Gary Clarke is a rugby league treasure, his contribution to Canterbury, New Zealand rugby league and the Christchurch community in general has been immense.

THE KING Gary Clarke and myself (right) standing in front of a feature piece in the amazing museum Wally Lewis’s last Kangaroos playing jersey

Although he no longer selects nor coaches, the 80 Year old still contributes to Canterbury rugby league of which he is president and a life member. 

In his Christchurch factory Gary has the most amazing and most comprehensive selection of rugby league memorabilia and photos you could imagine, it’s of museum proportions.

I was lucky enough to catch up with the legend himself at his factory/museum in Christchurch last month and was overwhelmed at the enormity of the collection.

You walk into the factory and there are photos and trophies on the ground floor then up the stairs there’s another two almost complete floors of the photos, jerseys and trophies, most of it out on display but also a lot of stuff Gary is still finding to add to his collection.

There is also a bar upstairs and it’s here that every couple of months he invites all Canterbury-based former Kiwi players in for a get together and he lays on the drink and food. 

Gary is a former Kiwi international in 1966-68 and played in the 1968 World Cup making his debut at fly-half although scrum half was his regular position. He made his debut off the bench against Great Britain, replacing an injured Roger Bailey in the fifth minute and went on to have an outstanding test despite the Kiwis losing 14-22. In the 1968 World Cup he played against Australia and France as well before injury ruled him out of the next match.

The classy halfback captained the South Island in 1966 against the Kangaroos but he remembers that match for being flattened by Aussie fullback Graeme Langland’s when he ripped the ball off him in a tackle.

Recalling the incident, Gary said, “He just went bang bang and I was down. I can remender asking Bobby Irvine, who are we playing. You played on in those days which was silly, but I came to and played the game out.”

" Clarke proved to be the best of the New Zealanders, injecting some penetration into the backline and tackling hard and low’ in a 22-14 loss against the Lions in the second Test

Gary in his playing days

He coached a Canterbury side in 1975 which achieved an extremely rare win over a star-studded Auckland team at Carlaw Park in Auckland, Canterbury’s first success there in 50 years.

He was a championship-winning club coach with Papanui and also coached Woolston and Sydenham. 

He was a New Zealand selector when Sir Graham Lowe coached them in 1983-84, the Kiwis achieving a massive upset during that time beating Australia in Brisbane.

GREAT MATES Gary Clarke and his great mate Sir Graham Lowe in the museum bar

He’s been involved with rugby league as a player, coach, selector, administrator for over 50 years and in 2015 he received the Queen’s Service medal for his services to sport and philanthropy. In 2020 he was awarded the NZRL Distinguished Service medal.

DESERVED HONOUR Gary Clarke, pictured with then New Zealand governor general Sir Jerry Mateparae at his Queens Service medal award ceremony
Gary Clarke’s NZRL Distinguished Service Medals

The Clarke family were extremely talented sportsmen. Gary’s late brother Jim was a New Zealand schoolboy’s rugby league rep and his late brother Ron played for the South Island at just 18 while sister Bev played softball and netball for Canterbury.

Younger brother Rex was a Linwood High School athletics champion and played Canterbury age group rugby league, a serious knee injury cutting short a highly promising career.

HONOURED FOR THEIR SERVICES Gary Clarke with fellow rugby league legend Frank Endacott, at left

TREASURE Gary Clarke, middle row far right, coached one of the greatest Canterbury teams which included several Kiwi internationals

Listen to my chat with Gary Clarke, he’s a warm generous man and what a contribution he’s made to his beloved province.

Story by John Alexander | Supporting Images sourced by Absolutely Famous.


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