League stalwart farewelled

John O’Sullivan, right, at Edith Hopper reserve in the late 1980s with Brian McClennan’s parents Maureen and Mike. Photo, Roger Reid

Councillor John Watson wrote this tribute to a well known local, John O’Sullivan, who died last month.
A moving funeral was held last month, on September 14, for ex-Kiwi rugby league international John O’Sullivan.

John was a long time Hibiscus Coast resident, who moved down to Rangiora earlier this year. He coached the Hibiscus Raiders in the early years of the club, played for Northcote Tigers and Ponsonby and was a legend of the game.

He was first selected for the NZ Kiwis in 1971 and was part of the squad at the 1972 World Cup. In 1974 O’Sullivan was part of the Auckland side that defeated Britain 11-2 at Carlaw Park. He also played in the three match test series against Britain for the Kiwis.

In 1975 O’Sullivan played for Auckland in their defeat of Wales and also played for the Kiwis in the 1975 World Championship. The World Championship match against Wales was the last of his 10 test matches for New Zealand. He moved to Wellington in 1976 and became a Wellington representative before retiring.

In the early 1970s the Ponsonby team John played for was nearly invincible. In fact they were so good that in 1973 Ponsonby played the Cronulla Sharks who had been in the NRL Grand Final just the week before. It was a $1000 ‘winner take all’ game and Carlaw Park was packed to the rafters. Ponsonby beat Cronulla that day to go down in NZ rugby league folklore with John scoring a try in the famous 27-21 victory over the Sydney heavyweights.

Ponsonby had a team stacked with Auckland and Kiwi representatives and John O’Sullivan was right up there with the best of them.

John was very versatile and could play at any position in the back line. It’s hard to compare different eras but that Ponsonby team was so good and so tough they would have been quite capable of footing it with the NRL teams of today. In fact Auckland rugby league was so strong in the 1970s that they regularly beat the best international teams in the world at Carlaw Park.

After his playing days, John gave a lot back to the sport through coaching in Wellington, Northcote, Māngere and at Hibiscus Coast Raiders. He was a NZ selector from 1991-93. Many of these clubs and their young players really benefited from John’s experience and went on to better things.

He was a true ambassador for the game and a man much respected in the rugby league community.


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