I was born at Young in 1944 and lived there until 1960. In those days we knew little of Sydney football. Everything was Group 9 or Maher Cup. Radio 2LF at Young had John O’Reilly broadcasting the Maher Cup games. O’Reilly was a great football broadcaster. He could make the dullest game sound exciting. I’ve heard they are going to put Ray Warren and Frank Hyde into some hall of fame of rugby league commentators but O’Reilly should be there too. He later came to Sydney and described the league on the ABC.
Although little remembered outside of Maher Cup memories, many of those who witnessed Bill Lesberg’s work on the paddocks of the south-west slopes and the Riverina in the 1920s considered him the greatest goal-kicker to ever play Rugby League in country New South Wales.
Lesberg played at fullback for Cootamundra. There was another brilliant goal-kicker in that side, one Eric Weissel. However “Berg” almost always got the nod. His speciality was the drop goal, worth two points, and the half-way line was certainly not too far. The left foot was preferred but either acceptable. Converting from the touch line was always likely. Teams had to factor that any ball that went to Lesberg in their own half was likely to result in a field goal. Continue reading
Eric Weissel, “Weissel the Wizard”, “Ec” to his friends, was a try-scoring, goal-kicking genius. In the Riverina of the 1920s and early 30s his performances helped develop the Maher Cup into a footballing phenomenon.
Playing for small town clubs all his life, his performances were not commonly witnessed by Sydney commentators and experts. Although his brilliance may never have been properly appreciated outside Maher Cup country, many local witnesses consider him to be possibly the best five-eighth the world will ever see.
He came from an extraordinary sporting family and below is an attempt at recording some of their history. Continue reading
Games That Changed the Game No.3
The Grenfell Greens had not achieved much in Maher Cup football. Until 1938 their challenges had been limited to just four – all lost, with just 13 points earned and 80 conceded.
However by the late thirties the best teams – Young, West Wyalong, Temora and Cowra. were from the northern part of Maher Cup country. Grenfell was keen to get into action against its traditional rivals. Not having enough local talent they decided to go and buy a team. Continue reading
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
Which games attracted the biggest crowds? Let’s make a top ten list.
Unfortunately this is quite difficult. My memory of rolling up to a Maher Cup match was of a ticket seller at the gate with a bookmaker’s bag taking cash and dispensing tickets. There were no turnstiles to tally the mob. Continue reading
Games that Changed the Game No.2
Roddy Gilmore, farmer of Canowindra, was a pretty useful second rower. He worked a 600 acre soldier settler’s block, carved from the North Bangaroo Estate in 1924. It was said that he “cut off the legs of his working trousers to make his football shorts for his first game (Worboys, p22).
On Wednesday 29 August 1928 he played for the Maher Cup against the champions of the south, Cootamundra. Continue reading
Not everybody in Maher Cup Country loved rugby league.
E.O. Schlunke of Hope Vale, Reefton wrote prolifically about rural life in the Riverina. The stories are not pastoral in the manner of John O’Brien’s Around the Boree Log. They are usually vignettes with a dark edge.
In 1956 he published a collection called The Village Hampden in which the eponymous story positions the Belluga Rugby League Club as the town’s central institution. Although the Club sees its role to foster community and local pride, it has become menacingly authoritarian, seeking to control many aspects of daily life. The story goes….
Tom Matheson, a young school teacher, has arrived in town.
“It was a small town of only a thousand or so people. Normally one wouldn’t expect a town of that size to field a first-grade team that could put up a good showing against towns five to ten times its size, and even hold the group’s challenge cup at times for a significant part of the season” (p.203).