Rugby League Royalty

But for a serious knee injury Rex Clarke may have risen to the same giddy heights his illustrious older brother Gary did in Canterbury and New Zealand rugby league. Gary, the Canterbury Rugby League president, played several seasons for Canterbury from 1963-71 at halfback or five-eighth and three tests for the Kiwis between 1966-68 including a World Cup as well as captaining the South Island against Australia in 1969.

He coached Canterbury, leading them to an historic victory over Auckland at Carlaw Park in 1975, coached the South Island to victory over Australia and was a New Zealand selector with Graham Lowe when the Kiwis beat Australia at Lang Park Brisbane in 1983.

He coached Papanui to two Canterbury premiership titles and later coached Woolston and Sydenham.

Gary’s huge contribution and generosity to rugby league was rewarded when he received a Queens Service medal in 2015 and last year was awarded the Distinguished Services medal.

The owner of Gary Clarke’s plastics in Christchurch for nearly 40 years, Gary has a magnificent collection of rugby league memorabilia at his Woolston business museum where he often hosts reunions of former Canterbury and Kiwi players.

The Clarke dynasty didn’t end there, Rex’s late older brother Jim was a Kiwi schoolboys rep and his other brother, the late Ron Clarke played for the South Island at just 18 years of age.

Their sister Bev excelled in sport as well representing Canterbury in softball and netball and her granddaughter Brittany-Lee is in the New Zealand futsal team. Brother Ron’s daughter Linda captained the New Zealand women’s waterpolo team.

Rex looked on target early in his career to match Gary’s achievement until a crippling knee injury ended his playing days.

Born in Christchurch and growing up in the family’s Woolston home in Ryan St, Rex began his rugby league career by chance and without telling his parents Minnie and Jim, although both keen sports people themselves it was never going to be an issue. Jim, born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, migrated to New Zealand with his family as a three year-old.

As Rex recalled, “I was always going to play rugby league my brothers and dad all played it, it was born into me.”

The owner of Gary Clarke’s plastics in Christchurch for nearly 40 years, Gary has a magnificent collection of rugby league memorabilia at his Woolston business museum where he often hosts reunions of former Canterbury and Kiwi players.

At seven years old Rex would go down to the park and watch his mates playing League for Woolston and it was only a matter of time before they talked him into joining them.

“Mum and dad didn’t know but I got sprung when I had to bring my playing jersey home to wash, but they were fine with it.”

It didn’t take the diminutive halfback long to make an impression and he continued to shine in Woolston colours through until 15 coached by Stan Briggs, a fish and chip shop owner Rex worked for, not his favourite job.

“Stan would pick me up at the end of our street every Tuesday and Thursday for training, his son Michael and I were good mates.

“We’d get in the back of the old fish van and it would stink to high heaven. I can still smell it. I’d work at his fish and chip shop out the back making chips, freezing cold place but getting good money, $3 a night.”

Despite being the best halfback in the competition as he progressed through the age groups, Rex had a problem in that his rep coach all the way through was the father of his main opposition for a place in the team.

“I had no show of getting in the Canterbury team.

Rex also played rugby union, making the Canterbury team for the South Island schoolboys tournament and later played for the Linwood High School first 15 and the Linwood Rugby Club before heading back to league at 18.

Christchurch Sporting Royalty

He’d left school at 15 to work as an electrical assistant but decided to go back to school and complete his two years so he could take up a building apprenticeship.

Finally, prior to switching codes, he made the Canterbury 15 years league side and went away to the national tournament at Runanga on the West Coast, an experience he throughly enjoyed despite being billeted way out in the country at Rapahoe with no transport. His host Bernie Green was a fine player going on to represent the Kiwis.

Rex, nicknamed the ‘Ferret’ for his ability to find holes in opposition defences, had a fine tournament where his electric pace off the mark, swerve and brilliant side step off both feet often leaving opposition defences grasping at air. He made the South Island team to play the North Island where a familiar problem prevented him from making the New Zealand side.

“I outplayed the Auckland halfback and scored a try and had high hopes of making the team. But little did I know their halfbacks uncle was a New Zealand selector and I missed out.”

Once finished with rugby union Rex returned to league playing for Papanui and was selected in the Canterbury under 19s but injury prevented him from playing.

Sadly in a club game against Marist he suffered a serious knee injury which effectively ended his career.

Christchurch Sporting Royalty

He’d left school at 15 to work as an electrical assistant but decided to go back to school and complete his two years so he could take up a building apprenticeship.

Finally, prior to switching codes, he made the Canterbury 15 years league side and went away to the national tournament at Runanga on the West Coast, an experience he throughly enjoyed despite being billeted way out in the country at Rapahoe with no transport. His host Bernie Green was a fine player going on to represent the Kiwis.

Rex, nicknamed the ‘Ferret’ for his ability to find holes in opposition defences, had a fine tournament where his electric pace off the mark, swerve and brilliant side step off both feet often leaving opposition defences grasping at air. He made the South Island team to play the North Island where a familiar problem prevented him from making the New Zealand side.

“I outplayed the Auckland halfback and scored a try and had high hopes of making the team. But little did I know their halfbacks uncle was a New Zealand selector and I missed out.”

Once finished with rugby union Rex returned to league playing for Papanui and was selected in the Canterbury under 19s but injury prevented him from playing.

Sadly in a club game against Marist he suffered a serious knee injury which effectively ended his career.

“Amateur golf at that time was really restrictive. The amateur body wanted to determine what you did where you played who coached you. I loved my coach. He completely believed in me, but the amateur body wanted me to change my golf coach and so that’s when my determined spirit kicked in. I thought no, I love my coach, I completely trust him (Ian Triggs)".

Happy Days | Photo: where2golf.com

Tragedy struck Rex and his family when his son Ash was killed in a car crash in Christchurch. Ash was following in his family’s sporting footsteps, shinning at halfback in a Christchurch Boy’s High School first 15 rugby team which went onto win the world secondary schools title.

Captain of that team was Rex’s son in-law, current NZ Maori, Highlanders and Hawkes Bay captain Ash Dixon.

Dixon is married to Rex’s daughter Mikayla, ironically, like her husband, a rugby hooker like her in her playing days. Macayla also played in the Christchurch Girl’s High School first 11 hockey team. His other daughter Amber also played first 11 hockey at CGHS.

Son Brad played rugby for the Christchurch Boy’s High second 15, the Burnside and rugby league for Eastern Suburbs having come out of the Aranui Academy. Brad made a successful transition to rugby union coaching last season, guiding the Linwood Keas premier B team to the Canterbury title.

Rex met his second wife Di through his late son’s friendship with Di’s son Nick and 23 years ago were married. Di’s sons Nick and James both played rugby for Burnside.

Looking for a fresh start, the couple moved from Christchurch to the Sunshine Coast 16 years ago Rex doing building work and Di working as a registered nurse and the couple have 10 grandchildren between them.

They then decided to shift south to the Gold Coast where they’ve set up home, Rex now working for Trailer parts and repairs.

Looking back on his days growing up and working in Christchurch with a very close knit family, Rex said they were good times and he’s extremely proud of all his siblings achievements.

FAMILY TIME: Rachel, husband Greg and daughter Annie on the golf course

Interview & Words by John Alexander | Supporting Images sourced by Absolutely Famous.

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