RIP Keith Barnes

Keith Barnes, one of the greatest Welsh-born rugby league players never to play for Wales, has died aged 89.

Born in Port Talbot, Wales on 30 October 1934, he was 15 years old when his family emigrated to Australia in 1948 to Wollongong where Barnes learned rugby league at Wollongong High School, having only played rugby union in Wales.

He made his senior rugby league debut for Wollongong at age 19 as a half-back and in 1954 represented for Country and in a Southern Districts side against the touring Great Britain Lions.

In 1955, he was picked up by Balmain Tigers and stayed there for 14 seasons, playing 194 matches, scoring 11 tries and kicking 742 goals and one drop-goal, totalling a massive 1,519 points. His goal-kicking earned him the nickname “Golden Boots”.

He played in three grand finals, losing all of them to St George but won trophies at international level. Playing for Australia, he won 17 caps, 14 of them as captain, kicking 59 goals. He was a part of the World Cup winning side in 1957, playing in just the first game as he broke his cheekbone during the match – he did stay on the field for the whole game, which was against New Zealand, kicking five goals.

He also made 12 appearances for New South Wales, so his total goals in all first-grade matches totalled 954.

He retired from competitive rugby league in 1968 and continued an active role in rugby league. In 1976, he became Secretary-Manager of the Balmain Leagues Club and in 1984 took up the role of Chief Executive of the football club. He was also the first ex-Kangaroo captain to manage the Australian side on the 1990 Kangaroo tour.

On 26 January 1996, he was named a Member of the Order of Australia in “recognition of service to rugby league as a player and administrator” and on 24 October 2000, he was awarded the Australian Sports Medal for his rugby league achievements. Also that year, he was honoured with selection in the Balmain’s “Team of the Century” and in the Wests Tigers’ “Team of the Century”. The annual award for the best back at the Wests Tigers club is named the Keith Barnes Medal in his honour.

In 2007 he was inducted into the Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame. In February 2008, he was named in the list of Australia’s 100 Greatest Players (1908–2007) to celebrate the code’s centenary year in Australia.

In 2009 he was further honoured with the naming of the Keith Barnes Stand at Leichhardt Oval, the Balmain Tigers’ home ground.

Everyone at Wales Rugby League send their condolences to all of his family and friends.

William Keith Barnes AM (30 October 1934 – 8 April 2024)