While the Maher Cup was about small town locals battling against each other for bragging rights, to do so successfully usually required outside assistance.
For 40 years, beginning with Phil Regan of Glebe being paid by the burghers of Cootamundra in 1922 to captain and to coach some talented youngsters, the usual modus operandi for victory was to import a quality player or two, preferably with the skills to develop players.
In analysing the backgrounds of the approximately 3,000 men who played Maher Cup, some 235 (about 8%) have been identified (see list below) as coming from Sydney clubs. With more forensics and your help (contact me at email@example.com) more will surely be discovered.
This post seeks to stimulate discussion around when they came, who they were, why they came and what difference they made.
The graph below shows that the late 1920s and particularly the 1950s were the most fertile years for in-migration. The influx of 11 new imports of 1928 was not bettered until 1953 when 22 men were newly engaged by clubs cashed up with wool selling for a £1 a pound and crowds at all time highs – see The Biggest Maher Cup Matches post.
Over 40% of all Sydney imports came in the 1950s. Most (61%) played for just one season, although some such as Nevyl Hand (Norths to Gundagai), Fred De Belin (Balmain to Cootamundra) and Keith Cullen (Wests to Young) moved in for good. Some (9%) moved on to join one or more other Maher Cup teams.
They ranged from Internationals at the peak of their career to young reserves and Presidents Cup players, often blocked for advancement by star players in their clubs and looking for opportunity. Some, like Kevin Day, sort of ended up in a team by accident. It did include older men looking to extend themselves for another season and/or getting coaching experience but probably not as much as City people would like us to think.
Some Group 9 clubs were cashed up by big crowds and the generous backing of supporter’s committees, local businesses and farmers. The backers scrutinised the athletic credentials of incoming teachers, policemen, railway workers, bank officers and the like. However fortunes came and went and almost all towns experienced a period where they were unable or unwilling to pay players.
To get a better understanding of the variety of players who came out, here is a snapshot of 1953, when the following 22 Sydney players were newly engaged and participated in the Maher Cup.
- Keith Aitken (Easts to Tumut). An upholsterer, he played 65 matches as South’s hooker before moving to Easts after losing his spot to future International Ernie Hammerton. He coached Tumut for three Maher Cup loses in 1953, but settled into the community running an automotive business.
- Stan Archer (Newtown to Cootamundra). He had played 18 matches for Newtown in 1952 before becoming a most successful hooker for Cootamundra. In 1954 he continued being a paid player with Thirroul.
- Milton Atkinson (Souths to Cootamundra). The 6 foot, 14 stone-plus centre featured in the Rabbitohs premiership victories of 1950 and 1951 but was out for 1952 after fracturing his skull preseason. He contributed to a most successful Coota team coached by colleague Bernie Purcell before returning to Maroubra at year’s end.
- Bill Batley (Souths to Boorowa). A Mascot junior and Souths reserve (and a champion diver) Batley’s trade was a plumber. After a year at Boorowa he played for Temora where he was involved in controversy when he put money on Boorowa (at long odds) to win again his team. They did. He moved on to Barmedman for three years and was a familiar name in match day programs advertising as ‘The Travelling Plumber”.
- Terry Brogan (Balmain to Gundagai). It was probably not difficult to entice this prop, the son of West Wyalong legend Bill Brogan, back to the country, especially to a crack Gundagai team coached by ex International Nevyl Hand to 24 successive victories in 1951-52. He stayed two years and then played a further season with Balmain.
- Ralph Bryant (Parramatta to Gundagai). It has been said that in Gundagai local member Billy Sheahan was effective in getting favourable transfers for footballers employed by the state government. Posted to tiny Tarrabandra school Ralph Bryant spent two years at Gundagai following 18 matches for Parramatta. Cowra born, he married another Gundagai teacher and moved to her home town of Wagga.
- Keith Cullen (Wests to Young). Except for a year coaching at Dubbo, ‘Snapper’ Cullen played out his career – until 1965 – in Young. He had a fish and chip shop and remained part of the local community until his death. One of Young’s best football grounds is named in his honour.
- Kevin Curnow (St George to West Wyalong). After being trialled this 23 year-old metal polisher from St George reserves became a paid player, courtesy of the Rugby League Supporters Club. When the appointed coach, a teacher, couldn’t arrange a transfer, Curnow was promoted. At seasons end he returned to play in the St George lower grades.
- John Edmonds (Norths to Young via Thirroul). The Norths 1950 & 1951 reserve grade five-eighth found success with Thirroul in 1952 and then moved to Young where he played a further three seasons.
- Ernie Hammerton (Souths to Boorowa). Securing an International hooker with four grand final appearances under his belt and aged 26 at the peak of his career must have seemed to be too good to be true. It was. After leading Boorowa to a rare Maher Cup victory in April, the team lost to Young the following week and Ernie disappeared. Discovered soon after back at Redfern he has the probably unique honour of winning the Maher Cup and the Sydney premiership in the same year.
- Darcy Henry (Easts to Temora). Originally from Tamworth, East’s teenage prodigy moved to Temora aged 20. He has brilliant. The town desperately tried to keep him for 1954 but were outbid by Forbes, The next year he was made an International from Forbes, later returning to Sydney with Wests until 1959.
- Ian Johnston (Parramatta to Young). Parramatta’s first International with five years and 90 games experience lead Young onto Alfred Oval before the biggest Maher Cup crowd of all time on 16 May 1953. Young that year only had one Maher Cup win but secured the Group 9 premiership at Murrumburrah before another big crowd. In 1954 Johnston continued both his international and club career with Parramatta and later Wests, taking a brief sojourn back home to Coonamble.
- Bob Lawrence (Balmain to Young). From Illawarra’s Northern Suburbs, hooker Lawrence played 8 games with Balmain in 1953. Although firmly ensconced in the position he took an offer from Young mid-season. Coming out with Keith Cullen he married a local lass and played Maher Cup for 5 years.
- Frank Lawrence (Souths to Boorowa). One of four Rabbitohs who played for the Blue Metals in 1953. A reserve grader he joined Easts in 1954, making 14 first grade appearances before returning to Boorowa for another year.
- Algie Metcalf (Newtown to Cootamundra). After establishing himself as Newtown’s top five-eighth he joined other Newtown imports at Coota. He starred in a great Maher Cup run for Cootamundra and later at West Wyalong, played 33 Cup matches in all. At West Wyalong he was joined by Newtown to Cootamundra mates Lionel Wheatley and Darrell Fazio.
- Bryan Orrock (Souths to Boorowa). A member of South’s grand final sides of 1951 and 1952 Orrock came west with Ernie Hammerton and Stan Wenham. When Hammerton went missing Orrock became captain-coach, represented Riverina and narrowly failed to wrest the Maher Cup from Temora. A handsome chap it was hoped he would marry a local and stay, but found a wife in the St George area where he enjoyed an illustrious career for club and country.
- Bernie Purcell (Souths to Cootamundra). Purcell shocked Souths when he abandoned them. He considered that the £600 signing on fee, free accomodation and a job was an offer too good to turn down. He also thought leading a successful Maher Cup team would get him noticed for representative football. It did. Under his leadership Coota won 10 successive Maher Cup matches only to be sabotaged by a successful Harden challenge citing some arcane rules.
- Don Sinclair (Easts to Temora). Sinclair was an 11 year first grade veteran hooker at Easts and Canterbury, one of four top grade players snared by Temora in 1953. In 1954 he raked for Balmain.
- Lance Thompson (Parramatta to Temora). For the first time in many years Temora decided to have paid players and started a supporters fund. They got four good ones. Thompson like other star player Ian Johnston at Young was sorely missed by Parramatta. When he finished with Parra in 1958 he returned to Temora for a second season.
- Rolf Trudgett (Parramatta to Temora via Wellington & Glen Innes). Born at Young, Trudgett played first grade for Parramatta 1947-1950 before taking up captain coach positions at Wellington (1951), Glen Innes (1952) and Temora (1953). Temora won the last six Maher Cup matches of the season. In 1954 he coached Penrith and played five-eighth for Parramatta before becoming captain-coach at Young in May.
- Stan Wenman (Souths to Boorowa). A lightweight forward from South’s lower grades, he played football for Boorowa for five years. Nicknamed Jimmy Carruthers he was a fettler, and keen pugilist, which affected his ability to stay on the field for 80 minutes, but probably did no harm in his other job as barman at the Central Hotel.
- Les ‘Puffy’ Young (Newtown to Cootamundra). Another first grader from Newtown to head to Cootamundra, he missed the first half of the season after cutting his foot on a broken bottle in the dressing room. He went on to coach Tarcutta in 1954.
In 1953 all Maher Cup towns except Cowra, Harden and Junee employed Sydney coaches (and Junee’s local coach, Stan Larkings, had spent 1951 at Newtown). In 21 of the 24 Cup matches the winners were captained by a Sydney import.
Which Sydney Clubs Did The Imports Came From?
|Sydney Club||No. of Imports||Five or more imports to|
|Wests||32||Cootamundra (6), Junee (5), Young (5)|
|Balmain||28||Gundagai (5), Young (5)|
|Newtown||28||Cootamundra (7), Harden-Murrumburrah (5)|
|St George||27||Cootamundra (6), Boorowa (5)|
There is remarkable uniformity between the contributions of the main Sydney clubs, bearing in mind those teams (like Glebe and University) that went out of the competition in early days and those that came in later (Parramatta, Canterbury, Manly and Penrith).
Not included above are many top quality local players who moved temporarily to the city but returned to their home towns to play Maher Cup: for example Col Ratcliff and Ron Crowe (West Wyalong), Mick Crowe (Grenfell), Bert Rollason (Barmedman), Sid Hall and Sid Hobson (Young), Edgar Newham (Cowra), Lionel Wheatley (Cootamundra) and Stan Larkings (Junee).
Which Clubs Did The Sydney Imports Go To?
Here we see a marked difference. Young and Cootamundra were the big importers of top ranked Sydney footballers. Smaller towns Grenfell and Boorowa were also very active as they found they needed to do so to be competitive. Clubs that were most willing to rely on local talent were Barmedman, Tumut, Junee, Harden-Murrumburrah and especially West Wyalong, which was probably the thriftiest club but also one that avoided boom and bust cycles.
|Club||Imports||First Grade Players||Lower Grade Players||Seasons in Maher Cup||New Players / season||New 1st Grade Players / season|
The Other Imports
Of course imports were not limited to Sydney players. The following are just some of the significant players from other places that made a big difference to Maher Cup football:
- Frank Blundell (Queanbeyan) played for Barmedman, Gundagai, Cootamundra and Temora from 1927.
- Don Furner (Queensland) led Junee in 1964 to their first Cup victory for many years and their first Group 9 premiership.
- Matt Grenfell (Dapto) coached the Harden-Murrumburrah team that held the Cup through the whole 1959 season and backed up for the Sunday competition to reach the grand final..
- John Hobby (Coolah) coached Tumut for the last Maher Cup and beyond.
- Bill Kearney (Queanbeyan) of Young became perhaps the most prominent Maher Cup personality, as player, coach, administrator and publicist.
- Peter O’Connor (Cessnock) became a revered figure in Young football in the 1950s and 60s
Where Imports Beneficial?
It’s easy to forget that for many years and especially in the early 1950s the movement of talented footballers was primarily from city to country, and particularly to Maher Cup country.
For Maher Cup football to attain and sustain the high standard that made it famous required more that local talent and enthusiasm. The city coaches raised the profile for both city and local audiences. They helped develop the interest and passion in the Maher Cup towns that inspired and resourced young footballers to seek glory. The Maher Cup was a source of collective community pride in the southwest towns.
However there was a downside. When clubs gambled on the success that the imports would bring, and that gamble failed, the club could find itself in a dire financial situation from which it took years to recover. Cootamundra discovered this in 1935 and Grenfell in 1939. However if gamble succeeded, as it did for Cootamundra and Young in the early 1950s weaker clubs became even weaker. This lead to Tumut and Harden withdrawing from the Maher Cup in 1954 and Cowra the same year deciding to abandon Group 9 altogether. The focus on imports probably also fostered the reintroduction of Rugby Union which commenced in the mid 1950s.
Once the city clubs built their lucrative licensed clubs and networked television took over Rugby League the golden days of the Maher Cup towns inevitably came to a close.
|Player||Imported To:||Year||Sydney Club|
|Anderson, Dutchy||West Wyalong||1924||Souths|
|Bernhardt, Jack 'Mo'||Young||1951||Norths|
|Bishop, Ron||Tumut||1956||St George|
|Blair, Alf 'Smacka'||Wagga||1931||Souths|
|Booker, Dinny||West Wyalong||1947||Newtown|
|Budd, Ron||West Wyalong||1966||St George|
|Casey, Arthur 'Doon'||Tumut||1932||St George|
|Cluff, Ken||Wagga Kangaroos||1969||Parramatta|
|Courtney, Jack 'Possum'||Harden-Murrumburrah||1931||Norths|
|Curnow, Kevin||West Wyalong||1953||St George|
|Day, Kevin||Harden-Murrumburrah||1959||St George|
|De Belin, Fred||Cootamundra||1951||Balmain|
|Dempsey, Jack 'Inky'||Cootamundra||1930||St George|
|Dransfield, Allan||Boorowa||1955||St George|
|Evans, Lou||Temora||1950||St George|
|Fifield, Cec 'Dick'||Junee||1930||Wests|
|Fisher, Les||Cootamundra||1945||St George|
|Fraser, Charles 'Chook'||Gundagai||1927||Balmain|
|Gittoes, Keith||Barmedman||1955||St George|
|Graves, John 'Wacka'||Cootamundra||1954||Souths|
|Gray, Max||West Wyalong||1936||Wests|
|Griffin, Harry||West Wyalong||1934||Souths|
|Hale, Jim||Boorowa||1948||St George|
|Hardy, Les||Harden-Murrumburrah||1964||St George|
|Hey, Dave||Cootamundra||1932||St George|
|Hill, Noel||Junee||1956||St George|
|Hinton, Manny||Boorowa||1954||St George|
|Kelly, Aub 'Jockey'||Young||1930||St George|
|Kelly, Mick 'China'||Harden-Murrumburrah||1960||Newtown|
|Killiby, Bill||Cootamundra||1937||St George|
|Malby, Kevin||Temora||1957||St George|
|Melville, Harry||Harden-Murrumburrah||1958||St George|
|Morris, Bill||West Wyalong||1950||Easts|
|Moses, Vic||West Wyalong||1932||Souths|
|Mosman, Kevin||West Wyalong||1960||Manly|
|Narvo, Herb||Cootamundra||1947||St George|
|Neville, Eric||West Wyalong||1937||Norths|
|Noonan, Allan||West Wyalong||1933||Easts|
|Pasfields, Barry||Boorowa||1955||St George|
|Phillips. Bill 'Chips'||Gundagai||1926||Easts|
|Redmond, James 'Tony'||Grenfell||1928||Wests|
|Rice, Charlie||Grenfell||1938||St George|
|Robinson, Norm 'Latchem'||Cootamundra||1928||Balmain|
|Rutherford, Jim||Young||1939||St George|
|Ryan, Bill 'Hoot'||Junee||1932||Wests|
|Ryan, Tom||Temora||1954||St George|
|Schumack, Jack 'Shooter'||Tumut||1928||St George|
|Smith, Reg 'Hero'||Harden-Murrumburrah||1964||Parramatta|
|Summons, Arthur||Wagga Magpies||1969||Wests|
|Torpy, Gordon 'Norker'||Cootamundra||1928||St George|
|Vest, Dick||West Wyalong||1923||Wests|
|Walsh, Jack 'Duck'||Cootamundra||1949||Wests|
|Watkins, Jack 'Bluey'||Tumut||1925||Easts|
|Wynn, Alfie||Boorowa||1955||St George|
|Wynter, Edward 'Jim'||Wagga||1930||University|
|Young, Les 'Puffy'||Cootamundra||1953||Newtown|