Hooker Gary Blackler made his debut for New Zealand during a one-season switch to Wellington and represented the Kiwis again after returning to Canterbury. But his greatest legacy was as the player that challenged the NZRL’s international transfer ban – a campaign that effectively ended his rugby league career but opened the door for countless others to further theirs.
A three-time New Zealand Schoolboys rep, Blackler played for Addington (as a 17-year-old) and Papanui, featuring in Canterbury’s Rugby League Cup upset of Auckland in 1962, before joining Miramar and representing Wellington the following season while completing police training. He won a place in the 1963 Kiwis squad to tour Australia as hooker understudy to the great Jock Butterfield.
A rib injury to Butterfield saw Blackler make his Test debut in the series opener in Sydney, won 7-3 by Australia. He was not required for the remaining Tests but featured in five other matches on tour. Later that year Blackler was the sole try-scorer in New Zealand’s 4-3 loss to South Africa in a Carlaw Park quagmire (the match was not granted Test status by the NZRL).
After rejoining Papanui in 1964 – and with Butterfield retired – Blackler was at hooker for all three Tests of New Zealand whitewash of the French tourists, scoring a try in the 18-8 second-Test victory at Addington Show Grounds. He also earned the distinction of playing for both North (1963) and South Island (1964), just the fourth player to do so.
Blackler was expected to be the Kiwis’ first-choice rake on the 1965 tour of Britain and France but fate intervened. He became engaged to an Australian and stayed in Sydney after travelling there to meet his fiancé’s parents in late-1964.
Because he did not fit the NZRL’s criteria of five years’ service before even considering a clearance, Blackler – who trained with Canterbury-Bankstown – was prevented from continuing his rugby league career in Australia or representing New Zealand again.
Blackler challenged the NZRL’s stance. After losing a Supreme Court case in 1967, judges in the Court of Appeal ruled in his favour in 1968, ruling that the national body’s rules were an illegal restraint of trade. The NZRL eventually abandoned its plans to take the case to the Privy Council and ultimately changed its constitution.
Canterbury-Bankstown baulked at paying a transfer fee for Blackler retired at the tender age of 26. But he had paved the way for young New Zealand amateurs to take up lucrative overseas contracts without being hamstrung by the NZRL’s archaic national service rules, leading to the steady flow of Kiwi talent into the Sydney premiership from the early-1970s.
NEW ZEALAND (1963-64)
4 Tests – 1 try (3 points)
1 international – 1 try (3 points)
5 tour matches – 0 points
-1963 Kiwis tour of Australia