Celebrating 50 years of the Billy Wallace Best and Fairest Wellington Premier club rugby competition. The Billy Wallace competition has been contested annually since its inception in 1966. Players in every Premier match are awarded points on a 3, 2 and 1 basis.
Part 1 below profiles the first five winners, 1966-1970.
Winner: Tom Lister
Position: blindside flanker
Best and Fairest points accrued: N/A
About: The inaugural Billy Wallace Trophy winner, Tom Lister had moved to Wellington two years earlier from South Canterbury, where he joined the Athletic club, became a rubbish collector and set about fulfilling his dream of becoming an All Black. He had played for Wellington in their famous wins over the Springboks in 1965 and the British Lions in 1966. Lister, who was consistently labelled “rugged,” was a bruising defender and a hard working loose forward. He played 8 times for the All Blacks between 1968-71. In 1966 Athletic finished third, behind Jubilee Cup winners University and second placed Petone.
Winner: Graham Williams
Position: Openside flanker
Club: Wellington Axemen
Best and Fairest points accrued: N/A
About: Former Rongotai College tearaway Williams had burst on to the scene at a young age, had been the top try-scoring forward in NZ first-class rugby in 1964 and had starred alongside Lister in wins over the Lions and Springboks. Williams would play a record 174 matches for the Wellington provincial team and he led his club Wellington FC to Swindale Shield and Jubilee Cup silverware in the 1970s. in 1967 Wellington finished second in the championship to Petone. In 16 games Petone won 14, lost one and drew one. The loss (17-22) and the draw (13-13) were both to the Axemen. Williams was described as “explosive” in more than one match report in 1967. Williams later played 18 matches for the All Blacks and was never on a losing team.
Winner: Ian Stevens
Best and Fairest points accrued: 24
About: The first back to win the competition. The 1968 Billy Wallace competition was a two-horse race between Petone halfback Stevens and Petone loose forward Andy Leslie. Stevens and Leslie were locked on 22 points heading into the Jubilee Cup final at Athletic Park against University. The judge was famous radio commentator Winston McCarthy. Petone edged University 11-9 in a thriller and McCarthy awarded 3 points to Petone flanker Bruce Hurley, 2 to Stevens and 1 to Petone lock Peter Abbott. Thus Stevens won the competition on 24 points (after missing some games mid-season with illness), with Leslie second on 22, Wayne Nicholls (Poneke) third on 19 and Norm Cleland (Marist) fourth on 16. Stevens played 112 matches for Wellington between 1967-76 and 33 matches for the All Blacks 1972-76.
Winner: Paul Russo
Position: No. 8
Best and Fairest points accrued: 27
About: The third loose forward in four years and the first captain to win the Billy Wallace compeThtition. Marist skipper Paul Russo led his side in a series of strong performances. the Dominion said that he “roamed effectively” and that he “provided a strong link between his forwards and his backs.” He consistently picked up Best & Fairest points and was a runaway winner in 1969. He finished 7 points clear of second placed Andy Leslie (runner-up two years running) on 20, with Graham Williams (Wellington) on 18 and Bruce Niven (Onslow) and Peter Lawson (Taita) both on 17. Marist finished fourth in the 1969 Jubilee Cup, behind winners Petone. At the end of the season, the Dominion questioned how it was that Russo couldn’t make that year’s Wellington A or B squads.
Joint Winners: Richard Cleland and Huia Hutton
Positions: Cleland second five-eighth and Hutton prop
Clubs: Cleland Petone and Hutton Athletic
Best and Fairest points accrued: 7 each
About: The first joint winners of the Billy Wallace competition, which was run throughout the Jubilee Cup only in 1970. University’s John Kirkby finished second on 6 points. The award to Hutton was particularly significant as he was the first tight forward to win the competition. Hutton had been playing for Athletic since 1966, had been a Wellington Colt two years running in 1966/67and had played three matches for Wellington in 1968. Petone centurion Cleland would be consistentlyamongst the leading points scorers throughout the 1970s. He was at the time a current Wellington B player who forced his way into the Wellington A team later that season.