- Category : Rugby Player
- Type : GE
- Profile : 5/1 - Heretical / Investigator
- Definition : Split - Large
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Distraction 2
Noel Kelly (born 22 January 1936) is an Australian former professional rugby league footballer and coach, who played at club, state and national level. He has been named among the country's finest footballers of the 20th century. Kelly played at hooker, prop forward or lock for much of his top-grade career with the Western Suburbs Magpies, whom he played for in three consecutive NSWRFL grand finals from 1961 to 1963. Kelly was named at hooker of the Western Suburbs Magpies, Queensland and Australian teams of the 20th century.
Kelly was born at Ipswich Hospital and raised in Goodna. He attended primary school at St Mary's in Goodna, and a Christian Brothers high school, where he has said he was, "frequently belted or bashed or caned," by the Brothers. At age 12, his mother allowed him to enrol in the local state school, where he studied until he was 14. Goodna's first team played in the local district reserve grade competition, and Kelly played for the club from his junior league until he was in the first team as a young man, mostly playing a lock or second rower.
In 1956, Kelly began playing in the Ipswich competition, first with Railways, and then, two years later, with Brothers. At Railways he played in the same side as Gary Parcell and Dud Beattie. At Brothers he was coached by Dan Dempsey, who had played on two Kangaroo tours.
The Bulimba Cup was a tri-series played between sides representing Ipswich, Brisbane and Toowoomba. Playing at hooker, Kelly played in the Ipswich side which defeated the Toowoomba Downsmen 15-10 in the 1958 final, in front of a crowd of 7,242. Kelly said, the repeated success in 1959 was his, "spring board to state and international level."
Kelly was chosen to play for Queensland in 1959 under captain-coach Clive Churchill. In an era when success in scrums was crucial, Kelly won the count in his debut 20-9 against the New South Wales hooker. He missed the second game of the series, but returned to see Queensland win the series 2-1.
In 1959 Kelly played in the Queensland victory over New South Wales that attracted 35,261 spectators, smashing Brisbane's previous record for an interstate match of 22,817.
Kelly was picked as hooker for his first test match against New Zealand. Later that year he embarked on his first Kangaroo Tour, but pre-existing injuries to his knees hampered his performances on the tour and he played in only 14 of a possible 37 games, allowing St George player Ian Walsh to cement the spot as starting hooker.
Short of money, Kelly signed an ₤800 contract to captain-coach with Ayr for the 1960 season. Upon his arrival, he discovered the five local clubs had pooled their resources to afford the signing, and he was expected to rotate through all five clubs. He would captain-coach a club for a week, and then move on to the next.
Kelly played more internationals in 1960 and had established himself as a Kangaroo representative before he moved to Sydney to join Western Suburbs in 1961. The club initially delayed paying the transfer fee to Ayr while Kelly spent eight weeks recovering from a cartilage operation. With Ian Walsh the chosen test hooker, Kelly played in no internationals in 1961 or 1962. In 1963, he returned to the Australian team, making his debut at prop.
Kelly was a stalwart of the Magpies sides of the 1960s and played in all of the club's consecutive Grand Final losses to St. George in 1961, 1962 and 1963. Kelly has said that he believes referee Darcy Lawler had accepted money to help St George win the 1963 Grand Final.
Not a large player by the standards of the time, Kelly had the reputation as an aggressive forward. He was sent off eleven times while playing for Wests, though some send-offs were for scrum breaches rather than foul play.
In 1963, Kelly made his second Kangaroo Tour, playing at prop forward as captain Ian Walsh was again chosen as hooker. In his third Kangaroo Tour he was back at hooker.
Kelly was named in the test side to play New Zealand in 1967. He had injured himself in the first game of the season with Wests, and been on the sidelines for ten weeks when he was selected in a "shock choice" one game after returning. The oldest player in the team, his inclusion was, "a compliment to his great experience and his durability."
Kelly was the first hooker/prop to be selected for three Kangaroo tours: 1959–60, 1963–64 and 1967–68.
From 1968, Kelly took over as Wests' captain-coach for two seasons. He signed a two-year, $5000 per season contract to join Wollongong from 1970 but only remained for one season, a period he was to later regret.
Kelly returned to Sydney to coach the North Sydney Bears from 1973 to 1976, never making the semi-finals.
He became a board member and an ambassador for the Men of League Foundation.
In September 2004 Kelly was named as captain and hooker of the Western Suburbs Magpies team of the century. In February 2008, he was named in the list of Australia's 100 Greatest Players (1908–2007) which was commissioned by the Australian Rugby League and the National Rugby League to celebrate the code's centenary year in Australia. Kelly went on to be named as hooker in Australian rugby league's Team of the Century. Announced on 17 April 2008, the team is the panel's majority choice for each of the thirteen starting positions and four interchange players. In June 2008, he was chosen in the Queensland Rugby League's Team of the Century at hooker.
The yearly award for the best forward at the Wests Tigers club is named the Noel Kelly Medal in his honour.