Sunday, 7 August 2011

Rugby League - A Love Story (2010)

It is the year 1907 and a bitter rift within the playing ranks of the Australian Rugby Union has seen the creation of a rebel game. A group of over two hundred players have turned their back on Union to start the new game. Rugby League.

One of these men was Albert Rosenfeld. At just 23 years of age, he took a gamble to play the new code and risk the opportunity to become a Wallaby. The young half/threequarter from Randwick was one of the first players to team up alongside Dally Messenger for Eastern Suburbs.

The inaugural season started off well. Fans loved the more open and faster game and as curiousity grew within the community, so did the crowds.

Rosenfeld’s early season form saw him earn a spot in the inaugural New South Wales team to play Queensland, who eventually ran out convincing winners in the series. Rosenfeld was selected to play in the test series against the visiting New Zealand side.

At the end of the debut season, Souths pipped Easts in the final 14-12. Rosenfeld was one of the players in the runners-up team that day. After the final, a squad of 35 players were selected to tour England. Rosenfeld's form that season ensured him a place on the RMS Macedonia, bound for the motherland.

The pioneering Kangaroo’s arrival in England received almost no interest initially. The Australian's had minimal time to prepare for their first of 45 matches on the tour that lasted seven months.

The Kangaroo’s were forced to play games in South England, a predominantly Rugby Union stronghold, partly to exhibit the new game in a hope of attracting more interest from the south, and because of a major strike in the mines in the North of England, which meant a lot of the public were poor and unable to afford to go to the games.

As great a player Albert Rosenfeld was, he remembers this tour, not for his or the teams performances, nor for the good and bad times they endured, but because it brought him to Ethel Barrand, a girl from Huddersfield whom he quickly fell in love with.

Rosenfeld continued playing on the tour, but his life was now up in the air. Does he go back home to his family and friends? Does he ask Ethel to come with him? Does he stay in England? If so, will he ever see his family and friends again?

In 1907 Rosenfeld took a risk, that Rugby League was the game for him and his future, and now, one year later, he had been gifted another great opportunity, and another tough decision.

He proposed to Ethel and she accepted. Rosenfeld then signed a contract to play with Huddersfield at the end of the tour. Albert and Ethel married soon after.

In 1911, playing on the wing, instead of his preferred position of five-eighth, Rosenfeld achieved his, and the game’s greatest feat; scoring 80 tries in the season, a record that has not been bettered in 100 years, and will most-likely never be broken.

The only player to come close to his record was another legendary Australian winger, Brian Bevan, who scored 72 tries in the 1952-53 season.

Rosenfeld played for Huddersfield for another four years before he made yet another tough decision, to serve England in the Great War in 1916. Rosenfeld served in the British Army for three years, the most notable battle he fought in was the Mesopotamian campaign, fought in the Middle East.

He was discharged in 1919 and almost immediately returned to Rugby League, playing up until 1924 when he finally retired, at the young age of 39.

He worked as a van driver in and around Huddersfield after his retirement from the game for many years, content to live a quiet and happy life with his wife and family.

Sadly, in 1970 he passed away at the age of 85. He was the last surviving member of the 1908-09 Kangaroos tour party.

However, he died a happy man, a man who lived the tough decisions, who survived the worst that life could dish up to anyone, who fearlessly made huge sacrifices in his own life to find true happiness.

He was a man who died, lucky to have had two great loves in life, his wife Ethel and the very thing that brought them together.

Rugby League.

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