Australia’s greatest multi-sport athletes: Erin Phillips and Jarryd Hayne are the latest on a long list

Home » Australia’s greatest multi-sport athletes: Erin Phillips and Jarryd Hayne are the latest on a long list
Australia’s greatest multi-sport athletes: Erin Phillips and Jarryd Hayne are the latest on a long list

STEP aside, Jarryd Hayne. Erin Phillips is our latest multi-sport star.

Phillips just won the AFLW Most Valuable Player Award, which she can add to her two WNBA Championship rings, as well as the silver Olympic medal she won with the Australian Opals.

We look at 22 Aussie athletes with stunning resumes across more than one sport.

Erin Phillips – basketball, AFLW

As the daughter of former Port Adelaide premiership winner Greg Phillips, Erin Phillips always had Australian rules football in her blood, but it wasn’t her first calling.

In 2003, she accepted a basketball scholarship at the Australian Institute of Sport, and played in the WNBL with that AIS squad.

Phillips was drafted by the Connecticut Sun with the 21st overall pick in the 2005 WNBA Draft. The point guard would play in the league in 2006, ultimately ending up with the Indiana Fever via trade.

Erin Phillips.Source: Getty Images

Phillips helped the Fever win the 2012 WNBA title, averaging 13.5 points per game in the finals series. In 2014, she was traded to the Phoenix Mercury, where she would win her second WNBA Championship.

As a staple of the Australian women’s basketball team — the Opals — Phillips has been the star of an Olympic silver medal-winning team, as well as a World Championship gold medal-winning team.

At the end of 2016, Phillips signed with Adelaide Football Club for the inaugural AFL Women’s season in 2017, and was quickly named a co-captain of her side.

Phillips was Adelaide’s star in their win over Brisbane in the Grand Final, and was named the AFLW’s first ever MVP.

As of 2017, Phillips is a member of the Dallas Wings.

Adelaide Crows co-Captain Erin Phillips.Source: AAP

Reginald ‘Snowy’ Baker – rugby union, swimming, diving, boxing

Baker was a turn-of-the-20th-century athlete who, it is said, excelled at almost 30 different sports.

Four years after representing Australia as a rugby union halfback, Baker claimed a silver medal in the middleweight boxing division at the 1908 Olympics.

At the same Games, Baker also swam in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay (finishing fourth) and competed in the diving (knocked out in the first round).

A motoring accident ended his athletic career, however he had many more acts left to play. Baker became a boxing promoter, working the great Les Darcy, and an actor.

He relocated to Los Angeles where he worked in films as an actor and a stunt coach.

Michael Cleary – rugby union, rugby league, athletics

A Commonwealth Games bronze medallist in the 100 yard sprint, Cleary also played rugby league and union at the highest level.

He began his rugby career as a flying winger with Randwick before representing the Wallabies on six occasions against Fiji, France and South Africa.

He then switched to league – retaining his amateur status for a year to allow him to compete at the Commonwealth Games – and played for the Rabbitohs, Roosters, NSW and Australia.

Upon retirement, Cleary became a state politician in NSW and was inducted into the Australian Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.

Michael Cleary (C) with Souths teammates in 1969. Picture: Warwick Lawson.Source: News Corp Australia

Hayden Smith – basketball, rugby union, NFL

Smith is living proof that rugby code skills are transferable to the NFL.

Smith was contracted to the Sydney Kings before taking up a basketball scholarship in Colorado. There, he was spotted by rugby coaches and converted to the 15-man code.

He represented the USA at the World Cup and was snapped up by Saracens. He was then recruited by the New York Jets and played five games last season as a tight end, making one reception for 16 yards.

He has since returned to rugby union with Saracens.

Jarryd Hayne – rugby league, NFL, rugby union

Quite simply, there has never been a sporting career like Jarryd Hayne’s.

Hayne stunned Australia after turning his back on a 176-game career with the Eels to focus on playing in the NFL – a sport he had never previously played.

Despite the weight of odds stacked against him, Hayne eventually played eight games for San Francisco as a running back and became the first Australian to receive and return in the NFL – Hayden Smith recorded the first carry – and made headlines across the US after a scintillating pre-season that earned him safe passage to the 49ers’ 53-man roster.

Hayne finished his time in the NRL with 17 rushes for 52 yards (average 3.1 yards), six receptions for 27 yards (age 4.5 yards) and eight punt returns for 76 yards. He also completed a tackle on special teams.

Hayne then pulled another stunning career switch when he walked away from the 49ers in the pre-season in an attempt to qualify for Fiji’s world-beating rugby sevens team.

He represented Fiji at the London Sevens but was later omitted from the Fijian squad that went onto win an historic gold medal in Rio.

He has since resumed his NRL career with the Gold Coast Titans.

Jarryd Hayne of the Titans.Source: Getty Images

Ellyse Perry – football, cricket

Perry has many chapters still to write in her athletic career – and what a story it will be once completed.

The only athlete to participate at both an ICC and FIFA World Cup, Perry continues to dazzle across the cricket and footballing spectrums.

The 25-year-old all-rounder has represented Australia in six Tests, 73 one-day internationals and 81 Twenty20 internationals.

She has been part of Australian teams that have won the World Twenty20, the World Cup and the Ashes, among other tournaments.

Perry has also been capped 18 times for the Matildas, where she plays as a defender, and was part of Australia’s 2011 FIFA World Cup squad.

She has represented Central Coast Mariners, Canberra United and Sydney FC at club level.

Norman Brookes – tennis, VFL

Brookes was the first Australian and the first left-hander to win the men’s singles final at Wimbledon in 1907. He won two other grand slams – the Australian Open in 1911 and Wimbledon again in 1914 – was runner-up at Wimbledon in 1905 and 1919 and was a quarter finalist at the 1919 US Open.

The Victorian was rated the no. 1 tennis player in the world in the early 1900s and was named the first ever president of the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia in 1926.

Prior to his tennis success, Brookes had made a name for himself as a handy Australian footballer. He kicked two goals in two appearances for St Kilda against Carlton and Melbourne in 1898.

Champion tennis player Norman Brookes.Source: News Corp Australia

Anthony Mundine – rugby league, boxing

Mundine had played in a grand final and State of Origin, and seemed primed for a huge rugby league career after amassing 127 first grade games with the Dragons and the Broncos.

Then, incredibly, he quit St George Illawarra midway through the 2000 season to follow in the footsteps of his father, Tony Sr and take up boxing.

Mundine has fought across four countries, held three world titles — the WBA super middleweight (twice) and IBO middleweight belts — and amassed a 47-7-0 record.

He is one of a handful of Australian rugby league players to excel in the ring including Garth Wood, Solomon Haumono, John Hopoate and Paul Gallen.

Jeff Fenech, a world champion in three weight divisions, attempted the opposite switch when he temporarily tried his hand at rugby league with Parramatta.

Anthony Mundine at home with his 4 boxing title belts, League jerseys and sports trophies.Source: News Corp Australia

Dick Thornett – water polo, rugby league, rugby union

Thornett first rose to national prominence when he represented Australia at water polo at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.

Upon returning home, he tried his hand at rugby union alongside brothers John and Ken. His performances at lock for Randwick quickly earned him a call up to the Wallabies, for whom he played 11 Tests.

Thornett then embarked on a ten-year rugby league career, playing for the Eels, Roosters, NSW and Australia as a pioneering ball-playing forward.

He later joined the police force.

Dick Thornett.Source: News Corp Australia

Nova Perris – hockey, athletics

Peris claimed an Olympic gold medal in 1996 with the Australian women’s Hockey team – the first aboriginal Australian to earn the honour.

She also won gold with the Hockeyroos at the 1994 World Cup in Dublin and the Champions Trophy in Amstelveen (1993) and Mar del Plata (1995).

A year after her triumph in Atlanta, Peris quit the sport opting to test her prodigious speed in individual athletics. She was as successful on the track as she’d been on the hockey field and won double gold for Australia at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in the 200m and 4 x 100m relay.

Peris competed in two events at the Sydney Olympics, making the semi-finals of the 400m and finishing fifth in the final of the 4 x 400m relay.

She was elected to the Australian senate in 2013.

Nova Perris (then Nova Perris Kneebone) with the Olympic torch in 2000.Source: News Limited

Herbie Collins – cricket, rugby league

The First World War delayed his international cricket career but, once the guns stopped, Collins made up for lost time.

He was Australia’s 16th Test captain and led the nation in 11 of the 19 Tests he played. His batting average of 45.06 was outstanding in the era of uncovered pitches, but his international career ended in controversy with suggestions Australia threw the fifth and final Test at The Oval under his captaincy.

Prior to his cricketing career, Collins was the starting five-eighth in Eastern Suburbs’ first ever NSWRL premiership (Easts captain-coach Dally Messenger contributed three goals and a field goal to topple Glebe 11-8 in the grand final). Collins also represented Queensland on three occasions.

Collins wasn’t the only Test cricketer to play rugby league at the elite level. Among those was Ray Lindwall, one of the greatest fast bowlers all time who played 31 first grade games for St George. Lindwall played fullback in St George’s losing grand final teams in 1942 and 1946.

Herbie Collins.Source: Supplied

Darren Bennett – AFL, NFL

Although not the first Australian to play in the NFL, Bennett blazed a trail for other AFL players to follow.

After a 78 game career with West Coast and Melbourne, Bennett tried out with the San Diego Chargers and served a brief apprenticeship as a punter with the Amsterdam Admirals in NFL Europe.

He was promptly called into the Chargers squad and went on to become Ausrtalia’s longest serving player in the NFL. He played 11 seasons with the Chargers and Minnesota Vikings, earning two Pro Bowl trips, selection on the NFL’s all-decade 1990s team and recognition in the Chargers Hall of Fame.

Other AFL players including Ben Graham and Sav Rocca would follow him to the NFL.

Darren Bennett warms up during a match with the San Diego Chargers. Picture: Chris Pavlich.Source: News Corp Australia

Bill Lang – boxing, VFA

Lang carved out a solid career with Richmond, winning the VFA premiership in 1905 as a half back.

But he earned his fame in the boxing ring and remains, to this day, one of the only Australians to fight for a heavyweight world title along with “Boshter” Bill Squires, Alex Leapai and Kahli Meehan.

Lang fought Tommy Burns in 1908 and, despite flooring the Canadian great on several occasions, eventually lost the fight in the sixth round.

The Australian heavyweight champion also fought the likes of Jack Johnson and Sam Langford over the course of his 44-fight career.

Another VFL player, Ron Taylor, fought for Australia at the 1960 Rome Olympics in the heavyweight division.

Shane Warne – cricket, poker

This one is sure to ruffle a few feathers.

Warne’s cricket resume requires little explanation – his 708 wickets from 145 Test matches are unequalled in Australian history and earned him a place among Wisden’s five cricketers of the century.

But it is his second coming as a poker player, which might not fit everyone’s definition of ‘sport’, that has generated fewer headlines.

Warne is a regular at the World Series of Poker Main Event and is well known on the circuit.

He collected $23,000 in prizemoney at the prestigious event last year after finishing in the top 600, having knocked out world No. 4 Ole Schemion along the way.

Shane Warne playing in the Aussie Millions poker tournament at Crown Casino.Source: News Corp Australia

Jana Pittman – athletics, bobsleigh

Pittman was a dominant force in the world of track and field, winning the 400m world championship at the Paris and Osaka world championships and collecting four Commonwealth Games gold medals in Melbourne and Manchester.

She was the reigning 400m hurdles world champion in 2007 and apparently destined for Olympic glory at the 2008 Beijing Games, but a ruptured Achilles tendon cost her a shot at gold in China and a planta fascia injury cruelled any hopes of a tilt in London 2012.

Keen to retire from elite sport on her own terms, Pittman changed focus and took her explosive speed and solid frame to the sport of bobsleigh.

Selected to the Australian team for the Sochi Olympics in 2014, Pittman and her driver Astrid Radjenovic finished a credible 14th.

Jana Pittman.Source: News Corp Australia

Dean Brogan – basketball, AFL

Brogan was a top level basketballer within Australia who played for the Adelaide 36ers and the Newcastle Falcons.

He won an NBL title with the 36ers in 1998, but quit after the 1998-99 season to pursue his AFL dream.

He was picked up by Port Adelaide for the 2001 season and went on to play 193 AFL games as a ruckman for the Power and Giants.

Hugh Greenwood, a college basketball star in the US, is attempting to make a similar transition after walking out on the Perth Wildcats last August. He has recently trained with the Adelaide Crows.

Dean Brogan shakes hands with fans at the end of his last football game with Port Adelaide.Source: News Limited

Keith Miller – cricket, VFL

Fighter pilot, cricket, footballer, raconteur.

Miller remains one of the most celebrated sporting celebrities in Australian history and will forever be remembered for his comparison between war and sport: “Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse, playing cricket is not.”

The Victorian all-rounder was a member of The Invincibles and scored 2,958 runs and claimed 170 wickets in 55 Tests.

He also proved a dab hand at other sports. An aspiring jockey, Miller shelved his plans for a life in horse racing after a growth spurt and instead turned his talents to Australian rules football.

After starting his career with Brighton, and alternating between full forward and full back, Miller eventually played 55 games and kicked 42 goals for St Kilda.

Miller heads a list of athletes who played at the elite level of cricket and Australian rules football, including Simon O’Donnell, Max Walker and Jamie Siddons.

Legendary all-rounder Keith Miller in action during a Test match for Australia.Source: News Corp Australia

Israel Folau – rugby league, AFL, rugby union

The AFL struck a mighty blow against rugby league in 2010 when it recruited one of the NRL’s brightest stars to its fledgling Greater Western Sydney franchise.

Folau kicked two goals in the seniors — a fair feat given he had never played the game as a junior — before announcing he would start a new venture in rugby union.

Folau has been a revelation for both the Waratahs and Wallabies and last year became the first player to win back-to-back John Eales medals.

Karmichael Hunt is another to have played across league, AFL and rugby. His AFL career trumped that of Folau, however the latter has made the bigger impression in rugby.

Israel Folau of the Waratahs.Source: Getty Images

Colin Ridgway – athletics, VFL, NFL

Ridgway was a talented high jumper who competed at the Melbourne Olympic Games and the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff two years later.

He also was on the books at Carlton, playing reserves for the Blues in the 1960s.

A track and field scholarship took him to a US university, where Dallas Cowboys scouts spotted him and offered him a contract. His three games as a punter in 1965 were the first for an Australian in the NFL.

He was murdered in Texas in 1993. The case remains open.

Colin Ridgway played for the Dallas Cowboys.Source: News Corp Australia

Brad Thorn – rugby league, rugby union

Forty six Australians have earned the distinction of being dual internationals for the Kangaroos and the Wallabies.

But only one has represented the Kangaroos and the All Blacks – and his trophy cabinet is the envy of them all.

Thorn finally hung up the boots last year after a career that spanned 460 professional games, 21 seasons and 17 major trophies across two codes.

He won three NRL (1998, 2000, 2006), one Super League (1997) and one World Club Championship (1997) titles in two separate stints with the Broncos. He represented Brisbane on 200 occasions and was named in the team’s top 20 players as part of their 20th anniversary celebrations.

Thorn won two State of Origin titles with Queensland (1998, 1999) across 14 games and played eight Tests for the Kangaroos.

But his achievements in the 15-man code are even more impressive.

Thorn won a Super 14 title (2008) with the Crusaders and a Heineken Cup (2012) with Leinster. He lifted the Rugby World Cup in 2011, the Bledisloe Cup on five occasions (2003, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011) and the Tri-Nations three times (2003, 2008, 2010).

His rugby career spanned 123 NPC and Super Rugby games with Canterbury, 16 Super Rugby games with the Highlanders, 16 games with the Sanix Blues in Japan, eight Heineken Cup games for Leinster and 59 Tests for the All Blacks.

Brad Thorn celebrates after winning the 2011 Rugby World Cup with the All Blacks.Source: AFP

Brian Booth – cricket, hockey

Most remember Booth for his 29-Test career, which included two matches filling in as captain for the injured Bob Simpson, between 1961 and 1966.

But the stylish batsman had another sporting life – as an Olympic hockey player.

Booth represented Australia at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, although his presence on the squad was at one stage in jeopardy after claims he had been paid expenses while on duty with the NSW cricket team (which would have forfeited his amateur status).

He later devoted all his athletic energies to cricket, where he scored 1,773 runs at 42.21 in the Australian middle order.

Booth is one of a number of Australians, including Ric Charlesworth, to have excelled at both cricket and hockey.

Brian Booth scampers home for a run during a Test match against South Africa.Source: News Corp Australia

Paul Narracott – athletics, bobsleigh

Narracott was the first Australian male athlete to compete at a summer and Winter Olympics.

A seven-time national champion in the 100m, Narracott finished seventh at the 1983 world championships in Helsinki and 31st at the Los Angeles Olympics the following year.

He had the distinction of beating the great Carl Lewis over 60m at an indoor meet in Osaka in 1984.

After injuries hampered his athletics career, Narracott took up bobsleigh. He represented Australia at the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics where he finished 30th in the two-man event along with Glenn Turner.

Paul Narracott (R) used his athletic talents in multiple ways.Source: News Corp Australia

Victor Richardson – cricket, baseball, SANFL, golf, tennis

Richardson is best known for his 19 Test career and the cricketing dynasty he helped create (he was grandfather to Greg, Ian and Trevor Chappell).

But he excelled in many other sports, representing Australia and South Australia at baseball and jointly winning the Magarey Medal as the SANFL’s best player with Dan Moriarty during a stint as captain/coach of Sturt in 1920.

He was also gifted at golf and tennis, in which he represented South Australia, as well as gymnastics and lacrosse.

Richardson wasn’t the only multi-sport athlete playing cricket for Australia at the time. One Donald George Bradman won the South Australian squash open by beating Don Turnbull, then a Davis Cup star, in the final.

Australian test cricketers Stan McCabe (left) and Victor Richardson.Source: News Limited

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