Tom Kingston fulfilled his lifetime dream to play in the NRL last year when he represented the Gold Coast against Souths in round 17, but he shocked the Titans last November by announcing he wouldn’t accept their offer to play for them this year because he was swapping his footy boots for army clodhoppers. Kingston, a tough forward, worked harder than most to earn his first-grade stripes. He played in the inaugural Titans under-20s team in 2008 but it took six tough years – where he played for Tweed Heads – before his big moment arrived at ANZ Stadium.
After playing in the Gold Coast’s upset 14-10 victory over the competition’s eventual premiers, Kingston noted every tackle that had rattled his bones and every bruise and battering he copped along the way to mixing it with Rabbitohs stars, such as Sam Burgess, was well worth the while. “I’m glad I stuck it out and reached my goal of playing a game,” he beamed after the match. “I wasn’t overly nervous, I was just really keen to get out there and test my mettle against some of their big blokes.”
Queensland Origin great Trevor Gillmeister, who worked with Kingston last year in his role as assistant coach, acknowledged the merit of a footballer sacrificing the trappings of a top-grade contract because of a calling.
“I enjoyed working with him, he had a fair future as a footballer ahead of him,” Gillmeister said. “He had a no-nonsense approach and I think that’s why he’ll be good in the military. If you said ‘do a five-kilometre run’ on match day, he’d do it. He’s that type of bloke. A lot of footy players get a bad rap sometimes, but Tom epitomises what most of the blokes are about, really.”
Martin Lang, another Queensland Origin representative who worked with Kingston as a member of the Titans coaching staff, said the fact he’d opted to serve his country after torturing himself to become a first-grader impressed him.
“Tom didn’t get his start in first grade until quite late in life – he was 26 – but he grabbed his opportunity,” he said. “I have a high opinion of him; really hard worker, very appreciative to get his opportunity to play in the NRL when John Cartwright selected him.”
At 189 centimetres, 100 kilograms and blessed with an athlete’s fitness, Kingston is the type of specimen the military has craved since 1915 when a poster was printed bearing the image of Albert Jacka, Australia’s first Victoria Cross winner and a noted long-distance cyclist and boxer in rural Victoria.
The poster implored the nation’s athletes to follow Jacka and join the so-called “game”. It struck a chord; debates raged about whether sport should be cancelled to free men up for service. However, the poster that helped to fuel the debate was printed without Jacka’s permission and that was noteworthy because when the government pushed for conscription when the military struggled for volunteers, Jacka made it clear he was opposed to forcing anyone to fight.
But the sportsmen of Australia fell in. James “Judy” Masters, regarded as one of Australia’s greatest soccer players, fought at Gallipoli before returning after hostilities to represent his nation on 13 occasions; Tom Richards, after whom the trophy the Wallabies and British and Irish Lions play for was named, won the Military Cross for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty” on the Western Front while Bertie Oldfield, who returned from the front line to play wicket-keeper for Australia, was shot in the leg.
All were hailed heroes, while the boxer Les Darcy was hounded with white feathers – the sign of cowardice – because he did his fighting at the Sydney Stadium in Rushcutters Bay for lucrative purses. The photos of Darcy, regarded as Australia’s greatest fighter at the time, portray a man with a sunny and honest face. Darcy had tried to enlist but because he was under 21 his parents refused to give their consent. In 1916 he approached the military with an offer to pay a £1000 bond and go to America for a series of bouts so he could ensure his family – his sick parents, nine brothers and sisters, one of whom was an invalid – would want for nothing if he fell in action. The offer was rejected and Darcy boarded the tramp steamer Hattie Luckenbach out of Newcastle and took a tanker from Chile to New York.
When news broke that he had left Australia in the dark of night Darcy was stripped of his titles, branded a “slacker” and the American authorities made it impossible for him to box even though there were other Australians making good money in their boxing rings.
Darcy found acceptance when he took out naturalisation papers in 1917 and joined the US Flying Corps. When he died of blood poisoning, it triggered an outpouring of emotion throughout Australia and America. He was mourned on the Western Front, too. In 1990 I met an old machine gunner named Eddie Corrigan who, in 1914, fought the main preliminary bout before Darcy’s controversial disqualification against the American Fritz Holland. Corrigan, like other troops, mourned the loss of “their” champion.
“It hit me hard,” he said of Darcy’s death. “He was a great bloke. After the bout, back in the dressing room, Les ruffled my hair and said ‘well done’.” Follow LeagueHQ on TwitterPlay Ultimate League
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