Born: 7 February, 1952
Died: 14 May, 2020 – Karoro
Test record: 30 Tests (1972, 1974-75, 1977-82) – 4 tries, 1 goal (14 points)
Tours: 1972 World Cup, 1975 World Championship Series, 1977 World Cup squad, 1978 tour of Australia and Papua New Guinea, 1980 tour of Britain and France, 1982 tour of Australia and Papua New Guinea
One of West Coast rugby league’s greatest-ever plays, Tony Coll had a brief spell in Canterbury as a teenaged before returning home and representing New Zealand in 65 games, including 30 Tests.
The wholehearted second-rower is regarded as being among the top echelon of Kiwis in the 1970s: tremendously mobile, a great defender, indefatigable – a true all-rounder.
Coll spent the 1970 season in the CRL competition with Grand Finalists Marist-Western Suburbs and was a Canterbury reserve. Formerly a hooker and a winger, he was still just 19 when he made his provincial debut for West Coast.
The tyro trialled for the Kiwis in 1971 and was chosen in their World Cup squad the following season. The 20-year-old made his Test debut in bizarre circumstances, coming off the bench against France after veteran Canterbury prop Mita Mohi (who was also on debut) suffered an injury during the pre-match haka.
Coll was promoted to the starting pack for New Zealand’s remaining matches of the tournament, playing loose forward against Australia and scoring a try from the second-row in a 53-19 defeat to Great Britain.
He played in two Tests against the touring Lions in 1974 then featured in all eight matches of the Kiwis’ 1975 World Championship Series campaign – including a man-of-the-match performance in the 25-24 loss to Wales at Swansea in which he scored a stunning long-range try.
The Kiwis’ 1974-75 coach George Menzies – a West Coast icon and later named five-eighth in the New Zealand Team of the Century – subsequently declared Coll the best forward the Coast had produced. Though the Kiwis had no fixtures in 1976, Coll captained a New Zealand XIII against the touring Sydney Metropolitan side and skippered South Island, winning the Steve Watene Trophy as New Zealand Player of the Year.
Coll stretched his tally of consecutive Tests to 18 via his appearances in the 1977 World Cup (where he captained New Zealand in its three matches), the Kiwis’ tour of Australia and Papua New Guinea in 1978, and the series against the visiting Great Britain side in 1979.
The veteran played one Test against Australia on home soil in 1980 and was something of a good luck charm for the Kiwis in Britain and France at the end of the year. With Coll on deck, they earned a draw (with Coll scoring a try) and a win over Great Britain and a series-levelling victory over France. He missed a Test in each of the series and New Zealand lost both.
Coll’s stellar Kiwis tenure wound down with appearances in the 2-0 home series sweep of France in 1981 – scoring a try in the second Test – and a game off the bench against the Kumuls in Port Moresby in 1982, slotting a goal, at the end of a tour of Australia and Papua New Guinea (Bruce Gall was preferred to partner captain Graeme West in the second-row in all three Tests).
The stalwart finished with 58 appearances for West Coast and hung up the boots after Greymouth Marist’s loss to Runanga in the 1983 WCRL final.
The outpouring of tributes following Coll’s sudden death in 2020, aged 68, reflected the esteem in which he is held throughout the rugby league community.