There are certain moments in all sports competitions that transcend history. Players and teams at times so far exceed their predecessors’ accomplishments by mind-boggling margins that it defies the imagination. The true significance of these record-setting performances become startlingly apparent when it requires decades before someone comes along to surpass these marks and so it is with this perspective that we offer another look at one of the greatest rugby players to have ever played the game, this time from less of a personal approach and more along the lines of the player’s contributions to his team and his sport.
The sport in this case is rugby and the player is the one and only Dave Brown, who established marks whilst playing for Easts that still rank near the top of the list almost 75 years since he last laced a pair of boots.
In the little over one hundred years for which there are reasonably reliable statistics for rugby football, it is fairly easy to observe a typical progression in season scoring records from the early days until modern times. Some of this is due to rules changes, and some is due to an expansion in the number of games played in a season.
Still, certain scoring milestones attract attention. The players who established these previously unaccomplished marks deserve scrutiny as well. Were their records the result of a self-centered approach to the game? Did they sacrifice the results of the team in a personal quest for glory? Were they blessed with the good fortune to fulfill a scoring role on a team well-stocked with talent at other positions that made it possible for them to realise their achievements? Or, were they saddled with a bad side where if they did not assume the scoring burden, no scoring would be done?
The answers probably involve some combination of all of the above in certain proportions depending upon the environment that existed when milestones were first achieved.
The other dominant factor in looking a scoring records for any sport is that the early players were breaking new ground. Those who followed the pioneers had targets at which to aim such that they could mark their progress during a season in relation to historical statistics. With rugby for instance, there was once a brief period where 100 points in a season was inconceivable, that is, until Dally Messenger scored 148 in 1911. Not only was he the first person to tally 100 for a single season, he outpaced the next nearest, Roy Algie, by over 100 points.
Many players would go beyond 100 points in a season after Messenger, due at least in part to the firm conviction that it could be done.
The next milestone, 200 points, took a quarter of a century to happen. The year was 1935, and our subject is Dave Brown. Like Messenger, he was far clear of his nearest rival for the scoring lead, clear of Syd Christensen by an even 90 points.
One aspect normally observed when looking at rugby league scoring champs is that the majority of their points came from goals and were seldom scoring a lot of tries. Dave Brown made 38 tries in 1935, over three times as many as Christensen. It requires dropping down the list to seventh position to find a teammate of Brown’s, Rod O’ Loan, who finished the 1935 season with more than 20 tries, with 27.
Going a bit deeper and looking at most points in a game, Brown’s name is found in not only first and second position, but he also occupies five other spots of the top 16 for the 1935 season. When the marks for most tries in a game is examined, Dave Brown will be found in second, third and fourth positions, right after Rod O’ Loan, in fact Brown put up six of the top ten marks for tries in a game.
Zooming out to the longer perspective of all time point scorers for Eastern Suburbs, or Sydney Roosters if you must, as of 2015, Dave Brown stands in sixth positon and was not passed until John Brass did so when he played from 1969 – 1976. Of the four other players above Brown on this list, none of them is in the same vicinity as Brown in terms of tries scored. His total of 93 career tries has only been exceeded thrice, by Bill Mullins’ 104 (1968 – 1978), Shaun Kenny-Dowall’s 112 (2007 – 2015) and Anthony Minichiello’s 139 (2000 – 2014).
From these figures, it is easy to conclude that Dave Brown was not a selfish player, given that teammates’ names appear on the scoring lists alongside his. Easts was, as it is now, one of the top teams in rugby league, so Brown’s case was definitely not one of a lone talented player carrying the burden for a poor squad. They won, during Brown’s career, four premierships in 1935 – 1937, and 1940 and were runners-up in the seasons of 1931, 1934, 1938 and 1941.
From the perspective of history, one of the major things that stands out about the rugby career of Dave Brown is that he was a great player on a great team during a great era. In leading the league in scoring in the two consecutive years of 1934 and 1935 and setting the all-time mark for tries in a season with 38 in 1935, a mark that has survived 80 years, Brown leaves little doubt as to his place in the lore of the game.
Whilst it is very likely that his marks will eventually be passed, as most such marks in most sports have been, he established such lofty targets that the players who have come after him and who have yet to come need never lack for a model to emulate or a standard to which to aspire.