We often enjoy writing about athletes who have established records in some sports category or another. All-time this, all-time that; records serve as a way to evaluate a player and provide comparisons with other players with similar accomplishments.
Over time, however, records can be distorted by changes to the sport in which those records were established. For example, most major sports now play longer seasons than in years past, so records for goals kicked or tries scored in a season can be rendered meaningless, if for example, footballers from the era when the home-and-away season was 18 rounds compared to the current 23. Unfortunately, the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs has necessitated, or if not actually than should necessitate, the use of an asterisk beside the names of many players who established records. When the bottom of the list is examined to see what it is that the asterisk indicates, it should say “juicer.”
The record at which we intend to look at today is different. It was established during an era when performance enhancing drugs were tobacco and alcohol, which as it turns out, according to modern day science, do not enhance, but detract from performance.
That record is for scoring the most tries in a season’s worth of rugby and it belongs to David Brown of Easts. He scored 38 tries in 1935 and as of 2015, the next best is Ray Preston, in 1954 when he was playing for Newtown.
Obviously, the game has changed and evolved in many ways. What was once a matter of some effort could now require more effort, but rugby is the type of game where basic athletic skills are utilised, without the influence of equipment, such as in say, golf or tennis. Boots and balls made of leather was and is the only equipment required to play rugby.
The key thing that makes David Brown’s record for tries so impressive is that the NSWRFL played 16 games in 1935, not including finals, but in 2015 the number of matches had increased 50 percent, to 24 games in the NRL.
David Michael Brown (4 April 1913 – 23 February 1974) was born in Sydney. He was just a boy when a piece of his thumb was lost in a lawn-mowing incident. Learning about this, we have added it to our list of excuses for scrupulously avoiding lawn-mowing. At school, he was playing football when he broke his arm, dislocated the elbow and damaged nerves in his arm to the extent that he lost the ability to use two of the fingers of his right hand.
Had we been aware of this when we were attempting to survive education, it might have supplied us with valid arguments against attending school, but the information came too late. Education did provide us with the reasoning skills necessary to advise any young school kids that may happen to read this article in the pursuit of completing an assignment pertaining to great Australian rugby players that losing pieces of fingers and breaking arms is not recommended preparation for a career in rugby.
Despite his setbacks, Dave Brown excelled in tennis, surfing and cricket, which only leads us to wonder, tongue-in-cheek, what he may have done if one or both of his legs had been amputated at the knee. Truly, however, the accomplishments he experienced in athletic endeavors might have been even more phenomenal.
Brown, who eventually was known as the “Bradman of League,” played a just few games as centre on Easts lower grade before being promoted. He was still 17 at the time. He was selected to represent NSW the following year in matches against Queensland. As though the injuries he suffered as a lad were not adequate, he soon after had to endure the insult of losing his hair to a virus contracted whilst swimming. It is not true, no matter what your mum says, that the virus was the result of not waiting for an hour after eating before he went swimming. He was compelled to don a hairpiece and that may have accounted to wearing a primitive helmet whilst playing rugby, a piece of headgear which, ironically, made him look bald.
The Eastern Suburbs club made him captain at the beginning of the 1932 season. Since playing 18 games for the league was not an adequate dose of rugby, he also went to Europe on the Kangaroo Tour in 1933, where as could be expected, he decimated British and French opponents on a regular basis. In league play, whilst his accomplishments were certainly nothing at which to scoff, his first three seasons with Easts never saw him scoring more than seven tries in a season. Much the same could be said about his fourth season, 1933, that it was merely a harbinger of future achievements.
Dave Brown broke the century mark in scoring for the first time in 1934, making 11 tries and 44 goals. The Easts side had a fine season as well, taking the minor premiership after losing the decider to Western Suburbs.
Brown and his Easts teammates rose to the pinnacle in 1935. They lost only once en route to capturing their fifth premiership. Earlier, we had mentioned that Brown’s record of 38 tries in one season, a record still intact, was scored when the league played 18 rounds prior to the finals. Here we reveal that his 38 tries came in only 15 matches. Combined with his 65 goals, he had his career-best 244 points. When you add what he produced at representative rugby, his tally climbs to 385. This was all done despite that his Easts teammate Jack Beaton also took many shots for goal.
After that astound league season, he was named Australian captain and led the side to a series victory over New Zealand.
The following season was another for the record books. Easts went undefeated and won their second consecutive and sixth overall NSWRL premiership. Brown’s scoring dropped considerably, more out of a lesser need for the side to rely so heavily on him as out of anything else.
The English club of Warrington lured him away for the 1937 and 1938 seasons, where he contributed to the 1937 Lancashire Cup. He ended up playing 93 matches for the wolves, over which he scored 326 points from 48 tries and 91 goals.
Brown returned to Australia in the middle of the season and played until the end of 1941 before retiring. He concluded having played 94 matches for Easts, one more than he had played for Warrington, tallying 93 tries and 194 goals for 667 points.
He continued his association with rugby in the capacity of a liaison officer dedicated to encouraging participation in rugby at the school level. He coached for a time in South Africa. Dave Brown died from cancer in 1974, just 60 years of age.
Quite naturally, he was accorded with every conceivable rugby award, including the Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame in 2003. He was one of the centres in the Eastern Suburbs all-time greatest team and made the list, quite easily we assume, of Australia’s 100 Greatest Players on the 100th anniversary of the code in Australia. Finally, in 2008 he was named to NSW’s rugby league team of the century and a commemorative plaque on the Walk of Honour of the Sydney Cricket Ground pays homage to his career.