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Pioneers of Rugby in Wellington 068: The Nicholls Brothers

The three All Blacks Nicholls brothers, from left Ginger, Mark and Doc.

The fabric of rugby in Wellington is woven tightly together with family connections.

Perhaps the most famous of all is the Nicholls family.

Father Sid is recognised as being the founder of the Poneke club in 1882 and later an early leader of the Petone club, founded in 1885. More on him at the bottom of this article.

All three of Sid’s sons, Mark, HE ‘Ginger’ and HG ‘Doc’ were Petone All Blacks in the 1920s. Another brother, Guy, was a North Auckland rugby representative, another Geoff played Senior A rugby for Petone. If that’s not all, their sister, Dulcie, won numerous New Zealand tennis titles between 1930 and 1937. Mark’s son, Mark, also played rugby for Petone and represented Wellington in 1950.

First or second five-eighth Mark Nicholls was the most accomplished of the three All Black representative bothers. He was a leading All Black and played 51 matches and 10 Tests spanning 1921-30. Mark even later wrote a book documenting the All Blacks’ 1928 tour to South Africa, which he was on and vice-captain.

Mark was also the youngest of the three, born in Greytown on 13 July 1901. He attended Petone West and Petone High Schools and Wellington College and was in the First XV 1917-19.

He made his Wellington debut in his first year out of school and quickly found his feet at provincial level. He appeared in all three tests against the 1921 Springboks (playing with brother Ginger in the first) and then led the points scoring with 34 on the 1922 tour of New South Wales. He briefly moved to Auckland, before returning to Wellington and went on the 1924/25 Invincibles tour and was the leading scorer with 103. Again, played for the All Blacks in 1925 and 1926.

Petone welcomes Mark Nicholls home. Evening Post 20 March 1925.

Mark went to South Africa in 1928 as vice-captain but was ‘controversially’ left out of the first three tests and then played perhaps his most famous match in the fourth test in New Zealand’s 13-5 win. His international career finished in 1930 against the touring British team.

He retired in 1931 but immediately took up coaching, first at his Petone team and then for the Wellington representative team and was a selector for Wellington 1934-38, for New Zealand in 1936-37 and later for the North Island team in 1948. He remained involved in the game as a deep thinker and influential former player throughout his life. Any discussion of naming a ‘Greatest ever Wellington XV’ has him name in the mix.

Mark played 124 first-class games, including 58 for Wellington and 51 for New Zealand, scoring 617 first-class points.

Harry Edgar ‘Ginger’ Nicholls was the middle brother, born on 21 January 1900, and was a diminutive 5 foot 5, 59 kg halfback when he played for the All Blacks against the Springboks in 1921, alongside Mark.

Ginger had a big heart that made up for his lack of size. He too made his debut for Wellington as a teenager, in 1917, and played top rugby for Petone for several straight years into his mid 20s. He was also involved in a famous rivalry with Oriental’s Fred Roberts. Roberts had been Wellington’s first choice halfback in 1919 and Ginger Nicholls played there throughout most of the 1920 matches, with Roberts at pivot.

Ginger had a blinder in the first Test in Dunedin in 1921 and was Player of the Match in the 13-8 win. Curiously, he was then dropped for the second and third Tests, replaced by Roberts who also captained the team in the 0-0 drawn third Test in Wellington. This was Ginger’s only Test, although he toured Australia the following year in 1922 and captained an All Black side against NSW in Wellington in 1923.

Mark Nicholls (circled in red) and Ginger (blue) in the All Blacks together that played the Springboks in 1921. The series was tied 1-1.

 Ginger played 51 first-class games, also appearing in North Island and All Black trial teams.

Ginger also travelled with the 1924/25 ‘Invincibles’ team, of which brother Mark was a member of, as a correspondent of the Free Lance. He was also involved in horse racing and was President of the Wellington Trotting Club in 1963.

Harold Garwood ‘Doc’ Nicholls was the oldest of the three All Black brothers, born on 19 November 1897. He had been a Wellington representative as far back as 1915, had transferred to rugby league in 1919 but been reinstated in 1922 and played his sole All Black match (against the touring NSW side) in 1923, scoring a try.

Like his middle younger brother Ginger, Doc was a halfback. He later moved to the midfield. He played 12 first-class matches in his career.

He had also served in the New Zealand Rifle Brigade in 1916-17 in WW1 and was wounded and invalided home.

Fullback Geoff had been part of a Petone 5th grade side in 1921 that had scored 503 points and conceded 6 all season with Geoff scoring over 200 points himself. A fifth brother, Guy, moved north for work and represented North Auckland as a midfielder in five matches in 1929-30.

All four of the Nicholls brothers took the field for Petone in 1923, with the Senior A team winning the Championship in the midst of a several-season rivalry with Poneke post the end of the first world war. Petone and Poneke duked it out in these seasons and played some famous games against each other.

As well as being a newspaperman, Ginger Nicholls was an employee of the Wellington City Council Transport Department. He died on 1 April 1978, aged 78.

Mark Nicholls was also a railwayman in his formative years, later becoming a publican. He perished on 10 June 1972, aged 71.

Doc Nicholls died in Whakatane on 10 August 1977, aged 79.


  • Akers, Clive. New Zealand Rugby Register 1870-2015. New Zealand Rugby Museum, 2016.
  • All Blacks A-Z profiles of the three All Blacks Nicholls brothers.
  • Dominion and Evening Post newspapers – general reports 1920s.
  • Arthur Swan and Gordon Jackson. Wellington’s Rugby History 1870-1950. A.H and H.W Reed for the WRFU, 1952.
  • Griffin, Don and Gallagher, Peter. True Blue. The first 100 years of the Petone Rugby Football Club Incorporated 1885-1985. Apex Print, Petone, 1985. .
  • The Visitors – The History of International Rugby Teams in New Zealand by Rod Chester, Neville McMillan. MOA Publications, Auckland, 1990
    The Encyclopedia of New Zealand Rugby By Ron Palenski, Rod Chester, Neville McMillan. Hodder Moa Beckett, Auckland 1998
  • Men in Black By Ron Palenski, Rod Chester, Neville McMillan. Hodder Moa; 7th edition, Auckland 2006
  • Headline photo credits: Mark Nicholls. Crown Studios Ltd :Negatives and prints. Ref: 1/2-204802-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22901968 / H.E. Nicholls. Crown Studios Ltd :Negatives and prints. Ref: 1/2-204709-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23210133

Pioneers of rugby in Wellington: 004 Sid Nicholls

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