Born at Howard on 22nd August 1909, but educated in Toowoomba, a thriving agricultural centre on Queensland’s Darling Downs, Eric Harris captained his Technical College teams in 1924 and 1925, prior to being groomed for the Toowoomba Seniors by Duncan Thompson, Australia’s renowned half-back in the early Twenties.
And so to 1927, a year of special significance, for then it was that Eric switched to Brisbane to show his paces as a centre with Western Suburbs, under the captaincy of none other than Jeff Moores. Brief though the association was, Jeff leaving to join Leeds in that same year, the sequel was sheer storybook, for by the time he returned to Australia three years later in quest of a right-wing partner, Eric had represented Queensland for a couple of seasons, but had missed out on the 1929 Tour, and was on the point of accepting an offer from Rochdale Hornets. ‘Rochdale? Rochdale? Headingley’s the place for you!’ Jeff rarely, if ever, missed his man, so master and protégé were soon on the high seas.
Expectations were high; fulfilment sublime. Scoring a brace of gift tries to mark his debut against Featherstone Rovers, and weaned week by week on his mentor’s self-sacrificial split-second passing, the raw 21-year-old blossomed into maturity so rapidly that by Christmas Day, after only seventeen matches, none of which had been lost, he had already broken the Club record of thirty tries in a season, established by Harold Buck in 1922-23.
He finished in April with an astonishing tally of 58. Five months later, and just a matter of days before settling in Grange Hostel for a two-year course at Beckett Park Training College, he shattered Bradford Northern, too, by running in eight tries at Headingley to equal Fred Webster’s feat against Coventry in 1913. Thereafter, his growing reputation merited special attention, with a hostile reception committee waiting here and a posse of panting desperadoes there; yet with his minder, Jeff, in constant attendance, Eric was left unscathed to cultivate his own inimitable refinements of style: a lissom body swerve, and the subtle change of pace that was to yield two fabulous tries in the 1932 Challenge Cup campaign. The first came against Halifax in the Semi-Final replay … and now Harris was in the clear, apart from Dick Davies, who was guarding the touchline route. What, against apparitions? An imperceptible feathering of the accelerator … a mistimed dive … and the full-back was still gibbering in haunted disbelief as the Toowoomba ghost glided to the corner, to round off a try of dazzling unforgettable splendour. The second, a carbon copy of the first, was as fine a matchwinner as one could wish to see, Harris slipping wraith-like through the bemused Scott’s clutches, to put paid to Swinton in that epic Final at Central Park.
58 in his first season; 42 in the second; 55 in the third! No wonder there were fervent pleas for the try-scoring phenomenon to renew his contract before he left for home in June 1933. What rejoicings there were when he was back in the autumn, to reopen his account with a try against Huddersfield at Fartown and eventually take up a teaching appointment at Whitehall Road School. Even so, with Jeff Moores transferred to York, and the Loiners’ back division in a state of flux, he languished for a time for want of a settled partner. Came February 1935, however, came his namesake Fred, from Leigh, to strike up an instant rapport and kindle anew the spark of inspiration.
A duo in close harmony, the scissors movement of their 1935-36 enigma variations sent the blissful Leeds supporters into raptures of delight as time and again distracted defenders dithered in discordant despair. Touching down on 63 occasions, yet such a kindly man withal, Eric was the main beneficiary, scoring against Warrington in the Wembley Final, and at one stage in a record-breaking sequence of 17 consecutive matches The saga of success was, it seemed, unending: 40 tries, to set alongside a Carnegie Physical Education Diploma, in 1936-37; 43 more, and an appointment as P .E. Organiser for Wakefield and Barnsley, during 1937-38.
Nor had Eric any cause to contemplate retirement when he paused in April ’39 to reflect on a marvellous career, two R.L. Challenge Cup Finals, five Yorkshire Cup Finals, and never on the losing side, five Yorkshire Championship medals, 391 tries, and some of them extra-special. Central Park against Swinton in 1932, Swinton again, in the Championship Semi-Final in 1938 391! 400 plus, with luck, by this time next year! Alas, Hitler blew for time, the try Eric scored against Bramley on 2nd September 1939 being the last in the jersey he had worn with such modest dignity and spellbinding skill.
Returning to Australia, out of concern for the safety of his wife and young family, he was promptly appointed State Director of National Fitness for Queensland, with additional responsibility as Officer in Charge of P .E. for the Air Training Corps. As for rugby, apart from the odd game with Queensland in 1940, Eric continued to serve the game he adorned in various capacities: Secretary of Junior R.L. in Brisbane, 1950-62; Coach to the Brisbane team for three seasons, and to Queensland for one; initiator of a Coaching Scheme for the Brisbane area; and a member of the State Development Coaching Panel.
Now resident in Ashgrove, and a supporter of the local Panthers, Eric invariably refers to Headingley as his second home. And rightly so, for he is one of her favourite sons! A ghost? Like countless thousands more, I saw and believed. Rochdale? Leeds! What, I wonder, would the Headingley management give today to have on their books the 21-year-old from Toowoomba.