Kevin Humphreys: Rugby league official whose career ended in disgrace

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The Independent Online

Kevin Humphreys was the most powerful man in the world of rugby league for more than 10 years, an innovative Australian administrator who changed the face of the game but whose career ended in scandal and controversy.

In 1983 the investigative ABC television programme Four Corners in Australia effectively finished him with its allegations of a high-level cover-up to save him from allegations of misappropriating money from Balmain, the club where he had been secretary. Humphreys immediately resigned from all his positions and was later convicted of fraud and theft. A long decline after that saw him afflicted by strokes, cancer and diabetes, the latter of which cost him both his legs.

It was at Balmain that Humphreys spent his relatively low-key, 43-game playing career. He became secretary there in 1966 and the career as an administrator that was to bring him much greater celebrity and notoriety had begun. In 1976, he became the first full-time executive director of the New South Wales Rugby League, the body which then ran the main club competition in the country.

In that role he was an abrasive character, but he had the vision to push through a number of changes which benefited the game. They included embracing the increasingly important issue of sponsorship, recognising the growing role of television and raising the value of a try from three points to four.

Most of all, he put his weight behind the State of Origin concept, controversial at the time, but, 30 years later, proven to be one of the glittering successes of world sport. The then radical notion that players should represent the state they came from, rather than the one where they were plying their trade, was a Queensland initiative, but it could not have happened without NSW, under Humphreys' leadership, agreeing to give it a try.

He was also a firm believer in taking top-level rugby league – traditionally confined to Sydney – to other areas of NSW. In that, he was well ahead of his time. As President of the Australian Rugby League Humphreys was a firm ally of the development of the game in Papua New Guinea, the one country in the world where rugby league can incontrovertibly be called the national sport. He was also a strong supporter of the code in New Zealand, although administrators in the northern hemisphere sometimes found him intransigent in his pursuit of Australian interests, as he perceived them.

Humphreys had certainly made plenty of enemies in his various roles within the game. They had the last laugh when his world came crashing down in 1983. In a story as sensational at the time as the recent Melbourne Storm salary cap scandal, Four Corners alleged that Humphreys had siphoned off money from the Balmain club while he worked there and that the NSW Premier, Neville Wran, had intervened behind the scenes in a court case.

Wran successfully sued ABC, but NSW's chief magistrate, Murray Farquher, was jailed for his role in the affair. Humphreys himself was eventually fined A$4,000 and placed on a two-year good behaviour bond. His influential career had ended in disgrace.

He would have known better than anyone that he would be remembered primarily for the manner of his demise. There are many, however, who would argue strongly that he did more good than harm to the game over the course of his involvement."Kevin was a wonderful administrator and a great servant of the game," the ARL's current chairman Colin Love said when he heard of Humphreys' death.

Kevin Humphreys, rugby league administrator: born Sydney, New South Wales 8 April 1930; married (two sons); died Sydney 29 April 2010.