Born: February 16, 1927 – Auckland
Died: December 13, 2023 – Auckland
Test record: 21 Tests (1951-54, 1956) – 2 tries, 63 goals (132 goals)
Tours: 1951-52 tour of Britain and France, 1952 tour of Australia, 1956 tour of Australia

The NZRL Team of the Century fullback, an Auckland Immortal, a record-breaking goalkicker extraordinaire and a former Kiwis Test coach, Des White’s place as one of the most important figures in New Zealand’s rugby league history is assured.

White played 21 Tests for New Zealand from 1951-56 and scored a then-record 132 points, cementing his legacy with a world record 11 goals in an unprecedented 49-25 thrashing of Australia in Brisbane in 1952 that set the Kiwis on course for a historic series triumph.

Breaking into club football with Ponsonby Ponies in 1947, White kicked six goals in Auckland’s 30-9 defeat of the returning 1947-48 Kiwis tourists and slotted five for Auckland Colts in a loss to the visiting Australian side – the first of several individual battles with legendary South Sydney fullback Clive Churchill.

The 23-year-old received his maiden Kiwis call-up for the 1950 series against Great Britain. He marked his Test debut in Christchurch by kicking a penalty goal from near halfway in the opening stages and his boot proved the difference in a 16-10 victory, finishing with five goals.

White’s attributes as a safe custodian and a fine attacking fullback tended to be overshadowed by his goalkicking prowess in an era where possessing a long-range sharpshooter was a huge asset. He kicked another five goals in New Zealand’s 16-15 eclipse of the famed 1951 French tourists at a muddy Carlaw Park.

The 1951-52 Kiwis went winless in five Tests in Britain and France, but White smashed the New Zealand record for most points on a tour with 212 (four tries, 100 goals), displaying remarkable durability to turn out 33 times in a mammoth 40-match schedule.

White helped Ponsonby secure all four major Auckland Rugby League trophies – the Fox Memorial Shield, Roope Rooster, Stormont Shield and Rukutai Shield – in 1952 and was a key figure in a halcyon period for the Kiwis.

Following his 11-goal spree in the second Test at Lang Park in 1952, he booted another five goals in a series-winning 19-9 win over Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground. White’s series tally of 18 goals equalled another world record, while he also became the first New Zealander to top a century of points on a tour of Australia, a trip that included another 11-goal haul against Northern Division.

In 1953, White was at the forefront of a home success against Australia with his first Test try and four goals in the 25-5 series-opening rout and a clutch three-goal display as New Zealand clinched the rubber 12-11 in the second clash. White dotted down for his only other Test try in the 18-16 loss in the third clash.

White’s seven goals underpinned New Zealand’s 20-14 second-Test victory over the formidable 1954 Great Britain tourists in a 2-1 series loss, but the last match of the tour would have a fateful impact on the last-liner’s career.

Auckland’s 5-4 win over the Lions was marred by brawling and violent incidents, the most of infamous of which saw White illegally tackled by rugged British centre Dougie Greenall. The terrible impact of the controversial challenge resulted in White having his spleen removed during a five-week hospital stay.

White was ruled out of the inaugural World Cup in France later that year and would not return to international football until 1956, coming back for the Kiwis’ tour of Australia.

The 29-year-old’s swansong for New Zealand featured a 3-0 series loss to the green-and-golds but nevertheless included several highlights: seven goals in a tour-opening win over NSW, eight goals in a big victory over Queensland and nine goals against Central Queensland.

Fittingly, White landed four goals in his last Test, a 31-14 defeat at the SCG.

Settling into retirement, White took over as Auckland coach in 1958. He accepted the New Zealand coaching reins for the 1961 home series against Australia – which finished one-all in his only Kiwis assignment – while his Auckland side upset the tourists 13-8.

White’s New Zealand record tally of 132 Test points (two tries, 63 goals) was broken by Matthew Ridge during the 1990s and was subsequently passed by Stacey Jones and Shaun Johnson, but his 467 points (seven tries, 223 goals) in 48 matches for the Kiwis is a mark destined to stand forever. He also continues to hold long-standing records for most points for Ponsonby (794) and Auckland (467).

In 1990, White was one of only two sportspeople primarily known for rugby league (with Ces Mountford) among the inaugural inductees to the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame, while he was one of the initial batch of 13 NZRL Legends of League in 1995.

Centenary celebrations brought further accolades for the universally admired White: he earned the fullback nod in the New Zealand Team of the Century line-up in 2007 and was among the first six Auckland Immortals named in 2008.

White passed away in late-2023, aged 96.