Games That Changed The Game No.4
People often tell me that things were simpler in the old days. Less red tape. We just got on with it lad. Hmmm but not aways. In Maher Cup Country, when footballing matters mattered things could get quite bogged down. People could be a little pernickety.
In deep Depression days, in 1932, Temora paid for a new captain coach – twenty-five year old Harry Thompson. He was a useful half-back from Brisbane, a Queensland representative. He became the other half to Eric Weissel, who now at 29, and at the very top of his game, was the chief draw-card in Group 9.
In the last match of the season at Junee, Temora got their chance. By a point they wrested the Cup from the formidable diesel men, who had notched up six straight. Harry, his work done, went back north, but he was lured back to Temora in the autumn of 1933 to defend the trophy.
On Wednesday 17 May 1933 at Temora, the red and whites defended the Maher Cup against their arch-rivals – the men from out in the mallee, from West Wyalong. Harry ran in two tries (one report states three) and Wyalong were well and truly walloped 21-2.
The First Protest
The protests started even before the match. Wyalong claimed that Thompson had played at Brisbane just 9 days before, and thus had failed to fulfil Maher Cup Rule 8 – requiring a residency of 28 days. Temora admitted as much. But the NSW Rugby League had recently decreed that city players could play for country teams by giving only seven days notice. A nice gesture at the time, as many players where finding it hard to bring home an income and when the money in the footy-mad bush was better than in the big smoke.
Temora officials were wary of the rule discrepancy. But they considered Brisbane to be a city, and if it wasn’t it was interstate and thus outside the NSW League’s jurisdiction anyway. They had sought to clarify the Thompson situation with the NSW Rugby League. As the match was underway they received a telegram from Mr. Miller at HQ confirming that their captain coach was clear to play. Of course after their drubbing West Wyalong protested even more vociferously.
On the following Tuesday, the 23rd of May 1933 at Cootamundra the Maher Cup Committee met. For the Cootamundra club, which controlled the running of the Maher Cup, the matter was a lay down misere – Rule 8 had been wantonly broken. Matter concluded!
But Temora appealed to the Group 9 Judiciary.
On Thursday 1 June 1933 the Judiciary convened at Harden. They concurred with Cootamundra – and challenged the NSWRL for having a rule that threatened to destroy any sense of localism in their football. Country players certainly didn’t want their meagre livelihoods undercut by short term imports.
Temora of course then appealed to Head Office.
Meanwhile on Wednesday 7 June 1933 West Wyalong hosted their first Maher Cup since 1925. They defeated Young 7-0 and were rewarded with an £80 plus gate.
On Monday 12 June 1933 in Sydney the NSWRL finally met. They saw that faces needed to be saved. In a non-decision they determined that the match be replayed. The game was set for Wyalong. Temora appealed the venue and lost. Wyalong also pretended to be unhappy. But as the Wyalong Advocate reported, the match presented ‘ a red letter day for West Wyalong as it is expected that an attendance and gate record will be set for a Maher Cup match’ (quoted in Campbell,p.71).
However now the Group 9 and Maher Cup administrators were really pissed off. They were shown to be powerless to enforce their own rules in their own competitions. Decisions were being made by a body with no understanding of the needs of the people and players of the southwest slopes and northern Riverina.
Fred Cahill from the Young Witness was an influential and articulate official. He advocated two big changes for Group 9:
- Break the control of the eight Sydney clubs and form a Country Rugby League to manage the game outside of Sydney.
Special provision would be made for the control of paid players, the migration of players from one area to another to obviate the abuses which disgraced this seasons’s country football, insurance of players, co-operative buying of materials, country championship matches ……..
- Ditch all cups and develop a strong Group 9 club competition
The Maher Cup would be restored to its owners, Cootamundra, which club might well be recommended to install it on show in the High School, as representing the spirit of sport which should be anathema to their growing generation— the spirit of win, tie or wrangle, but mostly, wrangle.
He achieved the first objective within months. He was the first of many to fail miserably with the second.
Meantime in Temora and Wyalong and elsewhere, much debate took place about money. Should Wyalong keep the gate from the Young game? What will be the cut in the rematch?…. Why don’t we take advantage of the seven day rule and pay some short term city players for the next Cup challenge.
On Wednesday 21 June 1933 at West Wyalong, five weeks after the protested match, in front of the biggest Maher Cup crowd of the year, the matter was to be finally settled. But the best layed plans of men are not always layed carefully enough. It ended 5-5. What to do? The rule was that the holders should retain the Cup in the event of a draw. Both clubs considered themselves the holders but officially neither were.
On Monday 26 June 1933 at Cootamundra the ‘discussion’ continued – until five am. The Judiciary recommended that the replay of the replay be set for a neutral ground – Cootamundra. The Group 9 chairman, a Mr. Bland of Temora, obviously lodged his casting vote against such a move. Finally it was decided to go to Barmedman, population no more than 600.
On Wednesday 28 June 1933 somewhere between 2000 and 4000 punters teamed into the village by train and car to create the biggest crowd in Depression era Maher Cup football. They paid £190 for the privilege. The Queensland, the Royal and the Barmedman Hotels would have had a hectic day. Temora won it easily 28-7. Wyalong of course refused to hand the Cup over.
The Second Protest
On Wednesday 9 August 1933 at Temora, West Wyalong again appeared for their next scheduled challenge. They lost. Of course a protest was lodged. And why not? This time it was over the appointment of the referee. Temora had appointed a Mr. Turner from Junee, disregarding the Maher Cup practice to have a Sydney man officiate. The Maher Cup committee claimed that both teams were at fault, and guess what? Another replay was ordered, again at Barmedman.
On 23 August 1933 at Barmedman, West Wyalong finally won a Maher Cup challenge against Temora. Temora, perhaps exhausted by the saga, didn’t even enter a protest. The Mallee Men went home happier and wealthier. They then defended it four times before falling again….to guess who?
So just how did this change the game?
Firstly, it illustrated that protests could be very profitable in hard times. West Wyalong while being thumped 21-2 and then crying unfair, ended up having four more matches than it could have planned for, in front of large and growing crowds, finally acquiring the Holy Grail and displaying the Cup in Main Street until the next season. They also significantly improved the bank balances of the club, the hotels and the cafes.
Into the 1930s protests became to be almost expected. In 1940, the Grenfell Record’s scribe felt compelled in add to his brief match report ‘so far no protest has been lodged’
Secondly, it was the catalyst for the country clubs to form their own association. The city administrators at the NSWRL already had poor form. Back in 1931, in the protracted Temora v Tumut dispute, it was even perceived that their perplexing and inconsistent adjudication was influenced by an interested bookmaker. The incompetent and tardy meddling of Sydney administrators in the 1933 dispute was the final straw. It was the trigger that lead within months to the formation of the Country Rugby League. After 25 years of city control country football could now run country football for country people.
It also helped to launch Fred Cahill, son of a timber-getter, onto a larger stage. He was recognised as the founder and leader of the Country Rugby League. In 1941 he moved down to Macquarie Street to start 18 years working for the electorate of Young as an ALP member in the NSW parliament.