71 years young: Dennis Bree on a life in rugby and the 1000-game milestone

Mon, Feb 6, 2023, 10:00 PM
NT Rugby
by NT Rugby
At 71 years young, Dennis Bree has no plans to retire his NT Rugby playing career. Picture: Lachlan Grey
At 71 years young, Dennis Bree has no plans to retire his NT Rugby playing career. Picture: Lachlan Grey

Head down to Darwin’s Rugby Park on a Saturday afternoon and you’ll likely run into Dennis Bree.

He’s easy to spot on and off the field; well-built, shiny dome, packs down in the front row and doesn’t shy away from a tackle.

You’ll often see him play 30 minutes in B-Grade before riding the A-Grade bench for his beloved Palmerston Crocs.

He’s also turning 72 this year and, if the rumours are to be believed, has played over 1000 games.

“The trick is to never give it up,” Dennis said.

Dennis Bree Tackle - NT Rugby

“I’ve never missed a season – sure I’ve been out injured and I’ve been away for work – but I always make sure I try and get back to play at least one game.”

“You only do things for that amount of time if you really enjoy it and I’ve got a lot out of rugby.”

When asked how many time he's tied the laces up, Dennis just laughed.

“Well, I was on the first committee of the NTRU (Northern Territory Rugby Union) back in 1976 and I’ve been playing with Palmy since then.”

“The club’s tried to work it out a couple of times and they reckon it’s 1000 but I think that’s them rounding up to try and hit it before our club’s 50th anniversary.

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“I’d say definitely over 800, maybe 900, but I’m still not the oldest player – we asked Rugby Australia last year and I was only ninth on the list.”

Unsurprisingly, Dennis has been a stalwart rugby in the Territory with the Darwin A-Grade premiership shield named in his honour.

Dennis was NTRU President from 1992 to 2001, served on the then-Australian Rugby Union board from 2001 to 2005, took the role of Palmerston President on two occasions spanning five years in total, and was heavily involved in establishing Darwin's Hottest 7s tournament and rugby competitions across Katherine and Alice Springs.

“My brothers Bernie and Noel also served as Palmerston president, my son Daniel was NTRU president for five years, and my other brother Patrick coached the Mozzies and at NT Institute of Sport,” he said.

“One time, we managed to get all four brothers, my son and my nephew Jeremy on the field at once in C-Grade back in 1999.”

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With almost five decades as a player and administrator to reflect on, it’s no surprise Dennis knows everyone around the grounds – (“I played against him and his dad!”) – and finds it hard to pin down a career highlight

“I’ve been to lots of grand finals but one really interesting period was when I’d just come aboard as president the day after our NT team beat Scotland.”

“We talked them into coming along and then when we beat them, well I’d thought it’d all be downhill from there.

“But I was lucky enough to serve during a pretty great time for Territory and Australian rugby - we were winning lots of games and had Wallabies and plenty of administrators coming up.

“It’d be great to have more players visiting Darwin and the NT these days but it’s hard being an outpost and I know they’re doing their best.”

Dennis Bree w grandson Hamish - NT Rugby

Looking ahead, Dennis remains optimistic about the state of the game – and his place in it.

“I feel we have to keep our base strong and continue investing in community rugby,” he said.

“Just looking around here, we’ve got five full fields and I’m able to watch my grandson play which is amazing, but I’m also conscious we need to have really clear pathways for our kids to stay in rugby

“Kids up here grow up playing sport all year around so I’d love to see more support for rugby so it can become a mass sport and rival other codes in the Territory.

“And I’ve got a pact with my grandson that I’ll keep going until he plays seniors so I can have a game with him - maybe we can even get his dad out of retirement.”