The Murrumbidgee Rugby League & the End of the Maher Cup

This article is largely based on Jack Weeks’ book The breakaway of the Murrumbidgee Rugby League : the forerunner and the aftermath 1960 – 1972.

In 1965 the logic of the Murrumbidgee Rugby League (MRL) breakaway was simply clear from the Riverina’s geography.

Boundaries of Groups 9 and 20 in 1965 in green, with the rebel Murrumbidgee Rugby League background in red.

The boundaries of Groups 9 and 20 in 1965 are in green, with red for the rebel Murrumbidgee Rugby League.

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Drawing the Barassi (Jim Keys) Line

The Barassi Line as determined by Ian Turner. Source: Wikipedia

The Barassi Line as determined by Ian Turner. Source: Wikipedia

Academic Ian Turner in 1978 invented the term Barassi Line to identify the border separating where men and boys played Australian Rules and where they preferred Rugby League. As you can see in the map it is all a bit too linear to be real. The only area along the line containing any significant population is the Riverina. So perhaps we can fine tune that line.

I must say I don’t like the line being called after  Ron Barassi – better to name it after a footballer who lived on the line and played Australian Rules on Saturday and Rugby League on Sunday – such as Eric Kuhn originally from Weethalle or Jim Keys from Gibsonvale.   So I’m calling my line the Jim Keys line. Continue reading

A Brief History of the Maher Cup Clubs in Graphs

Graphically representing the number of matches played by each club helps illustrate the highs and lows of their footballing journeys over the 52 years of the Maher Cup history, and provides the basis of a brief club history.  Failure to capture the Cup meant twiddling thumbs and fretting  on the outcome of the next draw.Cootamundra graph

Cootamundra (224 matches). Playing 62 games more than any other team, Coota started with a bang in 1922 winning in its first game under Phil Regan – the first paid-player coach in the bush. They didn’t let up. Regan’s 1920s blue and whites, featuring players such as Eric Weissel, Jack Kingston, Bill Lesberg and Gordon Hinton utterly dominated their opponents. With a little help they even took on England. During the Depression years, after Regan departed, it all fell apart for a while.  1935 saw the purchase of five paid players, an embarrassing loss to Tumut, and the imports instantly sacked.  Coota rose to the top again in 1939 with a team composed mainly of local ex-De La Salle boys.  After the war Herb Narvo (1947) and Johnny Graves (1954) led teams of extraordinary quality. Reverting to mainly local players the town continued to be consistently competitive into the 1960s. Continue reading

3,300 Maher Cup Players or there abouts

So far 3,233 accounted for with a few others still in hiding. The latest alphabetic list of players is here. The chronological match and team members list with scorers is here.

Of these 3,233 men some 150 played in the Maher Cup for two different clubs, 19 for three clubs and just two, Clarrie Joyce and Frank Blundell played for four. Clarrie Joyce was a builder from Tumut who played in the first Maher Cup match back in 1920.  He then joined Gundagai in 1921, West Wyalong in 1923, and Cootamundra, where he settled, in 1926.  He died when still quite Young. Blundell the energetic father of squash champion Heather McKay, hailed from Queanbeyan and played there as well. He was a baker and like Joyce he had a occupation that enabled him to easily relocate his work.  Continue reading

The Origins of Rugby League in Maher Cup Country

It took a decade, 1911-1921, for Rugby League to succeed Union in what became Maher Cup country.  It did not set up in competition to it – in most places it simply replaced it.  Below is a brief history.

The Sydney competition under ‘Northern Union’ rules, as it was often referred to then, with its 13 players and the playing of the ball, commenced in 1908. Spectators were excited by the open flow of the game and players preferred it. By 1911, with a rapidly growing fan base, a most successful tour by the British Lions, and defections from the Wallabies, League had become ascendant in the city. However country towns didn’t just follow fashion and fall into line. Continue reading

Gibsonvale 1946: Phil’s Truck & the Trip to Tumut

Gibsonvale was perhaps the Maher Cup’s most unlikely contender.  These days, on Google Earth only ribbons of white mine scars remain.  Gone are the hessian and corrugated iron huts built by battlers and fortune-hunters along the stockroute. Gone is the post office, the store, the school and the unfenced football field. Stoneham’s billiards hall and the Kikoira Pub remain, abandoned. Continue reading

Kevin’s Days in Harden

Kevin Day writes: On Fathers’ Day this year I was given the book ‘Uncommon Heroes’ by John Ellicott. I was particularly interested in the chapter on Group 9 and the history of the Maher Cup.
kevindayhouseIn 1959 I was working for the Electricity Commission of NSW.  We were building a wood pole transmission line from Murrumburrah to Boorowa.  I was sent from Sydney in late March to work there for 3 months at the construction depot.  I was 22 at the time. I was able to secure board with a Mrs Franklin and her grandson I think his name was Reg.  The house was at the entrance to the Murrumburrah Showground.

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Temora v West Wyalong ad infinitum 1933

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. Continue reading

Stan Gibbs’ Memories of the Maher Cup Cootamundra 1938-1946

My memories of the Maher Cup are through the eyes of a young boy and teenager.

Before the War, my father took me on a pushbike to Fisher Oval where I saw my first match. When I was older, Dad and I spent the day in Young having travelled there by a special train. Young must have won that day, as I can vaguely remember the elation of Bill Kearney, the coach of the Young team. Continue reading

Graham English Remembers Young & the Maher Cup in the 1950s.

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.

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