New Zealand rugby league has lost another two members of the all-conquering 1971 Kiwis following the recent deaths of Gary Woollard and Shane Dowsett.
Accomplished halfback standoff Woollard died on his 79th birthday on August 15 following the death of fellow halfback and Otahuhu Leopards stalwart Shane Dowsett on June 9 at the age of 74.
It brings to 13 the number of players from the 26-man team who have passed away.
Woollard was at the heart of the big moments throughout the unforgettable 1971 season.
It had begun with a stunning 24-3 defeat of the Kangaroos 24-3 in the Carlaw Park mud in June when he teamed up in the halves with the human dynamo Ken Stirling before the Kiwis embarked on their long tour of Britain and France.
The odyssey netted an historic sweep of both Test series, the Kiwis winning the first two Tests against Great Britain in a 2-1 triumph and prevailing 2-0 in France, winning the first two Tests there and drawing the last.
Woollard missed the first Test against Great Britain but came on early in the second half of the second Test in Castleford to replace Stirling after he had been knocked senseless by a brutal late and high shot from his opposite Alex Murphy.
The home side was leading 11-10 at the time before the Kiwis edged ahead 12-11 with a Henry Tatana penalty, fell behind 12-14 and then went on to take the match 17-14 – and the series – through Phil Orchard’s spectacular late long-range try.
Woollard was reunited with Stirling in the halves for the lost third Test against Great Britain in Leeds and for all three Tests against France, scoring a try in the 24-2 second Test win in Carcassonne and another in the 3-3 third Test draw in Toulouse.
Woollard had first become a Kiwi as long ago as 1963 when he toured Australia but didn’t feature in the Test side. He toured Australia again in 1967 and once more wasn’t used in the Test series.
Not until 1969 did he make the national side again, this time for his Test debut in the second of two clashes against Australia, one which finished in a shock 18-14 win to the Kiwis at Carlaw Park.
Woollard lifted his Test tally to four appearances when he played in all three matches against Australia, France and Great Britain at the 1970 Rugby League World Cup in England before appearing in all but one of the Kiwis' seven Tests in 1971. He retired after the 1971 tour at the age of 30, having played 10 Tests and 32 tour matches.
Brought up in Auckland, he moved to Wellington in 1961 making the Kiwis for the first time in 1963 out of the Miramar club.
He returned to Auckland in the mid-1960s (playing for Otahuhu), had another stint in Wellington but was back in Auckland and playing for Mount Albert by the time he next made the Kiwis in 1967.
Woollard was a dual Wellington and Auckland representative at provincial level; he also captained Auckland. He later enjoyed success as a player-coach with St George in the Capital when he guided the Dragons to the Wellington club premiership in 1977.
Dowsett was renowned as an exceptional and fearless competitor.
A lightweight halfback, he was still among the game’s toughest players in what was an at-times brutal era; indeed, Kiwi great Mark Graham rates Dowsett the toughest player he ever played with. They were teammates as Graham was beginning his career with Otahuhu in the mid-1970s while Dowsett was in the twilight of his.
As well as representing New Zealand and Auckland, he played a total of 25 seasons for his beloved Leopards, 13 at first grade level, appeared in five Fox Memorial grand finals and won the lot (three of them as captain).
His list of injuries was beyond extensive.
One season he broke his collarbone and was understandably expected to be out for a number of weeks. If memory serves correctly, he was incredibly back just a fortnight later. Chatting to him in the Carlaw Park dressing room after a Leopards win, Dowsett sported a golf ball-sized lump where his collarbone had broken. The reason? He’d gone on an intensive course of calcium tablets to hasten the healing process to enable him to return to the field as quickly as possible. That was Shane Dowsett to a T.
After making the Kiwis' grand tour of Britain and France in 1971, he toured Australia in 1972 when he made his only Test appearance against Australia in Brisbane in the second of two internationals.
1971 KIWIS TO BRITAIN AND FRANCE | RIP
Henry Tatana (#455) aged 53 in 1998
Bill Burgoyne (#487) aged 52 in 1999
Doug Gailey (#476) aged 59 in 2007
Bob McGuinn (#481) aged 64 in 2012
Tony Kriletich (#459) aged 72 in 2016
Phil Orchard (#475) aged 70 in 2018
John O'Sullivan (#493) aged 68 in 2018
Bill Deacon (#445) aged 75 in 2019
Mike McClennan (#488) aged 75 in 2019
Robert Orchard (#443) aged 74 IN 2020
John Whittaker (#485) aged 70 in 2020
Shane Dowsett (#495) aged 74 in 2021
Gary Woollard (#420) aged 79 in 2021