New Zealand Rugby League is mourning the loss of one of its all-time greats following the death of Kiwi #375 Tom Hadfield, aged 83.

Hadfield, a winger in the New Zealand Team of the Century named in 2007 and inducted to the NZRL Legends of League in 2010, passed away peacefully in Birkenhead, Auckland on Wednesday.

The Northcote Tigers flyer carved out an outstanding tenure in the black-and-white jersey, scoring a then-record 15 tries in 17 Test appearances from 1956-61. Including tour and non-Test matches, Hadfield crossed for 30 tries in 40 games for New Zealand.

A national schoolboys rep at just 15, Hadfield was a 21-year-old Test debutant in 1956 in an 8-2 loss to Australia in Brisbane and became a first-choice winger during the following year’s World Cup.

He bagged his first Test try against France at the tournament, kicking off a remarkable run of dotting down in nine consecutive Tests (12 tries in total). In the Kiwis’ clash with a Britain-France combination in Auckland after the World Cup – a match officially regarded as a Test match by NZRL – Hadfield scored three tries.

Hadfield featured in the drawn home series against Great Britain in 1958 and was the star of a 2-0 whitewash of the touring French side in 1960. He scored a double in the 9-2 victory in the first Test, while his unforgettable 70-metre solo try with 16 minutes left at a boggy Carlaw Park sealed the second Test 9-3.

After playing in all three of the Kiwis’ 1960 World Cup games, scoring two tries, Hadfield was chosen in the Rest of the World Team to play champions Great Britain – and yet again found his way over the stripe.

Hadfield switched to centre for the two-Test home series against Australia in 1961, which was tied 1-1 as he and George Turner teamed up against champion centres Reg Gasnier and Brian Carlson. He also played in the Auckland side that defeated the tourists 13-8.

Making his first full-scale tour of Britain at the end of ’61, Hadfield reverted to the flank and scored a try in the Kiwis’ shock 29-11 win in the first Test at Headingley. He missed the second Test before returning for the decider and crossing twice in a 35-19 defeat at Manchester’s Station Road.

Hadfield’s final Test appearance for the Kiwis came in a 6-all draw against France in Bordeaux on the same tour, but fittingly he scored a try in his final outing for his country in a tour game against Provence.

Phil Orchard equalled Hadfield’s New Zealand Test tryscoring record in 1975 and Hugh McGahan eventually broke it in 1989, while another six modern Kiwi have eclipsed his long-standing mark of 15 tries: Kevin Iro, Sean Hoppe, Nigel Vagana, Stacey Jones, Manu Vatuvei and Jason Nightingale.

But Hadfield’s remarkable strike-rate of 0.88 tries per Test has stood the test of time – only Lesley Vainikolo (14 tries from 14 Tests), who had the advantage of playing against minnow nations at a World Cup, has been more potent of Kiwis that have played more than five Tests.

It’s another mark of Hadfield’s greatness that he snared a New Zealand Team of the Century spot ahead of the likes of Dane O’Hara, who played a record 36 Tests on the wing, Mocky Brereton, Vern Bakalich, Brian Reidy, Hoppe and Vainikolo (Orchard was the other winger chosen).

RIP Bernard Thomas Hadfield, a true Northcote Tigers, Auckland and New Zealand Kiwis legend.


New Zealand (1956-61): 17 Tests – 15 tries (45 points).

Supplied by Will Evans