Legendary Rugby League photographer Col Whelan has called it a day on his official involvement with the NRL after 34 years, capping off his career by shooting a Rabbitohs premiership.
Mr Whelan, who began shooting the NSWRL competition in the 1980s, has become a legend of the sport, capturing some of the game’s greatest moments over the past three-and-a-half decades, most recently the Rabbitohs’ 21st premiership victory.
Col has been the Rabbitohs’ official action photographer for over three decades, taking iconic photos of some of the biggest names the Club has seen, with his work proudly displayed to the Club’s Members and fans via media such as the official Club website, www.rabbitohs.com.au, and the Members’ Red and Green Magazine, to name just two.
Mr Whelan is a proud Rabbitohs Member, having attended Sydney High School and working out of his offices in Kensington, both in the South Sydney district.
You may have noticed him on the sidelines at Rabbitohs games this year, proudly wearing his Rabbitohs Members cap, despite other Clubs showing their displeasure at his perceived bias towards the men in cardinal and myrtle.
It was also rumoured that he actually photographed the Bulldogs’ Grand Final week team photo on behalf of the NRL, proudly wearing his red and green cap.
He has Rabbitohs stickers on his work laptops, his car, his camera gear, and his beloved motorcycle.
He is constantly contacting the Club about Rabbitohs Members and fans he meets all over the country as he rides his motorbike through unmarked territories between match day assignments.
Over the years he has taken shots of the Rabbitohs in Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra, Townsville, the Gold Coast, Melbourne, Newcastle, Wollongong, Auckland, Adelaide, Gosford, Cairns and Perth, and he intends to be at Langtree Park in the United Kingdom in February to shoot South Sydney’s first attempt to become the World Club Champions when the mighty Rabbitohs take on Europe’s best club side, St Helens, in the World Club Challenge.
Col has always said he wanted to shoot the Club’s first colour premiership-winning team photo, and like a fairytale, he got that opportunity in his final week with the NRL.
He was in the Rabbitohs dressing rooms after the game with one of his team mates, Action Photographics’ Grant Trouville, to record the celebrations, and at one stage he managed to take a step back and enjoy the moment with a beer in his hand and a tear in his eye.
There are too many stories about Col to regale in this article, from temporarily losing the premiership trophy on one of his Grand Final week photographic assignments in transit to Melbourne, to taking his pet goat to training sessions, to leaving behind a very expensive camera lens on the turf at Redfern Oval and remarkably it was still in one piece the next day, to wearing flippers on the sideline to shoot a particularly wet game, to his novel ways of getting players’ attention and putting a smile on their face during difficult photo shoots. Here’s hoping he one day releases a book on his adventures, one that chronicles in both words and photos his journey with Rugby League through the lenses of his cameras.
On behalf of everyone connected to the Rabbitohs we thank Col Whelan for his many seasons of service to the Rabbitohs and to the sport of Rugby League over the years, and we look forward to looking back and enjoying his body of work for many years to come.