Few players could match the late Bill Deacon’s involvement in rugby league both in New Zealand and in Australia.
His passing in Wagga Wagga at the age of 75 on June 18 has evoked memories of a rugby league journey and story like no other, one which started in the Waikato town of Ngaruawahia before taking Deacon and his family across the Tasman.
There he would make an enormous contribution to rugby league as a player, coach and administrator in both Wagga Wagga and Junee.
His death after a long battle with cancer was the third for the Deacon family in the space of three years. Bill’s son Daryn - a big Vodafone Warriors fan - was only 45 when he lost his fight with cancer in 2016 while Bill’s brother John died aged 75 in Ngaruawahia last February.
Bill Deacon stands as the most decorated Waikato player in history. While Waikato boasts the likes of modern-day Kiwis like Tawera Nikau, Mark Horo, Lance Hohaia, Sam Rapira and Shaun Kenny-Dowall they moved to Auckland en route to becoming internationals.
In contrast, Deacon, whose uncle Edwin Abbott was a Kiwi in 1930 and 1932, had the special distinction of reaching the highest level as an out-and-out Waikato player. Devoted to the Ngaruawahia Panthers he was only 17 when he debuted for Waikato before being selected for New Zealand for the first time in 1965 (Kiwi #445); he never left the region to further his career.
A second rower and also a goal kicker he was a stalwart for both club and province with a 1970 clash between Waikato and Auckland undoubtedly one of the most unforgettable of his career.
On this day Waikato achieved the unthinkable by walloping its star-studded opponent 36-11 at Davies Park in Huntly. Referee Jim Campbell was an influential figure as he penalised Auckland heavily and also sent the great Roger Bailey off. Waikato scored only four tries but garnered a staggering 24 points from goals, hooker Don Parkinson kicking 10 of them and Deacon two.
The 1965 season was arguably his best when he toured Britain and France, played in all six Tests and was named the New Zealand Rugby League player of the year. He also toured Australia with the Kiwis in 1967, went to the World Cup in England in 1970 and returned to Britain and France with the triumphant Kiwis in 1971.
It would be the end of his New Zealand career after a total of 49 appearances including 14 Tests, a record unmatched by any other Kiwi who played only in the Waikato region during his time in the national team.
When he failed to gain selection for the tour to Australia and the World Cup in France in 1972, Deacon chose to play and coach in Australia. After a stint as captain-coach at the Wagga Magpies, he was with the Junee Diesels between 1979 and 1983 and was back with the club from 1987-1992. In the intervening years he had a season coaching rugby union and a term with Turvey Park.
New Zealand rugby league historian John Coffey calculates Deacon, who made his senior debut as a 16-year-old for the Ngaruawahia Panthers in the Waikato competition, probably played 650 senior games until he retired at the age of 48 as well as 68 games for Waikato, 49 for New Zealand and various trials.
He missed only one season of senior football from 1960 to 1992 and even had the joy of playing one match alongside sons Daryn and Barry.
He was subsequently named the Waikato Rugby League’s player of the century and was also made a life member of both the Ngaruawahia Panthers and the Junee Diesels.