Vale Bryan Kassulke

The Queensland Rugby community is mourning the death of Bryan Kassulke, the former Queensland fullback who left an indelible mark on three Brisbane clubs. 

The highly-regarded Kassulke passed away at 90 on Monday. He won the 1954 premiership with the University of Queensland, was the inaugural captain of Wests when they became an A grade club in 1955 and guided Easts as Club President from 1985-91. 

Queensland representative #650 was marked as a talent for higher honours from his earliest days in rugby. He played five seasons in the First XV at Marist College Ashgrove, a record unmatched in school rugby across Australia. He was kicking goals from his own side of halfway before he left school. 

He had arrived as a starry-eyed boarder while his family ran the Railway Hotel in Beaudesert. 

He played in Wests’ first season of 1951 while just 18 and still at the club’s main feeder school, Marist College Ashgrove. The club fielded only a third grade side and Kassulke was prominent in the club’s premiership that year. 

Bryan Kassulke during his days as a First XV player at Marist College Ashgrove.

With no first grade side to play for at Wests, University became a natural fit when he began studies. He did make a promise to Brother Cyprian, his old headmaster at Marist College Ashgrove, his schoolboy coach at times and also one of the founding fathers of Wests. 

“Cyp was my mentor and guiding light and I told him ‘when Wests get to first grade’ I’ll come back to play,” Kassulke said in the book, Bulldog! Bulldog! 70 Years of Wests Rugby. 

Kassulke kept his word even though it meant leaving Uni’s 1954 premiership side. 

“I’d made a promise to Cyp and I kept it at a time when that meant something,” Kassulke said. “I walked out on a premiership side to play with a club starting from scratch. Who’d do that today?” 

Kassulke gave Wests immediate credibility for their A grade launch in 1955 because he was already a Queensland player, having started his eight-game run for the state in 1953. He shared in a win over NSW in 1954 when such victories were rare and played against the fine Fijian touring side that same season.  For Queensland, he scored 40 points with a try and 37 points from his boot.  

A tight 15-14 upset of University at St Lucia in August, 1956 was Wests’ grandest victory to that point. 

“We scored close to full-time and I had the conversion, as goalkicker, to win it,” Kassulke said. “I didn’t think it went through but the flag (from a Wests’ official acting as touch judge) went up. We got away from there pretty quickly that afternoon.”  

Kassulke was noted for a good turn of pace, more size than some of his forwards, his prodigious kicking boot and his excellent tackling. 

He enjoyed his role in the birth of Wests: “There was always spirit and camaraderie at Wests but always penny-pinching as well, out of necessity, during those humble beginnings.” 

Living at Cannon Hill was the springboard to a long involvement at Easts where he was a long-time juniors and Under-19s coach. He was a valued leader which is what he gave Easts as Club President during a period of regular appearances in the semi-finals between 1985-91 and the 1989 Winfield State Challenge success. 

Kassulke was at the helm when Easts made one of the most audacious coaching appointments in club history—luring renowned former French international Michel Celaya to coach first grade for the 1989 season. 

Brian Kassulke (right), as Easts Club President, paying his 11-carton bet to Tigers captain Richard Kinsey at Bottomley Park.

Celaya could not speak English and instructions at training weren’t always perfect because the club “translator” was a Scotsman with a thick accent of his own. 

“Dad pinned his 1954 University premiership pennant behind the bar at Easts with the challenge that it would stay until the Tigers won one for themselves. It wasn’t a popular move with everyone but it was another way for him to play a big part in turning Easts from a club happy to be competitive into one that saw themselves as title threats,” son Matthew Kassulke said.

There’s a famous photo from the old Daily Sun newspaper that periodically appears on Easts’ social media with 1989 Easts captain Richard Kinsey and Kassulke pictured beside 11 cartons of XXXX up on the scoreboard at Bottomley Park. 

The scoreline reads 59-18. President Kassulke had shrewdly put the first grade side on an incentive…a carton of beer for every point over a 30-point margin against Sunnybank. The Tigers celebrated with 11 cartons. 

Kassulke is survived by wife Morna and his five children Matthew, Justin, David, Morna and Helen.

Funeral details are yet to be announced.