John Coffey has documented the rich history of rugby league in Canterbury and New Zealand more extensively than any other person, but he has also become part of its fabric himself.

His standing in our game was officially recognised on Monday, when New Zealand Rugby League made Coffey their newest Life Member at the 2018 AGM.

New Zealand’s most prominent rugby league journalist, historian and author, West Coast-born Coffey covered rugby league, cricket and other sports for The Press for 44 years (1963-2007).

He authored, among many other books and sporting biographies, the seminal work The Kiwis: 100 Years of International Rugby League (2007), which was part of a trio of tomes he and the late Bernie Wood painstakingly put together along with the histories of Maori Rugby League and Auckland Rugby League; New Zealand Rugby League Greats (1991); the brilliantly researched Strike! The Tour That Died of Shame (2012); Canterbury XIII: A Rugby League History (1987); and The Hard Yards: Rugby League in Canterbury 1912-2012 (2012).

A keen club rugby league player and cricketer who played in the 1971 CRL grand final for Marist, Coffey covered the 1974 Commonwealth Games and many Kiwis tours to Australia, and Great Britain and France, as well as grassroots footy during its Canterbury heyday. Coffey was bestowed with the Queen’s Service Order in 2012 for services to sports journalism and history, and still resides in Christchurch.

A long-time correspondent for iconic Australian magazine Rugby League Week, the esteem Coffey is held in beyond these shores was perfectly illustrated by the NRL inviting him to be on the voting panel for the recently revamped Hall of Fame this year.

Coffey has covered (and continues to, through his weekly contributions to the Mad Butcher’s Newsletter) rugby league with integrity, style, humour and passion that earned him scores of fans but also the respect and friendship of the players and coaches he wrote about.

His journalistic example should be held up as a beacon for young scribes to follow.

As a historian Coffey’s contribution cannot be understated. Without his immense dedication, as well as the efforts of the likes of Wood, Bud Lisle Carey Clements, and the NZRL Museum team, there would be cavernous gaps in our knowledge of the game’s narrative.

And it was fitting that Coffey was awarded Life Membership (to enthusiastic applause from everyone at the AGM) within the walls of the NZRL Museum, which celebrates countless moments, games and legendary figures that he has covered and documented for more than half a century.


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