Born: 28 June, 1970 – Christchurch
Test record: 3 Tests (1993) – 0 points
Tours: 1993 tour of Great Britain and France
A Junior Kiwi representative in 1988 and junior decathlon champion who trained alongside British athletics great Daley Thompson, Donnelly – born in Christchurch but a Waikato junior – focused his attentions back on rugby league after missing selection in New Zealand’s 1990 Commonwealth Games team.
Donnelly spent the 1990-91 northern winter at English club Keighley Cougars. The 20-year-old was snapped up by St George as a fifth-round pick in the short-lived player draft in 1991, but he ran into complications courtesy of the NZRL’s controversial clearance criteria; Donnelly believed he had fulfilled it via the avenue of standing down from all football for two years while concentrating on athletics.
The tyro belatedly earned his first-grade stripes in 1992, cementing a wing berth in the Saints’ line-up at the start of the season. But a badly torn hamstring suffered midyear ended Donnelly’s season, robbing him of a grand final appearance. Donnelly ousted Ian Herron for the left wing spot at the start of 1993 and his fine form for the front-running Dragons garnered a place in the New Zealand Test squad.
He came off the bench in the first two clashes with Australia mid-’93, before starting on the flank in the deciding third Test loss. But after eight tries in 18 games, Donnelly was demoted by Saints coach Brian Smith with just two rounds of the regular season remaining and was an unused reserve when the Dragons went down to Brisbane Broncos in a second consecutive decider.
Nevertheless, Donnelly was chosen to tour Great Britain and France with the Kiwis, playing seven minor matches without cracking the Test side. The trip ended in anguish for the robust flyer, breaking his ankle when a hotel balcony collapsed in Carcassonne – an incident in which teammate Stephen Kearney sustained serious head injuries.
Donnelly played just eight games for the Saints in 1994, while a proposed return home to play for the Auckland Warriors fell through, and was followed by a public slanging bout between player and fledgling club. He finally re-established himself as a first-choice winger in the second half of 1995 and featured in St George’s qualifying final loss to the Bulldogs. Donnelly made seven early-season appearances for the embattled Dragons in 1996 but missed their stunning surge to the grand final.
A move to Super League’s fledgling Adelaide Rams in 1997 netted just six first-grade outings for the former international.