Men of League Committee Members and Wellbeing Officers Henry Morris, Bob McCarthy, Norm Pounder and Ken Vessey recently had the privilege of visiting Tom Cocking and his wife Veronica at their Sydney suburban home. Tom is a household name in the South Sydney District Rugby League domain having been associated with the club for over 50 years. He has been experiencing some health issues in recent times, but those problems were forgotten when we arrived at his residence.
Tom grew up in South Sydney heartland and commenced his junior playing days as a front row forward with local clubs Redfern United and Waterloo Waratahs before being graded in the senior South Sydney District Rugby League club in 1957 until 1962 , playing 13 first grade, 40 reserve and 23 third grade games, many of which he captained. He was first grade player #442. In 1963 he played and captained the newly-formed Kingsford Rugby League club to a premiership win in the inter-district competition and then played with the Cronulla Sutherland Rugby League club in the second division competition. Upon retiring from playing, Tom became actively involved with the South Sydney District club from 1974 to 1999. During that time, he occupied many senior executive positions including serving on the Board of Directors from 1983 to 1990. In 1983 his loyal service was rewarded by being inducted as a Life Member of the South Sydney District Rugby League Club. In addition, Tom is a foundation member of the South Sydney Junior Rugby League Football Club.
Tom’s rugby league achievements are quite remarkable, but his fame did not stop there.
He and his brother Ray, also known as “The Beau”, were well-known Sydney CBD identities through their profession as barrowmen on a very popular first-class fruit barrow located on the corner of George and Barrack Street. It was there they brightened the daily lives of their customers over many years. Tom also became a well-known regular guest on the then-popular radio announcer Malcolm T Elliott’s radio show, where the listeners of the show would wait anxiously for Tom to be interviewed and advise of his choices as to the best fruit of the day and, of course, his joke of the day.
Naturally our conversation swung to rugby league tales and Tom told us about the hardest first grade game he ever played for South Sydney – a game at Redfern Oval against a Western Suburbs team with players like Noel Kelly, Kel O’Shea, Mark Patch, Denis Meaney and Peter Dimond. Certainly, it was a match he will never forget. We asked him who the hardest player was he ever played with, and without hesitation he said Peter Diversi, who played with North Sydney, Manly Warringah, NSW and Australia. He was a real bone-crushing tackler. He admitted he was saddened when South Sydney Rabbitohs moved away from Redfern Oval and his dream as a kid was always to play for Souths.
We presented him with a Men of League Foundation polo and cap for his outstanding contributions to rugby league at all levels over many years. Tom in return thanked us for the gifts, thoughts and our visit. Realising Tom’s mobility is limited and that he uses a walker, the Foundation have hired a motor scooter for his use and trial to assess whether or not it is suitable for long term use. Finally, a special thanks to Veronica for providing us with a magnificent morning tea.
Written by Ken Vessey Wellbeing Coordinator Northern Sydney Men of League