Written by Oliver Kellner-Dunk
Since 1979, the game’s best player over a single season has been named the Dally M Player of the Year, with the award being widely regarded as the National Rugby League’s highest individual honour, but who was “Dally M”?
Born on the 12th of April 1883 in Balmain, Herbert “Dally” Messenger would grow up to play Rugby Union for the Eastern Suburbs RUFC between 1905 and 1907, making quite a name for himself in a short period, debuting for New South Wales in 1906 and Australia in 1907.
Despite only playing at the top level of Australian Rugby for three years, Messenger had established himself as a star and was set for a long and prosperous career in the code, before taking a huge risk.
In 1907, Messenger was approached by J. J. Giltinan and Victor Trumper, who offered him a deal to play in a new professional Rugby competition, otherwise known as Rugby League.
Messenger signed on, and before playing in the new competition went on a tour of England with the New Zealand professional Rugby League team to better acquaint himself with the code. He is believed to have scored over 100 points throughout the tour.
The following year Messenger played in Australia’s first-ever test match against New Zealand and for Eastern Suburbs in the inaugural New South Wales Rugby Football League competition, making just two appearances for the eventual runners-up.
In the same year, the centre would also represent both New South Wales and Queensland.
When 1909 came around Messenger opted to sit out the NSWRFL season; however, continued playing representative Rugby League.
After returning to the competition in 1910, Messenger would lead Eastern Suburbs to their first premiership in 1911 as captain-coach, ending the year with 148 points, before retiring from representative Rugby League the following year after 26 games for New South Wales, one game for Queensland and six games for Australia, captaining the nation on multiple occasions.
Just two years later, Messenger would retire from professional Rugby League entirely following Easts’ third premiership in a row.
Since his passing in 1959, Messenger has been inducted into the Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame and the International Rugby League Hall of Fame in 2003, before being named an Immortal in 2018.
It is widely believed that if Herbert ”Dally” Messenger never made the switch to Rugby League, the game would have never been popular enough to survive.