his goal-kicking abilities tipped the balance in his favour. However, Frank was chosen for the remaining five games. On April 11th, he played one of the most exciting and meaningful games of his life when he played opposite his childhood hero Clive Churchill, the Brisbane full-back. Brisbane were far too good on this occasion, winning 34 to 10. Both Clive and Frank scored a try each. Despite playing on the losing side, Frank still had a good game and Clive made a point of going over to the younger man at the end of the game and telling him so. A picture was taken of this ‘meeting’ (see picture section), and Clive wrote in a newspaper article that Frank had a lot of ability and was one to keep your eyes on.
Frank had a bit of a problem with Duncan Thompson. While Neil Teys was now Toowoomba’s coach, and Duncan had officially ‘retired’, the Downs Fox still came to the clubhouse a lot and his word was considered ‘law’. Everyone was aware that Neil was Duncan’s protégé. Frank wasn’t playing Thompson’s methodology – contract football. Barry Muir found himself in the same boat. Barry was a great exponent of the long pass, whereas contract football called for short passes to teammates running off the ball-carrier. Duncan made it very clear to Frank that he was not impressed with some of the things he did on the field. He told Frank one time to cut his feet off because Frank sometimes got into a ‘kicking duel’. Now considered an obsolete tactic, a kicking duel was where the full-back from opposing sides traded kicks over a period of minutes to try to gain the upper hand in field position. Duncan believed you held the ball – you didn’t give it away to the opposition.
Frank’s father’s health gradually deteriorated over the years and just before the Bulimba Cup final play-off of 1959 he passed away. There was some question as to whether or not Frank would be able to get back in time, and even if he did, would his head be in the right place? Frank flew back from Sydney after the funeral for the play-off on August 29th played at Ipswich. In a close encounter, Frank had a brilliant game in attack and was unwavering in defence, never backing off from Ipswich’s big forward pack. He had a major role in each of Toowoomba’s two tries, and was arguably the best back on the field.
Until now, Frank’s views about what was appropriate to wear on the football field had annoyed several officials and led to criticism from some members of the public, but had not affected his representative ambitions. However, this was all to change. Frank had broken an unwritten law by not wearing black shoes while playing and this ‘disrespectful attitude’ was brought to his attention by the president of All Whites, Jack Lee. He told Frank that he had it on very good authority that Frank would not be considered for the 1959-60 Kangaroo Tour if he continued to wear coloured shoes. Apart from wearing white shoes when he played for All Whites, he also wore pale-blue shoes when playing for Toowoomba and maroon shoes for Queensland. At this time, given that he only played for Queensland twice in 1959, he was really only on the fringes of selection. Still, the fact that the message was relayed showed that his current form put him squarely in the minds of the selectors. His high standard of play was certainly appreciated by his club – he received the 1959 J T Healy Memorial Trophy for the most outstanding All Whites player for service both on and off the field.
After he got this message, he went to a church and sat for four hours. He had decided that he needed some time for self-examination and contemplation. He thought about why he was being ‘persecuted’, and why human nature worked the way it did. The chain of events had all started because his feet were getting hurt through the wearing of uncomfortable boots. Unwittingly, and without initially realising the likely ramifications of his actions, he had created a problem for himself. He wished ‘they’ judged him only for what he did on the football field, but knew that this was not going to happen. He was also very aware it was not just the shoes. Yes, he wore leathers and rode a Triumph Thunderbird. But why did the press wanted to highlight this, and why did this make him a bodgie and a lair?
In his mind, in answer to these questions, his response was that he could understand – to a point. The general public was generally conservative and usually didn’t like people doing things differently. He realised he was ‘visible’. He understood black shoes were the ‘code’. Even though there was no written law, he knew he was going against that code. But, he had a stubbornness because he felt he wasn’t doing anything wrong. He only ‘rebelled’ when authority tried to impose rules or sanctions based on his appearance or personal life choices – which he therefore felt were unjustified. At the end of the four hours, he was thinking he would like to see teams wear the colour of their club on their footwear.
May 21, 1960 was the date when, in Frank’s opinion, he played his best-ever match – the second Queensland vs NSW game of the year. The first game was held in Sydney, and Queensland had only lost by a point when a kick by NSW full-back Johnny Jones fell on the cross-bar and then rolled over. The Maroons felt that they should have won that game and were looking to turn the tables for the second Sydney encounter. Queensland were down 12 nil and they ended up winning 17-12 on the bell. Frank was the most instrumental player in what happened in the last 20 minutes of the game. His dashing runs downfield sparked the Queensland revival. George Lovejoy, the doyen of rugby league commentators, said, ‘Let me say it loud for all of Sydney to hear – this man Frank Drake is the best player in the rugby league world’. Even Sydney critics were impressed, calling it one of the best displays by a full-back in recent times.
It was this game, and the two interstate games in Sydney, that really brought him to the attention of the rugby league hierarchy. Frank received no less than four offers from Sydney rugby league club sides. After the series was over, and Queensland retained the interstate crown, Frank was awarded the J. G. Stephenson Memorial Trophy for being the most useful Queensland player in 1960 (See Special Feature). Every knowledgeable observer north of the border believed if the 1959-60 Kangaroo tour squad had been picked one year later, it would have been impossible to leave Frank out. However, the stories written about Frank generally started with ‘glamour full-back’ or ‘pin-up boy’, and this that meant that he was being judged on more than his performances on the field. He was labelled a ‘pretty boy’, and Frank had to deal with the negative connotations that this inferred.
In July, Frank had another headline-grabbing game, but his motivation for this particular match was not what you might expect. Frank had worked as an electrician in Sydney and when he came to Toowoomba he continued to do so at an electric shop in Little Russell Street. Opposite his electric shop there was a hotel. After he finished work in the late afternoon, the publican’s daughter, Jan Godsall, would often pop her head out of her window and talk to him. On Saturday the 23rd, Jan decided to go and see the Toowoomba vs Brisbane Bulimba Cup match at the Athletic Oval. She was an ardent Clydesdales supporter and full of Toowoomba pride. Her family was one of the most prominent in Toowoomba’s history. Richard Godsall, Jan’s great-grandfather, was considered the foundation builder of the city, and both of his sons were Toowoomba mayors.
While she was watching the lead-up game, she decided to try to find Frank, as she knew he would be playing. He was at the back of the dressing shed signing some autographs. The conversation went something like this:
‘Hi. I was wondering if you could do something for me.’
‘What would that be?’
‘Please score a try today.’
‘I can do that – that’s easy.’
‘I don’t want an easy try – I want a special try – between the goalposts.’
‘When do you want me to score the try?’
“What do you mean, ‘when’?”
‘Well, do you want me to score in the first half or second half?’
‘I want a try in both halves, and both under the posts.’
Just then, a teammate put their head out the door and said ‘Hurry up, Drakie’. He rushed in and got changed in record time. Just as Jan got back to her seat, the team ran on. In the first half he scored a try underneath the goal posts. During the second half, he scored another out wide. With two minutes to go, he got the ball and he had the opposition winger and the full-back chasing him. He suddenly stopped and they crashed into each other. Swerving out of the way, he just casually ran over the try line and put the ball under the dot. So he was able to accomplish what he was asked to do. On top of that, he also scored three tries for All Whites on the Sunday, making a total of six for the weekend. Four years later, Frank and Jan got married.
Duncan Thompson, at the time an Australian selector and present at the Bulimba Cup game, said that he was a player that could make himself room to play in and would be a sensation anywhere in the backline. Coming from Thompson, who was no fan of Frank’s, this was high praise indeed. Critics felt that with his brilliant attacking play, his selection for the World Cup series in England was certain.
In local competition, Frank had an extremely successful year. For All Whites he personally had an even better season than the year before, scoring 17 tries in 13 games. The team, coached by ‘Ripper Doyle’, lost only one game, and it had a season’s points tally of 356, while only conceding 141. This is not surprising, considering they had four internationals and two State representatives. All Whites won every trophy they contested for, winning seven in all, including the Grand Final when they comprehensively beat Newtown 29 to 5. Toowoomba had an even better season, going undefeated in the Bulimba Cup. Eight of Frank’s All Whites teammates joined him on the Clydesdales.
The only disappointing part of Frank’s season was not being picked for Australia in the starting 13, although he was a reserve for the third Test against the French. It is important to note that from 1960 to 1962 Frank was picked as a member off the Australian team for six consecutive Tests (excluding the 1960 World Cup). If Frank was playing in the modern era, it is highly likely that he would have played in all six matches. However, at the time, reserves only played if a starting player was deemed unfit before a match, so Frank was only credited with two Test appearances.
In 1960 many Queenslanders, not knowing about the coloured- shoes ‘edict’, started to wonder what Frank had to do to get selected as the first-choice full-back. A lot of critics on both sides of the border thought he was playing better than Keith Barnes, the incumbent Australian full-back and captain. Of course, the thinking went, displacing the captain was difficult – but what about a spot on one of the wings? And then there was the World Cup selections. Surely, he was worthy of a utility spot? But the selectors ignored him and conversations particularly north of the border, not for the first time, were far from complimentary about the Australian selectors.
1961 was a year of change for Frank. He moved to Brisbane and joined Brisbane Souths. He stayed with Brian and Veronica Healy at Yeronga, and became quite close to the family. On one occasion some of Brian’s relatives were visiting from North Queensland. Brian took them to a game Frank was playing in, and when they entered the stadium, Frank was casually leaning against the goalposts. Brian was disgusted with Frank’s ‘casual attitude’. While he was taking his guests to their seats, the crowd started clapping. Brian looked up and realised Frank had just scored a try. At Souths, Frank finally started to take on some of the goal-kicking duties at club level. He had decided to start practising seriously and in one game against Brisbane Easts at South’s home ground, Davies Park, he showed that he could be reliable, kicking five goals from six attempts. He also scored two smart tries in a 34-17 win for the Magpies.
Of course, in the Bulimba Cup, Frank now played for Brisbane, and in a game between Brisbane and Toowoomba, Frank was a spectator when an ugly incident unfolded. Barry Cook, a Toowoomba second-rower, was attacked on the field and the crowd got involved. A huge brawl ensued, but Frank had made a decision a long time ago not to get involved in these kinds of incidents. He did not think of himself as an emotional person and had a problem with players who could not control theirs. While he felt bad for Barry, he felt no anger about it. He thought, ‘Why should I try to hit someone?’ In fact, while the brawl was going on, he was signing autographs. In his mind, his actions on the field were all about scoring tries, and he ended up scoring four that day by being able to consistently dash into the backline to make an extra man.
The New Zealand tour of 1961 took place midway between the interstate series. Eight Queenslanders were chosen, and Frank finally had an opportunity to represent his country. When playing against Wellington he scored three tries, including one memorable effort where through swerving and sidestepping, he outpaced six opponents in a race along the touchline. Against West Coast he was considered the best back on the field. In the Taranaki game, the opposition could not keep up with him, and he scored twice. After being chosen again as a reserve for the first Test, Frank finally made his Australian Test debut in the second Test at Carlaw Park on July 8th, 1961. In a tight encounter, Australia prevailed, and Frank troubled the Kiwis throughout with his pace and swerve.
In the fourth and last interstate game of 1961, the series was still undecided. Queensland were down two games to one and needed to win to retain the Dr Finn Trophy. After not having such a good match in the third game – a night match on July 19th at Lang Park, Frank was determined to make amends three days later at the same venue. Frank was the dominant player in this match, having a significant role in three of the four tries scored by Queensland. One of those tries was scored by Frank, in one of the best solo efforts one could ever wish to see. With a slashing and swerving burst at speed over a distance of about 75 yards, he left a trail of defenders behind him and scored under the posts. Queensland won a close encounter 20-17.
Frank continued his good form into 1962, although he was becoming getting more and more ‘attention’ from opposition teams. In a Brisbane vs Ipswich Bulimba Cup game he was hit twice in back play without the ball and was briefly knocked out on each occasion – but neither the referee, Ken Castles, nor the linesman noticed the incidents. After the game, Frank showed that he would not be intimidated by stating that while he would try to keep out of trouble, he would continue playing an attacking game and not be bluffed by opponents. On May 19th, in an interstate game held in Sydney, NSW had a new, young full-back by the name of Graeme Langlands. At one stage in the game, with Frank running with the ball, Langlands came into tackle him with a big swinging arm, which smashed into Frank’s face. One tooth was knocked out and the other one was loosened – and he also suffered severe lip lacerations. While the tackle may have been accidental, it was at best reckless and could have had far worse consequences.
Despite these types of incidents, Frank was keeping up his form. On April 21st, in a game for Brisbane against Toowoomba, he scored twice, with the second stunning onlookers. In the 53rd minute of the match, Frank ran to the right wing, passed to Lionel Morgan, and then came inside to get the return pass on the fly and then passed the ball to Mick Veivers. Frank chimed into the movement again, running on to a pass that seemed just out of his reach. But just when it seemed like the ball was beyond him, he balanced the ball on his fingertips for a couple of seconds, dragged the ball in, and ran around the defence to score. In a match for Queensland just before the second Test against Great Britain, Frank showed customary bursts of speed, one of which led to a three-pointer. He also showed a lot of grit in defence, competently handling big NSW forwards who tried to run over the top of him, and also the fastest NSW players, Irvine and Gasnier.
It was a complete performance, and after Great Britain had demolished Australia in the first Test, almost every pundit in Australia had Frank pencilled in for the second Test on June 30th. However, he was again picked as a reserve as he had been for the first Test, and the selectors chose Keith Barnes at full-back, who had retired at the end of the previous season and had not played any representative matches in 1962. Keith and Frank were rooming together for the second Test, and at one stage, Keith leant over to Frank and quietly said something along the lines of, ‘Frank, you kick goals, I’m not here’.
There were two ironical aspects about this situation. The first was that Frank, after a lot of diligent practice, had actually become an efficient goal-kicker. While In New Zealand on tour, he had bought a pair of goal-kicking boots and then spent the entire off-season practising to the point where he kicked a lot more than he missed, from a variety of angles. However, as his club, Souths, already had a first-choice goal-kicker, his abilities were never recognised, certainly not outside of Brisbane. The other irony was that Frank actually admired Keith and bore him no ill-will for being picked as first- choice full-back for the second Test. As a reserve, Frank took the same team bus and was in the locker room with the players before the game, but of course was not permitted to run on the field with the team. Quite naturally, Frank was frustrated by the circumstances – still, he viewed Keith as a great Australian player with tremendous courage and the best goal-kicker Australia ever produced.
Finally the day came that Frank thought might never arrive. He was chosen to play for Australia in Australia, and the added benefit was that the Test was against Australia’s oldest rival – Great Britain. In the week leading up to the Test Frank had an extremely bad bout of bronchial asthma, something that he had suffered from since he was a boy. He had been in bed about three days when he heard that he had been selected. As these attacks usually lasted about 10 days, his immediate thought was that he would have to pull out of the game. Veronica Healy suggested that he go and get medical advice. After checking him over, his GP said that he could give Frank a needle and guaranteed that it would get him through the week and on to the field for the game. It was then that Frank decided to take a gamble. But he didn’t see the situation as too big of a risk – after all, Australia had already lost the Ashes – and Frank felt he had a point to prove to all the people that had doubted or criticised him.
As he ran on to the Sydney Cricket Ground he didn’t feel at all apprehensive, even though this was only the second time he had represented Australia in a Test. He knew he was far from being in peak condition, but was determined to have the mental toughness to overcome any negative repercussions that the illness might have. He saw the huge crowd all around him, but blocked out the noise and the atmosphere – his only concern was the game. He didn’t have a special ‘game-plan’. He was going to do what he always did – spontaneously interject himself into the play at opportune moments.
At about the 20 minute mark of the game he was on the cricket pitch area in the centre of the ground. The ball went out along the Australian backline. When Eddie Lumsden received the ball he found he was cornered by Gerry Round, the Great Britain full-back, and was almost over the sideline on about the 25. He then cross-kicked the ball towards the opposite side of the field. This was something that Eddie did fairly often, and Frank, anticipating this, positioned himself where he thought the ball would be kicked to. The ball bounced, and two Englishmen went for the ball, but they did so too early and the ball ballooned over their heads. Frank had hung back, and this paid off as he caught the ball about 10 metres from the try line and waltzed in for one of the easiest tries he had ever scored in his life.
He was now the first full-back to score in an Anglo-Australian Test. No-one noticed the milestone at first. The try only really became famous about 20 years later when Australian full-backs started scoring tries in Tests on a regular basis and historians started wondering who the first was. Apart from the famous try, Frank had an excellent match, especially when carrying the ball. He was able to frequently break through the English line and gain good metres up field. While he now seemed to be an obvious choice for the 1963-64 Kangaroo Tour, a knee injury started to affect his play.
On August 10th, 1963, playing for Brisbane against his former team Toowoomba in the Bulimba Cup, Frank became one of a very select number of players to win the Bulimba Cup in five consecutive years – twice with Toowoomba and three times with Brisbane. Brisbane had gotten off to a poor start in the competition, losing to Ipswich by seven points in early April. They then got a thumping win over Toowoomba in Brisbane, with two tries to Fonda Metassa and Lloyd Weir, and one try to Kevin Lindgard, Barry Muir, Ken Day and Jim Foreman – with all of these players having represented Queensland. In the return match against Ipswich, Brisbane had a much improved performance, winning 9-3 at Lang Park, scoring three tries to one.
The last game of the campaign, held in Toowoomba, was effectively a final, with the winner securing the trophy. With referee Bob Diflo from Ipswich in charge of the game, winger Denis Farrell from Brisbane Souths, playing in only his second Bulimba Cup game, had a great match, scoring two tries. Mick Veivers was the other multiple try scorer and Redcliffe centre Col Weir chimed in with one. Brisbane won convincingly 23 to 14. Frank had a solid match, but his knee had now been bothering him for some time. In the last six months of 1963 he received regular physiotherapy, but the troublesome joint just kept swelling up. He only scored one try for Brisbane that season, his lowest-ever output for a Bulimba Cup campaign, and he knew had had lost a yard of pace. Whereas before he was invariably the fastest man on the field, now he found it more difficult to make attacking bursts like he used to, so he decided to retire.
Sydney Easts approached Frank and asked him to come to the club for the 1964 season. Initially Frank declined, but Easts persisted. They offered to provide an orthopaedic doctor to give Frank a thorough examination. After he gained a medical clearance from the nominated physician, Frank finally agreed. A proud club that had won nine premierships, and who had once boasted players like Dally Messenger and Dave Brown, Easts fell on hard times in the 1960s. In 1963, the year before Frank arrived, they finished at the bottom of the table. After Frank joined the team there was a slight improvement in fortunes and Frank was asked to captain the team in 1965. Thrilled with the honour, Frank was determined to lead his side to more wins – and then disaster struck. When playing against Western Suburbs in the latter part of the season, he badly dislocated his hip and spent 10 weeks in Western Suburbs Hospital. The injury was so serious he missed the rest of that year and the entire 1966 season.
After finally overcoming this hurdle, he decided to make his career swansong back in Brisbane and signed for Brisbane Brothers. Brothers had an excellent team in 1967 – apart from Frank, they had three other internationals – Dennis Manteit, John Gleeson and captain Peter Gallagher, as well as several current and future State representatives. Many thought at the beginning of the season that they would be competitive against Norths, the benchmark of the competition and winners of six out of the previous seven Grand Finals. In the third game of the season, injury again struck Frank when he badly hurt his hamstring. Then later, in the preliminary final against Valleys, Frank tore the same hamstring and required ambulance attention on the field. Brothers went on to win the final that year, beating Norths 6-2. Frank took some comfort in the fact that he had helped the team to a premiership, but he knew his career was over. Although only 27, his body was letting him down, so he decided to hang up his boots – for the second and final time.
He retired satisfied with his career. He had always wanted to represent Australia in a Test match, but didn’t really mind if it was one or one hundred times. The one thing that he was happiest about on a personal level was being the first full-back to score a try in Anglo-Australian Tests. That historic moment put him in the record books, but more importantly to Frank, helped to emphasise the other tries he scored and gave credence to his philosophy of the merits of the running full-back.