The Cumberland Throw

Vale – Ken Thornett

Today is a sad day for the Parramatta Rugby League Club, indeed the community of Rugby League with the passing of one of the true legends of our great game, Ken Thornett.


Words will often fall short when trying to describe the influence that he had at Parramatta. A livewire on the field, always on the move, a bull terrier in defence, always a threat in attack, leaping over the sideline to keep balls in play from kicks, Thornett was often the difference between a win and a loss for any team he took the field for.


Already a star on the Rugby Union field with his brothers Richard and John before making the switch to Rugby League, Ken Thornett was always destined to be a name that people would remember. Indeed, each of the brothers made their own special mark on the Australian sporting landscape.


John, Ken and Richard Thornett Rugby Union days

John, Ken and Richard Thornett Rugby Union days


Joining Parramatta in 1962, his influence on the team is credited as the reason for Parramatta reaching the first grade finals for the first time in its history. Essentially he changed the team’s fortunes from a club that had only won 20 percent of its matches from 1951 to 1961, to a team that could be genuine contenders for a premiership title. During his playing career with Parramatta (in which donned the blue and gold alongside his brother, Dick) Ken would go on to captain-coach the Eels in 1965/66 before retiring in 1968. He made a return to the club in 1971 under coach Ian Walsh, helping Parramatta again rise from wooden spooners to fourth. Thornett ultimately finished his career for Parramatta in 1971, notching up 133 games, and scoring 17 tries and 6 field goals.



Ken Thornett retiring, chaired from the field

Ken Thornett retiring, chaired from the field

Inernationally, Ken played for Leeds in England where he was a part of their championship 1960-61 team, (their maiden premiership) and where he earned the nickname of “buckets” with his English team mates for the amazing feat that, during those years, he never dropped a single kick that was aimed his way.  This author recalls a story told by a fan about those Leeds days: “I remember watching him with my dad, one day a kick went up and it bounced out of “buckets” hands. He threw himself forward and caught the ball mid air before it hit the ground”  .


In action for Leeds

In action for Leeds

Ken Thornett also played 3 games for New South Wales and 12 test matches for Australia. It should be highlighted that during this time period, Australia was blessed with one of the most talented rosters of fullbacks in rugby league history, including legends such as Keith Barnes, Les Johns and Graeme Langlands .



Ken and Richard Thornett 1963 Kangaroo Tour

Ken and Richard Thornett 1963 Kangaroo Tour

A measure of Thornett’s enduring influence at Parramatta can be found in the grandstand named after him (and hopefully when the stadium is rebuilt, the name remains), and in the naming of Parramatta’s highest accolade – The Ken Thornett Medal.


In the hours since the news of his passing, tributes from all sections of Rugby League have been pouring in.


Green tweet


grothe tweet


Voss tweet

A Personal Note From Sixties

I was a little too young to remember Thornett’s stint with Parramatta during the early and mid sixties, and have only fleeting memories of his 1971 season. However, what will be enduring for me is the awe with which my father speaks about the man.

I sat with Dad this afternoon to get his thoughts about Thornett the player. His answer was simple but profound. “He changed the game for fullback play.” I pressed for specifics and he added that in an era of great fullbacks, Thornett was the best that he saw. He ran with incredible power and fearlessness and had a game sense like no other.

Outside of football, Thornett was a family friend with the grandparents of Parramatta’s current coach, Brad Arthur. I’m sure that today’s news will be met with a heavy heart in the Arthur family.

A book from Ken Thornett signed and presented to Joye and Lindsay Arthur

A book from Ken Thornett signed and presented to the Arthur family.

You will be missed Ken Thornett, but remembered forever.

Yours in Blue and Gold,

DK Eel and Sixties.



Images courtesy of National Rugby League, Parramatta Eels, Twitter and Getty Images

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Parramatta Tragic

Ken and Dick are the reasons for thousands of current Parramatta fans. I am sure we all asked our dads (I know I did) if we could go and watch Ken and Dick Thornett play. How many modern play players have that magical drawing power that inspired multiple generations of fans? There won’t be thousands of young Western Suburbs kids asking their dads if they can watch Hayne play.

Parramatta Tragic

A lovely tirbute to Richard with a bit of Ken included

Parramatta Tragic

It was remiss of me DK and sixties not to congratulate you both on a wonderful reflection on Ken Thornett. I think a little bit of us all has died with the passing of Richard and now Ken.

Parra Pete

Your dad is a great judge DK… No player has ever given me as much pleasure in the Parramatta colours than the Mayor. The day the Club signed him was the day the sleeping giant of Rugby League was awaken. He was one of the ALL TIME greats who dug the well the current crop are drinking from now. I was fortunate to be in my mid teens when THE MAYOR came to ‘lift us up where we belong’ He was part of an era that gave us hope….joining blokes like Brian (Grumpy) Hambly, Ron (Thirsty) Lynch, Leo Toohey, Bob… Read more »


Great tribute DK, thanks.
I heard on older fellow on the radio yesterday talking about Ken’s deeds on the footy field. He was asked who was the greater Parramatta fullback out of Ken and Hayne. He replied “Ken will always be the master – you can’t compare the two – one is a footballer, the other is an athlete”.
The Mayor’s legend and legacy will live on at Parramatta forever.


Kramerica, I wish I had seen more of Thornett at his peak – I was just too young to remember. Hayne, supreme athlete, most talented Eel I’ve seen. Thornett – up on another level in terms of being an Eels legend. Those who watched him Circa 62 to 66, speak of him in revered tones.

Joe Briffa

Oh hell I just keep thinking of Ken and Dick and I start to get all teary. I was in my early twenties when Ken first joined us and let me tell you he was as good as they say he was, boy this has been a year to foreget,I cannot write anymore as the lump in my throat is getting bigger. RIP Ken and I am sure your sharing a yarn or two with Dick.


Kens first game for parra was against tigers i think and parra raced to about a 20 point lead in first half before being reeled in and just getting home. The funny part about that was that balmain claimed they had signed him and legal stoush looked inevitable but was finally avoided and rest is history


Could never imagine him as a Tiger. Barnes is probably happy about that too!

Parra Pete

I have posted a newspaper clipping of Ken’s arrival at Parramatta and his first game in the Blue and Gold onb the Cumberland Throw Facebook page.. The Parramatta side won 26-17 after leading 23-5 at half time (tries were worth 3 points, so to win by 9 was fairly comfortable)..I was at the game..I remember being ‘star struck’ with the inclusion of the MAYOR..It was part of the awakening of a sleeping giant, and giving the people of the district a team to get excited about. “We had seen the glory of the coming of the lord” I am blessed… Read more »

The rev aka Snedden

Good write up gents.
I was not born when ken n dick played for parra n Australia.
From what I’ve heard dick n ken were very talented football players.
I also heard the story about when ken went to Leeds n never dropped a kick that was sent his way.
May he rest in peace. God bless him. N when the new stadium is re-built they must keep a grandstand in his name.


The Stand is a must.

Gem KM

Well before my time but the name Thornett is synonymous with the glory of the blue and gold. Vale, Ken

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