Cootamundra Herald 22 March 1949 reported that:
The Gundagai Rugby League has secured the services of Kangaroo forward, Neville [should read Nevyl] Hand, as coach for the 1949 season. Hand, who is 26 years of age, is 6ft. 1 in, and weighs over 15 stone. He was one of the outstanding forwards of the Kangaroos, which last month returned home, from the tour of England and France. It is expected that Hand will arrive in Gundagai at the weekend.
Gundagai 1951. Nevyl Hand with the Maher Cup. Back Row L-R: Jack Lindley, Norm Bounader, Owie Hourn, Len Koch, Noel Goodsall, Harry Gibbs, George ‘Foo’ Ballard, Ron Bower, Des Field, Jim Sullivan, Bill Edwards. Front Row L-R: Trevor Lawson, Kevin Warden, Nevyl Hand, John Ryan, Bill Gardiner, John Biscaya, Harold Etherington
Nevyl Reginald Hand was born 2 March 1923 in Sydney. He commenced working life as a butcher, but joined the army aged 19. He served at Tarakan in Borneo in 1945. Demobbed in 1946 his family lived at Lane Cove and he played Rugby League for North Sydney. In 1947 he married Joan Draper.
He was a devastating young forward, representing Australia in England and France with the Kangaroos in 1949, before heading to Gundagai in the same year as captain-coach. He was initially unsuccessful at Gundagai, with Bill Edwards of Harden being brought in as the principal coach in 1950. Although Nevyl starred in the firsts he coached the reserves. That year he established a milk run with his brother Jimmy. In those days the milko would ladle the liquid into your containers.
In 1951 he was re-appointed coach of the firsts and then the victories started. The Gundagai Tigers under Nevyl Hand won 23 consecutive Maher Cup matches from 11 August 1951 and 6 September 1952 – a then record.
This was arguably the greatest Maher Cup team ever. At full strength the team included: Len Koch at fullback Paul Butz and Bill Gardner on the wings Jack Plater and Wally Towers in the centre Brian Longhurst at five-eighth Johnny Ryan half-back Forwards, Ron Battye, Noel Goodsall, Owie Hourn, Des Field, Harry Gibbs and Nevyl Hand. (Reference: Gundagai Independent 25/2/1971).
In 1951 he lead a Riverina team to a 20-10 victory over Puig Aubert’s French team at Albury. At least two of Nevyl’s brothers, Jim and Roy, were also accomplished rugby league players.
After surprisingly losing the last Maher Cup match of 1952 to Grenfell, it wasn’t until 16 May 1953 that Gundagai had an opportunity to challenge again. They went to Young and trounced the Cherrypickers 29-8 in front of the largest Maher Cup crowd of all time.
A serious groin injury put him out of the game in 1954. However he returned to coach Gundagai in 1958.
A report in the Cootamundra Herald on 23 Oct 1953 states:
Glowing, sincere and well merited tributes were paid to Gundagai’s football captain and coach Nevyl Hand at the footballers’ banquet held last Monday evening, and among other things stated – Mr. P. J Sullivan said that without fear or contradiction, he could say that Nevyl Hand was the best and greatest football coach to come to the bush in southern NSW.
Nevyl remained living in Gundagai when his playing and coaching years were done, moving to Cootamundra in 1971. He was active in rugby league administration and was a top notch, fair and charismatic referee.
Arthur Summons was unkind in this story related by ‘Scoop’ Sullivan:
When the Maher Cup era was coming to its end, Wagga Magpies challenged Gundagai for the cup. Pies were led by former Australian captain Arthur Summons and they were odds on favourites. I met Arthur at Gundagai races one day and said it was rare indeed to see him in my lovely home town. “I haven’t come back here since we challenged for the Maher Cup. I vowed never to return,” said Arthur. “If ever we knew where we were at the kickoff it was that day. “Nevyl Hand was refereeing and David Hand was playing prop for Gundagai. We kicked off, David Hand moved inside the ten yard mark and took the ball. “I was waiting for the whistle to blow, but Nevyl yelled out “Go son!”
As the caption on the picture below says “his personality, his exuberance and his charisma have endeared him to everyone who knows him”.
Below is a relatively recent picture of Nevyl with long time friend, Australian representative and Maher Cup champion Fred de Belin. Thanks to the Cootamundra Herald for permission to publish.
Nevyl Hand passed away at Cootamundra on 11 April 2014.