Ed Chaney (left) and Mick Kenny, both former players with trophies named after them.
Ed Chaney and Mick Kenny were leading players who both played for up-and-coming club Johnsonville and for Wellington representative teams in the 1920s and 1930s.
Kenny’s story is one of perseverance and commitment of the highest order, as he was severely injured in World War Two but recovered and returned to continue his career into the late 1940s, now at the Wellington Football Club.
Both have trophies named after them. Johnsonville and the Wellington Axemen contest the Mick Kenny Memorial Cup annually, whilst the second round Premier Reserve competition is the Ed Chaney Cup.
The latter is fitting as Chaney’s Johnsonville was one of a new wave of clubs that grew with the Senior B Championship that was first contested in 1926. Some of these clubs, such as Johnsonville and Upper Hutt had gone into recess during the first world war and were springing back, others like 1930-31 winners St Pat’s Old Boys were growing fast.
With fewer teams contesting the Senior A Championship (10) and promotion-relegation in play at the end of each season – and with some high-profile relegations most years (i.e., Wellington, Hutt, University, Eastbourne, Oriental) the Senior B Championship was hotly contested.
There was a change to the competition structure in 1933 whereby the WRFU Senior competition was split into two divisions of eight teams each for the first half of the season. Then at the halfway point of the season the leading two second division clubs were promoted to first division for the remainder of the year and their points transferred to the to the new table. At the same time, the top four teams from the Senor B division were promoted to the second division, thus increasing the top two grades to 10 teams each for the second half of the season. This caused quite a bit of movement and gave the promoted teams a chance to swim with the bigger teams or sink down to the level they started the season at.
Henry Edward ‘Eddy’ Cornwall Chaney was a Johnsonville club legend. Starting in 1922, he played 16 consecutive seasons for the club. He played 15 games and scored five tries for the Wellington A representative team between 1926-29. He was an executive committee member between 1929-61 and was a club coach between 1935-45. He was made a life member of his club in 1950.
Chaney was an outside back. He was described as being fast on his feet and with an astute rugby brain and possessing the skills to slip through a tackle and fool the opposition with regularity.
Johnsonville’s 2000 history book Rugby in the Hills described Chaney as being ‘particularly dangerous from behind the scrum when within striking distance of the line.’ His career club rugby try tally is given as 122, and he scored 10 or more tries in a season six times, including 15 tries in each of the 1927 and 1928 seasons.
With Chaney one of their leading players, Johnsonville won the Senior B Championship in 1928. This gained them automatic promotion to contest the inaugural Jubilee Cup in 1929, but they declined and stayed in the second tier. In 1930 they were second in this grade to a rampant Wellington Axemen side containing five current or future All Blacks and who scored 488 points for and had 17 against. Johnsonville were fourth in 1932, prior to the change to the competition structure in 1933 (see above).
By the late 1930s, Johnsonville was playing in the Senior Championship and competing hard. It was the twilight of Chaney’s playing career, but Mick Kenny’s was getting going.
Henry ‘Mick’ William Kenny was born in 1917 and attended Johnsonville School. He had two rugby playing brothers, Alymer and Mervyn.
Oldest brother Alymer was a prop/No. 8 who played for both Johnsonville and Upper and played 29 games for the Wellington A representative side between 1932-41 and was Wellington captain in 1940. He played for New Zealand Maori in 1938 and gained a New Zealand trial in 1939. He served in the Māori Battalion in World War Two, returning home to keep playing rugby up to the end of the 1940s.
Second oldest Mervyn was a wing/fullback and played several seasons at Johnsonville alongside his brothers and also played rugby league for a time. He was a renowned goal-kicker. His grandson was Dean Kenny, who was an All Black in 1986.
Mick came into prominence as a 20-year-old in 1937 when he was named as one of Five Promising Players in that Year’s New Zealand Rugby Almanack.
Mick started as a halfback, then moved to first-five then fullback. He was a member of the Johnsonville team that graduated from winning the Eighth Grade in 1930, the Seventh Grade in 1931 and the Sixth Grade in 1932 and then was in the team that won the Third Grade in 1935.
He was in the Wellington representative Juniors in 1936 – the equivalent today being the Wellington U19s. He broke into the Wellington representative team in 1937 and again in 1940. Kenny’s career was in the ascendancy. Then along came World War Two.
Whilst deployed overseas, he played rugby for the 2nd NZEF in Egypt between 1941-43 and was in line to play for the Kiwis team but was severely wounded at the Lamone River in Italy in December 1944, which prevented him from taking part in the trials.
He was raked with seven bullets in his stomach and his post-war rugby was played with two German bullets lodged close to his spine, which remained there for the rest of his life.
Back in Wellington, Kenny was back playing rugby in 1946, having switched to the Wellington Football Club.
With a cool head under pressure, a strong defensive game and a deadly boot, Kenny was part of Wellington A squads between 1946-48, making another seven appearances.
He also played 19 games for New Zealand Māori in 1948-49, on their respective tours of Fiji and Australia.
He played the last of his representative matches for the Centurions club in 1950. His first-class record was 34 games played and 135 points scored, all from his boot.
Kenny was also involved in having the Harper Lock Shield donated to the WRFU, to be made part of competitions in 1951. The Harper Lock Shield was made by two armourers with the 2nd NZEF in 1941, James Harper and Henry Lock, and was played for during the war between 22nd Battalion and the Māori Battalion. It is now the first round Premier Reserve trophy.
New Zealand Rugby Journalist Sir Terry McLean wrote of Kenny: …” if Mick Kenny had been allowed to play through his career without physical impairment, he might have turned out good enough to challenge Nepia as El Supremo among Māori fullbacks.
There was also a fourth rugby playing Kenny brother, Brian, but injury curtailed his career. The brothers were all handy club cricketers as well.
Mick Kenny was awarded a Queen’s Service Medal in 1996 for public service. He died in Wellington in 1901, aged 84.
- Akers, Clive. New Zealand Rugby Register 1870-2015. New Zealand Rugby Museum, 2016
- Dominion Newspaper – various reports – 1920s/1930s.
- Swan, Arthur C.; Jackson, Gordon F. W. (1952). Wellington’s Rugby History 1870 – 1950. Wellington, New Zealand: A. H. & A. W. Reed
- New Zealand Rugby Almanack 1938
- Mulholland, Malcolm. Beneath the Māori Moon. An illustrated history of Māori Rugby. Huia Publishers, Wellington 2009.
- Quinn, Keith. Give ‘Em The Axe! 150 Years of the Wellington Football Club. Wakefields Digital, Wellington, 1920.