Group 9 History: 1939

The Sullivan brothers of the Gundagai Independent continued their opposition to the Maher Cup which they declared ‘a disease from which germs infect football in this Group’.[1]  They found allies in their quest to strengthen the Group 9 Competition, when West Wyalong and Temora sought to delay the Cup until the Competition finals were completed, leaving time for only about six challenges. While the proposal was defeated, a team playing for the Maher Cup on Wednesday would now be required to field eight of that team in the Competition matches on the previous and following Sundays. This followed considerable resentment directed towards Young in 1938 for using the Competition to give its reserve team a workout; and basically help it select the best Maher Cup team.

Membership of various Groups was fluid. Group 11 wanted Grenfell and Cowra. Both resisted and they remained in Group 9. A proposed expansion of the Leeton-centred Group 17 to swallow up West Wyalong, Barmedman and Temora was ignored; while Tumut’s previous season’s practice of participating in the Group 13 competition as well as and the Maher Cup was (narrowly) approved after 3 ½ hours discussion.

Junee and Gundagai clubs were reformed and successfully sought to join Group 13 where the nearby Wagga teams were located. Neither sought to participate in the Maher Cup. The Cootamundra Pastime Club also reestablished a first grade Coota team.

Bob Aldridge of Temora, the Group 9 patron and ‘father of football’ in the area established a Group 9 Referees’ Association. Helped by the fallout over referee Murphy’s abandonment of the Cowra v Young donnybrook (as well as sheer economics), Maher Cup matches would no longer be handled by Sydney referees.

Harold Kaye of West Wyalong, who had been its highly praised treasurer for four years was elected president. F. McDonough of Temora was the new treasurer and T. Cusack of Young treasurer.[2] Group 9 decided to participate in Country Week after some years absence.

The Cup draw, now to be conducted a fortnight rather than a week before commencement, came out: Temora, Grenfell, Cowra, Cootamundra, Tumut, West Wyalong, Barmedman and Harden-Murrumburrah.

The age of imports was over; frugality and development of local talent was the rage – except at Grenfell. Completely bucking the trend the town’s businessmen continued their pre-occupation of building a team that would win the Maher Cup. The Green’s ‘alien army’ or ‘foreign legion’, failed in its battles against a better co-ordinated Young.

[1] Reprinted in Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative, 30 March 1939, p. 10. ,

[2] Cusack was the third member of the Young Witness staff to be secretary, after Fred Cahill (1932-1933) and Ray Walker (1937).

Group 9 History: 1938

The Maher Cup towns now had a radio station broadcasting a clear signal from Cowra to Wagga and from West Wyalong to Tumut. The opening of 2LF with a daytime ‘static free’ coverage of 100 miles, was celebrated by 900 revellers at Young on the 16th of February. Football would inevitably be in focus. Manager Rawdon Blandford, from New Zealand had represented Otago in Rugby, and the station’s announcer, Pat Barton, was a past boxer, sprinter and Rugby League player of note.

Junee newspaper proprieter Alf Bennett, Group 9 president from 1934-1937 had died. David Freer, a Temora store manager was appointed president. Secretary Ray Walker of Young had moved to Group 17 and was replaced by Ernie Gerstenberger of Young’s Great Eastern Hotel. Acclaimed accountant Harold Kaye of West Wyalong continued as treasurer.

For the first time the Maher Cup attendance fee was fixed: 1/6 for adults and 6d for children. This had been the conventional charge in recent years.

There was a great variety of action and inaction amongst the area’s football clubs. The power within Group 9 had moved to the northern towns. As a result Forbes requested unsuccessfully to join the Group. Grenfell’s hoteliers and café proprieters bankrolled an attempt to create a team that could defeat its neighbours, win the Maher Cup and bring in big gates. West Wyalong outbid Cowra for top coach Max Gray’s services.

In the south Tumut both challenged for the Maher Cup and played in the Group 13 competition (which extended south to Albury and east to Wagga) . South Gundagai also sought to create a separate team to play in Group 13, then agreed to a united Gundagai to play in the Group. The Gundagai players defeated heavily in early matches (through lack of fitness) lost interest, forfeited their Maher Cup challenge and the club folded.

Cootamundra’s Pastime Club formed again full of enthusiasm, but were denied permission to train at Fisher Park, leading to a repeat of 1936, where the town failed to field a first grade team. Cootamundra’s right to the first and last Maher Cup challenge, established in 1924, was finally rescinded.

Junee again failed put a team together.

Another attempt to establish a regular Group 9 home and away competition was initiated. This time it was successful, it would become a permanent feature, although the Maher Cup still remained the ‘Holy Grail’. Cups would be played Wednesdays, the competition matches on Sundays. West Wyalong defeated Temora (who rested players for an impending Maher Cup match) in a muddy final, before a small crowd, for the Group 9 premiership.

Young won a record 15 Maher Cup matches in a year, including one at Cowra where the Sydney referee walked off the ground seven minutes before full time stating that he refused to referee a fight. Young’s three K’s were the stars of the season: coach, captain and goal-kicker Bill Kinnane; half-back Bill Kearney and five-eighth schoolteacher Kevin Dillon.

The crowds came back and the football doldrums of the Depression years were over (except in Cootamundra, Gundagai and Junee).

Group 9 History: 1937

The hard years of the 1930s had taken attention away from rugby league. Group 9 was no longer the dominant country power. Putting together a first grade was challenging for key clubs, such as Harden-Murrumburrah, Junee and Grenfell; and even Cootamundra.

Cowra and Grenfell, on the border between the centralwest and the southwest, were sometimes part of Group 9 and sometimes not. In 1937 the NSWRL decided to relocate then to the Parkes-based Group 11. Cowra, with their eyes firmly focused on winning the Maher Cup, protested successfully (along with Grenfell) against their forced relocation.

A zoned regular competition, dubbed ‘home and home matches’ was established as a way of providing regular football and keeping clubs without cups solvent. This tentative step towards a Group 9 competition spluttered along; being almost derailed by the early withdrawal of both Junee and Cowra; the latter being only interested in the Cup. Gundagai were later fined for forfeiting matches.

The start of the Maher Cup season was delayed a week while Cootamundra sorted itself out, and then another when the 12th May celebrations to commemorate the Coronation of King George VI took over the Temora football ground.

When the heavily indebted Cootamundra Rugby League Football Club failed to reform for the second year the Pastime Club became the defacto Cootamundra first grade club. Formed in the billiards room at the back of Ted Mangan’s menswear store in Parker Street, where the key pastime was SP betting, the team was formed almost wholly from former De La Salle Old Boys, with Bill Killiby (ex-St. George and Boorowa) appointed captain-coach.

Three clubs; Tumut, Young and Cowra dominated the Maher Cup competition.  Attendances at last increased significantly to numbers not seen since 1930, signifying both an easing of the Depression, as well as the fact of the Maher Cup being hosted by the two towns, which with their surrounding villages, commanded the region’s largest population.

New technologies were coming into play.  The telephone, while an expensive tool for most people, was available to club secretaries, thus assisting communications between clubs and with Group 9. It may have reduced protests which had almost evaporated in 1936 and 1937.  The wireless receiver, also still expensive, was becoming increasingly present in middle-class homes, as  new stations opened to cover rural Australia.  If you couldn’t afford a radio the pub could. The economy of hotels was bolstered by punters pouring in for live sporting broadcasts (particular horse racing).  The combination of telephone and radio made is easier to bet, albeit illegally. The instant gratification which the technologies enabled, led to the rise and rise of the SP bookie in the late 1930s.

Radio Station 2GZ commenced broadcasting Cowra’s Maher Cup matches on the 14th July, instantly bringing into debate whether this was a good move or not. The Club suspected that it reduced attendances.

Although Norm Bounader of the Gundabidgee Theatre at Gundagai had screened local football matches back in 1923 there is little else recorded about filming rugby league in Group 9, until the Cowra v Temora Maher Cup match of 21 July was screened at cinemas, including at Young and Grenfell. At Young Superintendent Hartley Bergin of the ambulance service made movies of his clubs matches against Cootamundra and Temora, to be shown as a training aid.




Group 9 History: 1936

There was excitement in the air. The English were coming .

At the AGM the previous executive team of Alf Bennett (Junee), Clem Roddy (Tumut) and Harold Kaye (West Wyalong) were warmly endorsed and re-elected unopposed.  Cootmundra remained the HQ for Group 9 and amended Maher Cup rules were put and referred to Cootamundra for comment. Bennett’s submission that the 28 day residency be extended to 90 was defeated by the argument that it would put Group 9 teams at a disadvantage when challenging for cups outside of the Group. It was even agreed to affiliate with the Country Rugby League (CRL), currently run by ‘Potts Point farmers’, if only so that the local representatives could improve its poor performance.

At the two day CRL conference the town of Parkes was front and centre. The president was H.C.J. Ferris, formerly police sergeant of Parkes, and now, one assumes, residing at ‘Potts Point’.   The CRL had recommended to the NSWRL  that England games be hosted by Wagga and Dubbo.  Group 9 were not exactly happy when the NSWRL selected Leeton (and Parkes) instead.  In the final moments of the conference, when many fatigued delegates had ‘gone out to tea’ the Parkes presented a motion that the CRL to be abolished and the authority of the NSWRL reasserted.  ‘Riotous’ delegates, considering Parkes’ treachery as quid pro quo for getting the England game, called for Dubbo to be the host. Mr Ferris promptly closed the meeting.

The once mighty Cootamundra club was in disarray and found it difficult to even hold a meeting.  They did how manage to reject the modest Maher Cup rule changes – even Cootamundra’s claim to the first and last match was preserved.  However they failed to register for the draw and thus Group 9, virtually by default, took over the running of the Cup.  Cootamundra’s next challenge was to be more than a year away on 23 June 1937.

In April at Narrandera it became obvious that the balance of power in the south had changed dramatically, when Group 17 trounced Group 9 by 30 to 5. The combined team thay was formed to play at Goulburn included six Leeton men and only three from all the Group 9 towns: Stan Templeman (West Wyalong) and Tumut forwards Col Hargreaves and Jack Cruise. Hargreaves was the only representative in the Southern Districts side selected for Country Week,whereas previously no fewer than 6 had ever been chosen from Group 9 in a Southern side.

Watching from stands made of lug boxes supplied by local cannery about 6000 people saw the English defeat Southern Districts 35-13 at Leeton. Only Hargreaves and Temora’s Jack Melrose represented Group 9.

Later in a match billed as determining the ‘Champions of the South‘ Leeton played Temora, who’s talented young hooker, Jim Woods, had his collar-bone broken in the first few minutes.  Leeton won 13-10, and Woods was convinced by his employer to retire. He became a bandleader at Temora, later owned the Queanbeyan newspaper, and at 102 is (at January 2016) the oldest Maher Cup player still alive.

Interest in football seemed to reach a new low when the Group 9 delegates meeting on 30 August was disbanded due to lack of a quorum.  In contrast in Temora 300 people turned up to a function to honour a most successful team, which had an 11 game Maher Cup run then lost it to Tumut, won it back and was sitting pretty with the Cup as the year closed.  Little Bendick Murrell also had something to celebrate.  Coached by Sid Hall they went to Tumut to make their one and only ever challenge for the Maher Cup.

It felt as if the hard years of the 1930s had taken people’s attention away from Rugby League.   Group 9’s power was exhausted, its influence waning, and the clubs in 1936 seemed to not even enough energy to lodge the usual protests.

Group 9 History: 1935

For more than a decade Group 9 had enjoyed their own celebrity. Eric Weissel. Many neutrals would come just to see the wizard. Aged 31 his brilliancy still shone. But in 1935 he left town.

Weissel’s aura was such that the burghers of his new place of residence, the Australian Rules playing Narrandera,  decided to establish a Rugby League team around him.  This, along with the costs of travel and declining finances as the grip of Depression tightened, emboldened the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area teams of Group 17 to break away from the Groups 9 & 17 inter-town competition and have their own.

Narrandera even attracted St George to play out on the Murrumbidgee banks – and under the great Eric Weissel they even won the match.

With Fred Cahill, the Group 9 competition’s architect, mover and shaker, orator and networker, now residing down on the coast any thought of the value of inter-town competition vapourised.  Small town’s attentions moved back to the gamble of Cup football. Little attention was paid, as yet, to the Gundagai Independent which started its long campaign to rid Group 9 of the ‘big bubble and burst Maher Cup‘.  Cootamundra, Young and Temora – thinking themselves the big clubs – salivated for a return to a cup only season.  Wyalong also was confident of a great year.  It was one of the few clubs to have made a profit, and was luke warm about continuing with a competition.  It now thought of itself as a big club.  They were all to be surprised.

At the AGM Alf Bennett of Junee was re-elected unopposed as president and Clem Roddy of Tumut secretary.  The meeting was marked by an unusual civility, and no-one could remember such a gathering where all the business was actually completed.  It was like peace had broken out.  The treasurer Harold Kaye of West Wyalong soon came to be considered by all a revelation, he put books in order, and the Group was out of debt.

Coota’s businessmen decided to repeat their quest for imported players, which in 1932 had been an embarrassing failure. The following men came to reside temporarily in the town: Jim Gibb from Newcastle, Charlie Fennell (South Sydney), Noel Walpole and Jim Campbell (North Sydney), G. Malone (Forbes) and ‘Jum’ Miller (Young).  President Alf Bennett was unimpressed by this team stacking and sought, unsuccessfully, to introduce a 90 day residency requirement.

The local Cootamundra players grumbled about the paid players. After losing the Maher Cup to Tumut, amongst (perhaps unfounded) rumours that the imports had ‘sold the game’, the local men forced the club to sack the imports.  It took four years before Coota became competitive again.

Three of the top teams went totally amateur in 1935: Temora, West Wyalong and Tumut.  Tumut emerged triumphant as the team of the year. This team of lightning fast lightweight local lads backed up by a hefty but brilliant young kicker from Grahmstown named Tom Kirk, were all beautifully prepared by non-playing coach Joe Wilkinson. They kept the Maher Cup  for 14 challenges.

Tumut hosted the Maher Cup match of the year on 24 July, when hot challenger , import enriched Young, sent a plane out to a Kikiamah paddock so that its school-teacher Jim McMenamin could be transported directly by air to the Temora Racecourse ground in time for the Wednesday afternoon kickoff.  More than 3,000 folks crowded in for what was billed ‘the virtual country championship‘. Tumut snuck in 5-3 and then cleaned Young up again two weeks later 15-2.  At the end of the season Tumut were heralded by the city press and invited to play in the big smoke.  On their journey they defeated Gouburn 24-10, and ended up gaining great respect in their performance, narrowly losing to the premiers Eastern Suburbs before a crowd  of 5678.

Meanwhile Fred Cahill, now in Newcastle was still involved in the Country Rugby League.  The problem was that the organisation, he drove into existence just one year ago with the support of Group 9 and Newcastle was now being rejected by Newcastle, while Group 9 without Cahill were preoccupied with local matters.  Country Week staggered along without a lot of interest.  The first selection game against Group 8 at Canberra resulted in a loss and a weak gate of £35.

By August the fragile peace ended when Group 9 secretary Clem Roddy became outraged that Cowra was omitted from the Maher Cup draw. Cootamundra officials had conducted the draw knowing that Roddy was in another room at the hotel ‘having a cup of tea‘. This provided further fuel to the punter’s long held belief that there was often ‘something fishy’ about the process. Roddy ‘threatened to tell some things that will surprise, about the appointment of referees, alleged offers to some, and the alleged knowledge that some had known on Wednesday night last as to the particular teams that would be in the present Maher Cup draw’.  He didn’t, but did express the opinion that Cootamundra had presided over some crook draws.

Since 1924 after Cootamundra had won the Cup outright under Ted Maher’s rules, and then put it back into play, under their own, Coota’s total control of all Cup business to it’s own advantage had rankled everybody.  Group 9 president Alf Bennett instructed that new rules were to be put to next year’s AGM, with the threat that if Coota refused to accept them they could shove their Cup.  Coota’s ‘shabby treatment’ of Group 9 led Bennett to seek to move the headquarters back to Harden, where it was first constituted back in 1922.

Group 9 History: 1934

1934 started with a sense of excitement and disarray.  Townfolk crowded into their local football club meetings.  At West Wyalong and Junee the locals were less than satisfied with the performance of Group 9’s officialdom.

The Group 9 AGM in March was an acrimonious shambles, adjourned after six hours of indecision.  Wagga was upset they had been banished to a new Group 18 and everyone was at loggerheads about the state of the finances, where the money had gone and who’s fault it all was.  As usual Fred Cahill was in the thick of it – and perhaps saved his skin by regaling all present for an hour and a half of the benefits of the new Country Rugby League (CRL).

The following week another long meeting at least elected a new president – Alfred Bennett the owner of Junee’s Southern Cross newspaper, and secretary Lindsay Gown an insurance agent of Gundagai. In a slap in the face of an absent Fred Cahill affiliation with the CRL was only approved ‘under protest’ and on the casting vote of the chairman.  The practice of winner take all in Cup matches was at last challenged – with 25% to be allocated to the visiting team.

Cahill left Young and the shambles and got a publicity officer job in Newcastle for up to £750, a salary to make a professional footballer of the time green with envy.  His sparring buddy Harry Glanville of Junee got a better railways position in Sydney.

The elimination matches for Country Week, abandoned in 1933, were reinstated with gusto.  A double header at Junee produced great football under Eric Weissel – Group 9 defeated Group 8 by 18-6, while Group 17 downed the new Group 18 from Australian Rules country 20-2 – but the two only attracted a £45 gate.  Group 9 bounced back to its best at Griffith beating Group 17 by 44 to 8 with £102 taken.

Group 9 representatives of 1934: Back from left - A. Phair (Junee), Bill Newcombe (Young), Reverend Dudly Leggatt (Young), Jack James (Cootamundra), Bill Thompson (Grenfell), Jack Whitty (Junee), Norman Bland (Temora, president); Front - Bert Williams (West Wyalong), Bill Kearney (Young), Tom Stanford (Temora), Eric Weissel (Temora, captain), Jim Woods (Temora), Sid Hall (Young), Jack Melrose (Temora)

Group 9 representative players of 1934: Back from left – A. Phair (Junee), Bill Newcombe (Young), Reverend Dudley Leggatt (Young), Jack James (Cootamundra), Bill Thompson (Grenfell), Jack Whitty (Junee),  with Norman Bland (Temora, president); Front – Bert Williams (West Wyalong), Bill Kearney (Young), Tom Stanford (Temora), Eric Weissel (Temora, captain), Jim Woods (Temora), Sid Hall (Young), Jack Melrose (Temora). Officials on flanks unknown.  Source: courtesy Jim Woods


The Gleeson Shield competition kicked of reporting an £18 profit in 1934.  The teams were unchanged, except that Barmedman declared themselves broke and withdrew just prior to the starting date.

It was quite a chaotic year. Cootamundra was on the end of some drastic action from Group 9 when they were banned for the season for playing two unregistered players, C. McManus and T. Russell. West Wyalong were then out of sorts as they were due to host Coota for the Maher Cup and the Mallee Men were salivating over a possible record gate.  The match was cancelled and then the Group 9 executive changed their decision – imposing a fine that Cootamundra would find difficulty in paying, but did. Cowra got into a dispute with Tumut and the cost of travelling and withdrew from Group 9, while Gundagai and Coota decided to play a Gleeson Shield match with reserves, the gate amounted to 30/-.  In June the MIA teams were also grumbling about travel costs and looking at a more local competition in 1935.

Cootamundra also made an interesting protest against the Reverend Dudley Leggett’s participation for Young in  a Maher Cup match.  The Maher Cup was played on Wednesdays.  Leggett was the Anglican minister at Boorowa, so Coota claimed he shouldn’t play for Young. In 1934 Boorowa didn’t field a Rugby League.  Doesn’t matter said Coota, Boorowa is in Group 8 and Young is in Group 9.  He should play with Yass then, the nearest Group 8 club to Boorowa.  However Yass only played on Sunday, which was for Reverend Dudley part of his working week.  Amazingly this one dragged out for many weeks. It brought the Coota practice of deciding on its own protests to a head.

There was also much ado about the Maher Cup draw and numerous unpleasantries. The West Wyalong Advocate provided a neat summary of the season’s convoluted disputations here.  1934 ended in pessimism and disarray One could only hope that the Group 9 might get through another year without open internecine warfare.

Leeton won the Gleeson Shield for the second year, downing Tumut 14-6 in the final.


Group 9 History: 1933

The argument was that the few clubs willing to spend big on imported players were the ones that won the Maher Cup and thus got all the matches, while those that couldn’t or were unwilling to spend up, stumbled along with ‘incomplete football programmes‘.  So the cry was for a regular competition throughout Group 9 and either for a reduction of, or end to, imports.

Things came to a head partly because most of the clubs could see that they were moving towards insolvency.  Even usually cashed-up Cootamundra had paid its players £230 in 1932 and only received gate takings of £180.

So in 1933 a real competition, rather than just challenge cups, finally got started.  The paid players were a little fewer in 1933 but as soon as clubs found some funds they spent up.  Trying to buy the Maher Cup continued for another 25 years.

Secretary Fred Cahill drafted the new competition’s rules and structures. Cahill was energetic and effective but not universally loved.  He only scraped in at the AGM as Group 9 secretary, after a tied vote.  Starting mid afternoon and still going heatedly along until after midnight the delegates elected Norman Bland the Temora builder president with Jim Maloney of Cootamundra retaining the treasure’s job…briefly.  Maloney, a bank clerk, was charged with embezzlement four months later.

All Group 9 teams except Wagga agreed to enter the combined Groups 9 & 17 competition, which, to minimise travel, was divided into western and eastern zones.  The east was: Tumut, Gundagai, Cootamundra, Harden, Young, Cowra and Grenfell, the west was: Junee, Temora, Barmedman, West Wyalong, Griffith, Yenda and Leeton.  There would be semi finals and finals in each division and a grand final between the winners of each, for the Gleeson Shield. Harden withdrew before the comp. commenced

‘Bunny’ Poplin of Young captured the anti-NSWRL mood at the AGM when he moved that Group 9 ‘take no action in regard to Country Week games’.  He asserted that ‘the elimination matches, were always a dead loss to the Group, and the Group was heavily in debt, while the head body had backed out of its obligations, to pay the loss on the Group 9 tour last year. The city grabbed the profits from the Country Week games in Sydney, but left the losing part of the show to the Groups. On top. of that the city took all the profits from the inter-State and International matches, using country players, and eventually used that money, or portion of it, to help the city clubs to poach the country players’.

Fred Cahill had written to all the country Groups seeking their support to form a separate Country Rugby League.  The response was mixed, but in July the influential Newcastle Group threw their weight behind Group 9’s initiative and everyone was readying for a big meeting.

Group 9 had by 1933 been widely seen as having the best quality football in country NSW. No longer focused on Country Week eliminations, attention was directed to the challenge by Group 17 for Group 9 ‘s mantle of ‘country champions’ on 15 May.

Attracting 3,000 people paying a record gate of £176 at Leeton, where Rugby League (as in Wagga) played second fiddle to Australian Rules, Group 17 surprised, winning 9-8 .  The teams were:
Group 17: Ted Fromholtz (Leeton), Laurie Smith (Yenda, formerly Barmedman), W. Morris (Barellan) Matt Ryan (Leeton), Albert ‘Dutchy Stokes (Leeton), Norm Pope (Leeton, formerly Easts) and Tom Grahame (Leeton), Jack Kingston (now at Leeton), Leo Doran (Griffith, formerly University), Bob ‘Burley’ James (Griffith), Jim Smythe (Leeton), Doolan Murray (Griffith, a noted Aboriginal boxer from Erambie at Cowra), Cec Rubie (Yenda), W. Dunn (Barellan)
Group 9: Frank Blundell (Temora), Len Cooper (West Wyalong), Abe Hall (Young), Arnie Small (Harden), Dave Grimmond (Junee), Alan ‘Snowy’ Lynch (Temora), Bill Kearney (Young), Bill ‘Hoot’ Ryan (Temora, brother of Matt Ryan for Leeton), Stan Cooper (Barmedman), Norrie Forrest (Cootamundra), Bill Maizey (Cowra), Gus Gray (Junee), Artie McShane (Temora) and R. McMenamin (Grenfell).

The following week the eastern and western teams commenced play in the Groups 9 & 17 competition.  It didn’t start well, Grenfell only getting a £13 gate when they hosted Cootamundra and Wyalong went to Temora to find they were playing the reserves, the top players were engaged in the lucrative Jack Hore Gold Cup.  After heated argument the Group 9 clubs agreed  to field their strongest possible teams for the Sunday comp.

West Wyalong and Temora spent most of the season arguing about the Maher Cup – which is a long story and has it’s own blog – go here for more!

The final table for the Western Division

The final table for the Western Division

Money was scarce. Competition gates seemed to average about £20 or 400 spectators. When Tumut, a quite formidable team and passionate Maher Cup chasers, were due to challenge Temora on 2 August for the Maher Cup they withdraw. With two of their good players out it just wasn’t worth the expense to travel.

Short of funds an with no big game scheduled Groups 9 and 17 decided to arrange another match between among themselves in August for what they billed as the ‘country championship‘.  With only six of the Group 9 selections making themselves available Group 17 won convincingly 35-8 over a ‘leaderless legion‘.  The gate was £114.  The next week a combined Groups 9 & 17 team went to Parkes and were drubbed 41-13 by Group 11.  With Eric Weissel out, with perhaps now just too much football, and with few class imports moving west, Group 9 didn’t look like the famous country champions any more.

Leeton clearly had the best town team in 1933.  Cowra went down 23-7 in the final at Temora.  The gate, a modest £41.  There was now distinct concern across the Riverina, amongst Rugby League and Australian Rules clubs, about the marked fall off in revenue.

In November Fred Cahill’s other dream of a Country Rugby  League came into being.  More on that in 1934.


Group 9 History: 1932

With visits to Balmain and from England on the drawing boards Group 9 got energized early.  The AGM, held in the first week of March finishing up as the sun rose. Henry Paton lost the presidency to Cootamundra’s Bill Flanigan, while Fred Cahill defeated Coota’s troublesome referee Tom Alberts for secretary. J. Maloney of Cootamundra was appointed treasurer.  Secretary Harry Glanville stood down miffed that the clubs had their snouts in the trough slurping up last year’s hard-earned surplus.

As the Depression (and Jack Lang) gave renewed impetus to the Riverina’s “new state movement” the seeds of secession were also being sown in sport.  The issues were many, including:

  • The NSWRL’s practice of over-riding, on appeal, Group 9 decisions arising from match protests. In particular the Temora-Tumut decisions rankled.
  • An unreciprocated policy that visiting city teams receive a 50% cut of match receipts, as well as outside pressure to end the Maher Cup’s entrenched winner-takes-all approach to the gate-takings.
  • NSWRL insisting that Wagga be the venue for the coming England match whereas Group 9 had determined that Cootamundra promised the bigger crowd.
  • The movement of players between city and country. Whereas the NSWRL had never been concerned about country footballers advancing their careers in the big smoke, the movement of players out of a depressed Sydney, and particularly to Maher Cup towns, had them worried.  When Grenfell put out a call seeking a couple of paid players they received some 107 applications. Head office put up £400 for city clubs to try and prevent the talent drain.

The season started early in March when Group 9 (with guest Wally Prigg) taking on Balmain in a pre-season match at the Sydney Sports Ground. The team lost 29-21 and consisted of: Laurie Ward (Harden), Les Griffin (Tumut), Abe Hall (Young), Jim Mortimer (Junee), Len Cooper (West Wyalong), George Mason (Barmedman), Eric Weissel (Temora), Mick Crowe (Grenfell), Bob Duncan (Tumut), George Williams (Junee), Wally Prigg (Newcastle), Roy Keogh (Young) and Jack Kingston (now back at Cootamundra). The loss was disappointing as was the gate of £295, from the 5000 crowd.

Cowra joined Group 9.  Cootamundra imported five paid players – Teddy Anderton (Wests), Dave Hey (St. George), Ernie Capelin (Lismore), Cec Willard, J. McCue, and got Jack Kingston back from Young.  In preparation for ‘Country Week’ Group 9 destroyed Group 8 by 41-18, but interest in the Sydney matches was waning. In May the Queensland state side came to Cootamundra and defeated a weakened Group 9 selection 18-12.  The gate was £128 of which £100 went to Queensland.  And in July at Temora a testimonial match was held for Eric Weissel.

Temora finally gave up the Maher Cup to Tumut, who opened the season by defeating Cootamundra’s imports before a record Tumut gate.  The boys from the hills then fended off seven more challengers before the railway men from Junee dominated the latter matches.  In the last game of the season Temora regained the Cup it had so reluctantly relinquished.

In July as the English game loomed ‘ultimatums were in the air’ and a Group 9 breakaway seemed very possible.  The triggers included:

  • The NSWRL continuing to insist the big match be held at Wagga, as well as expecting the Group to finance it and bear any loss that may result.
  • The response to the above from the NSWRL to the above, which was to ban all Group 9 cup games on that day – thus likely to cause further loss of revenue for Group 9 members.
  • The NSWRL had brought pressure to bear on star players Eric Weissel, Jack Kingston, Sid Hall and George ‘Biggun’ Williams to not play in the Group 9 v Queensland match in May.  Their absence had reduced the gate.
  • Called ‘big frogs in a little puddle’ Group 9 administrators were lampooned by the Sydney sporting press. This didn’t help.

Solidarity was not a term used within Group 9. Cracks appeared. Both Junee and Maher Cup holders Tumut backed the Wagga match and decided not to play in competing fixtures.  Cootamundra and Young informed Tumut that it was not their place to make such a decision as Cootamundra controlled the scheduling of Maher Cup matches. Young declared they would be going to Tumut to challenge anyway.

Cootamundra and Cowra planned to hold a Weissel Cup match to clash with the England game.  Group 9 withdrew its affiliation with the NSWRL.  Fred Cahill, now in the powerful position of secretary sent a manifesto to all clubs in the state. Tumut made it star players Norm ‘Latchem’ Robinson, Tom Forbutt and Tom Sloane available to meet the English at Wagga.

To the embarassment of Group 9 the Wagga match attracted a big crowd, some 15,000 according to the Daily Advertiser but this was disputed by the Cootamundra Herald which observed that the gate was smaller than the England match at Cootamundra back in 1928. There certainly wasn’t a united front amongst country clubs (let alone Group 9 clubs), to Fred Cahill’s manifesto.  One country leader was reported in the Sydney Sportsman as saying: ‘Do you think we’re mugs enough to fall in with a crowd that can’t manage its own affairs, yet wants to get everybody into the same mess they’ve got themselves into?

Of course Young claimed the Maher Cup due to Tumut’s ‘forfeit’ and Cootamundra as the Cups’ controllers concurred.  The Referee newspaper predicted the death of the Maher Cup.  But on 31st July at Cootamundra the NSWRL and Group 9 suddenly settled their differences.  The NSWRL agreed to contribute to the gate losses in the Queensland match and support the Country Constitution Conference scheduled for October.  Group 9 agreed to reaffiliate. Most importantly Maher Cup peace prevailed with the trophy remaining at Tumut.

The NSWRL even agreed that Group 9 under Eric Weissel’s captaincy could make a tour of country centres in September.  The matches were all won – at Parkes (gate £57), Glen Innes (gate £140 plus £100 received in rain insurance) and at Scone (a gate £186 and 4,000 crowd).  They finished up in Sydney at the Sports Ground on 1 October, going down to Souths 16-19.

Cartoon from The Truth 1 October 1932

Cartoon from The Truth 1 October 1932


The South-Western Competition established in 1930 continued but with just five teams: Young, Grenfell, Cowra, Boorowa and Harden-Murrumburrah and some forfeits it just hobbling along.  Gate receipts fell away badly.  The Country Conference was held in October but little was reported except squabbling.

Group 9 History: 1931

If Cootamundra were disappointed when Eric Weissel went to Temora in 1927.  This time they were ropeable when Jack Kingston, their home grown champion, Kangaroo and captain-coach, was enticed to coach and captain Young for the 1931 season.  In replying to criticism Kingston defended his move saying that it had been impossible for him to get a job outside football.  This set the tone for the depression era.  Players who had jobs often retired because the risk of injury could jeopardise their employment, and men in the country and city who were skilled enough to be paid for playing football were often desperate to earn a living from the sport.

Cootamundra surprised by joining the Young sponsored South-Western Competition, so the six ‘A’ teams were Young, Cowra, Grenfell, Boorowa, Harden-Murrumburrah-Galong and Coota…for two weeks.  Cootamundra then pulled out citing ‘financial reasons’. During quite a wild ‘friendly’ between Coota and Young at Fisher Park a fortnight later, Young, taking exception to decisions of Cootamundra referee and club delegate Tom Alberts, walked off the field.  Young’s three ex-Coota Jacks, Jack ‘Kinky’ Kingston, Jack ‘Inky’ Dempsey and Jack Walkom, were all duly suspended by the Group 9 judiciary.

The Young sponsored South-Western Competition was again successful.  In the final Cowra defeated Grenfell 3-0 before a crowd of 2000-3000.

At the Group 9 AGM, Junee secured both the president (Henry Paton) and secretary (Harry Glanville) positions,  Grenfell joined from Group 11, and it was decided that country referees to be favoured as their city cousins were too expensive.

Fred Cahill continued to show verve and arouse the hostility of other Group 9 officials. This time he arranged for the Queensland state side to play at Young against the local Southwest Competition teams.  A £160 surety was posted. President Paton from Junee complained about Cahill to the NSWRL, wanting the game in a town south of Young under the sponsorship of Group 9.  A compromise was eventually reached with expenses and profits being split 50% between Southwestern and Group 9.  A Group 9 team selected and all cup ties on the day were held over. Unfortunately heavy rain fell during the match, with some roads into Young flooded and only £143 taken at the gate. Queensland won 19-10 and the total loss on the match amounted to £120.

In a desperate effort to recoup their losses Group 9 invited a representative City side to Junee for a £100 take all challenge. Group 9 were to be given 10 points start and the winners would keep all the gate money.  However the NSWRL, considering that such games amount to wagering, ended the proposal. So Group 9 decided to offer the same challenge to top Sydney club Western Suburbs, now captain by West Wyalong’s Bill Brogan.

The Wests game at the Sydney Sports Ground attracted a very healthy 11,000 spectators on a cold and blowy date.  The country lads won 29-21, with this bunch of very talented men representing Group 9: Frank Blundell (Temora), Jim Mortimer (Junee), Abe Hall (Young), Cec Fifield (Junee), Jack Walkom (Young), Eric Weissel (Temora), Jack Dempsey (Young), Jack Kingston (Young), Arthur Waterson (Junee), Jack Brown (Young), Bill Lawrence (Barmedman), R. Kilpatrick (Wagga), and Jack Fitzgerald (Junee).  The gate was a massive £648 with £130 profit going into the Group 9 coffers.

The South-Western Competition towns based around Young challenged the more southern and western Group 9 towns (yes, I do realise this is confusing), to a match at Cootamundra   The gate was a useful £111 with the South-Western Competition team winning 23-18.  The teams: Group 9 – Frank Blundell (Temora), Jim Mortimer (Junee), Cec Fifield (Junee), Horace Turner (Temora), Len Cooper (Barmedman), Eric Weissel (Temora), Joe Egan (Junee), Arthur Waterson (Junee), Jack Stephenson (Temora), Bill Lawrence (Barmedman), Jack Fitzgerald (Junee), Charlie Fennell (Barmedman), R. Kilpatrick (Wagga) – South-Western: Laurie Ward (Harden), Jack Walkom (Young), Abe Hall (Young), Jack Courtney (Harden), Arnie Small (Galong/Harden), Jack Thompson (Cootamundra), Jack Dempsey (Young), Jack Kingston (Young), Mick Crowe (Grenfell), Bill Killaby (Boorowa), Bill Maizey (Cowra), Jack Brown (Young) and Gordon Hinton (Cootamundra).

In late September another Group 9 team went down to the big smoke and played South Sydney before a crowd of more than 20,000.   The team was: Laurie Ward (Harden), Jim Mortimer (Junee), Cec Fifield (Junee), Sid Harris (Grenfell), Arnie Small (Harden), Eric Weissel (Temora), Jack Dempsey (Young), Mick Crowe (Grenfell), Arthur Waterson (Junee), Tom Forbutt (Tumut) George ‘Biggun’ Williams (Junee), Gus Gray (Junee) and Jack Fitzgerald (Junee). Although they were defeated 31-15 the huge gate of £1188 filled the Group 9 coffers to overflowing.  As the Depression deepened, football in Group 9 country was sitting pretty well on top of the world.

Then the clubs voted to distributes the profits to themselves. President and secretary Paton and Glanville were outraged that the funds they had built up against all odds in such difficult times were to be squandered. Harry Glanville simply refused to authorise the distribution.

The Barmedman Maroons continued to be one of the strongest sides.  However West Wyalong did not grant permission for star winger Len Cooper to play for them in 1931. So Cooper moved into Barmedman to wait out his 28 day residency. After five successful challenges, and with Cooper in the Barmedman team, Young took the Maher Cup of the villagers 3-2.  Temora had the best Cup run and in the final match of the season destroyed Cootamundra 61-12, now just a shadow of a team.

However it was a year of many many protests across all the major Cups in play, not just the Maher Cup. The all time mother of Maher Cup protests commenced on the 9 September and seethed for eight months and numerous appeals to various bodies later.  It was basically a very simple matter.  Tumut came to Temora and took the Maher Cup in a surprising 12-1o win, with a team which included two born and bred Tumut juniors, Mick Mulvihill and John Ibbotson, that the Tumut secretary had overlooked to register them with Group 9 authorities. The injustice of Temora winning the protest on such a small technicality took some time, lots of money spent on lawyers, stacks of angst and anger, to sort.

The protests became entrenched and increasingly mendacious as the Depression hit hard.  The crowds dwindled but the passion didn’t. The Temora-Tumut protest, involving numerous backflips from head office, also intensified anti-NSWRL feelings and the idea of a separate Country Rugby League was becoming increasingly attractive.

Group 9 History: 1930

By 1930 the borders for Group 9 were starting to firm up.  The previous year Group 17 was created in 1929 to cater for the Irrigation Area towns, while Grenfell and Cowra were now locked into the Parkes based Group 11, Boorowa wanted to be part of Group 9 but were allocated to the now Queanbeyan based Group 8.  Group 9 still extended south to the Murray River. Like how Terra Australis was once mapped to Antarctica, there existing and unfulfilled dream that one day fertile ground may be found suitable to colonise League in the land of Aerial Pingpong.

The decade started with a new Constitution covering all the country Groups. At the Group 9 AGM Henry Paton, a locomotive inspector from June was elected president and Jim Gardner of Gundagai re-appointed secretary. Charles Inson the former Group treasurer, and often referred to as ‘the father of football in the south‘ became it’s first patron.

Fred Cahill was still on the committee but now was more interested in developing his football plans for his own area.  If Group 9 wouldn’t come to the party he would start a regular home and away competition for the towns and villages about Young.  The ‘South-Western Football Competition’ came to be. Composed of a compact collection of clubs: Cowra, Grenfell, Young, Harden-Murrumburrah, Boorowa, Bendick Murrell and Galong it crossed Group boundaries .  A reserve grade competition also ran with Maimaru and Monteagle contributing teams.

The South-West Competition table. Twelve rounds were played.

The South-West Competition table. Twelve rounds were played.

Little Bendick Murrell appointed Sid Hall as coach and were able to register more players than an other team in the competition, putting up two full teams, emerging as points runners-up in the first grade and premiers in reserve grade. Young were the first grade minor premiers but were beaten by Grenfell in the final who secured the ‘Toohey Pilsener Shield.  However the first year of the Great Depression was a difficult time to start such a new competition and financial worries loomed large.

The seeds for confrontation were sown at the AGM when the Tumut delegate, sensing the weakening of Cootamundra’s dominance, sought to have all challenge cup matters brought under the control of Group 9. Naturally Cootamundra, being the owner of the Maher Cup rules, if not currently the Cup, were vehemently opposed. However they won the argument, supported by unlikely ally Barmedman who believed that local control was necessary to encourage local businesses to sponsor such cups.

Group 9 needed funds to operate.  The only promise of profitability was if they promoted a big match each year.  In 1930 they eyed the New Zealand tourists due from over the ditch.  With the executive no longer dominated by Cootamundra, Temora was selected to be the venue for the proposed match. However delegates later backed down after being convinced that Coota’s location at the junction of all the rail lines promised a bigger gate.  This of course caused uproar in Temora.  Secretary Gardner of Gundagai then refused to submit the Group 9 meetings change of heart over the venue to the NSWRL.

Canowindra's beloved Jack Hore Memorial Gold Cup.

Canowindra’s beloved Jack Hore Memorial Gold Cup.

In June things got complicated in a tussle over Eric Weissel. Temora wanted him for a big match at Canowindra on a Sunday for the Jack Hore Memorial Gold Cup, a trophy that generated as much passion as the Maher Cup some central-west and northern Riverina towns. However the NSWRL had selected him to captain the state against Queensland the day before.   The mercurial Fred Cahill stepped in and negotiated that Eric would play both games – being driven overnight from Sydney and Canowindra.  It was an arduous journey with the car having to ‘plough through snow‘ at Lithgow. Temora won the match, Weissel scored a try, and with a 5000 crowd and and a massive £200 gate it was, the biggest football game to that date at Canowindra. Weissel was then selected for the Kangaroos vs The Rest match the following week.  Off course the Temora club required him for their Jack Hore defence against Orange.  The NSWRL executive were clearly annoyed by all this, but threw their hands into the air and let Weissel do what his Temora benefactors wanted him to.

The NSWRL gained some revenge by deciding to transfer the proposed New Zealand game from Temora to Young. This ‘tyrannical and petty’ action of course annoyed just about everyone in Group 9, except Fred Cahill who was on the one hand praised for sorting out the Weissel mess and damned for meddling in matters, where a being just one of a number of Group 9 vice-presidents, he had no authority.  And of course he could always be guaranteed to be looking after Young’s interests.

Temora, captained by Eric Weissel in 1930: Back – Eric Curran, Charlie Bray, Norm Bland, George King, Reg Maker Middle – Leo Curran, Horace Anthony, Eric Weissel, Norm Dundas, Alan'Snowy' Lynch, Bob Boyd Front – Joe Constable, Harold Thomas, Harry Owen, Jack Stephenson. Source: Temora Dragons Rugby League Club via Facebook.

Temora, captained by Eric Weissel in 1930: Back – Eric Curran, Charlie Bray, Norm Bland (president), George King, Reg Maker
Middle – Leo Curran, Horace Anthony, Eric Weissel, Norm Dundas, Alan’Snowy’ Lynch, Bob Boyd
Front – Joe Constable, Harold Thomas, Harry Owen, Jack Stephenson. Source: Temora Dragons Rugby League Club via Facebook.


In August amidst much rancour the New Zealand match was finally held – at Young.  Temora of course banned Weissel from participating and Group 9 president Henry Paton and his Junee club were mightily perturbed that Cahill obviously had contacts at the NSWRL that they did not.  In the end the team did not represent Group 9 and was labelled ‘Southern Districts‘.  It was a talented side but clearly not the strongest available: Laurie Ward (Harden), Jack Payne (Barmedman), Laurie Smith (Barmedman), Viv ‘Snowy’ Marsh (Tumut), Jack Walkom (Cootamundra), Sid Hall (Bendick Murrell & Young), A. Coates (Cowra), Jack Kingston (Cootamundra), Sid Moxom (Cowra), B. Garry (Boorowa), Bill ‘Sorlie’ Crowe (Grenfell), Jack ‘Blue’ O’Malley (Young) and Charlie York (Yass). They lost 24-20. The gate of £277 was healthy but smaller than two recent Maher Cup matches at Cootamundra.

Earlier in the season the Country Week Group 9 team was Jim Jeffery (Tumut), Alan Ridley (Temora), ‘Chips’ Phillips (Cootamundra), Jack Fitzgerald (Junee), Les Griffen (Tumut), Stan Cooper (Barmedman), Jack Dempsey (Cootamundra), Jack Kingston (Cootamundra), Jack James (Cootamundra), Tom Forbutt (Tumut), Alf Tasker (Cootamundra), Wilf ‘Woody’ Field (Gundagai) and Bill Lawrence (Barmedman). They played the new Group 17 at Junee, and with a combined Groups 9 & 17 team they trouncing Group 8 at Cootamundra a week later. Eight Group 9 players were selected in the Southern team for ‘Country Week’, those above in italics above plus Keith Ellis (Junee) and ‘Shooter’ Schumack of Cootamundra.

For the first time the Country Week teams were seeded.  ‘Southern’ were considered the top country team so they were matched with the mighty South Sydney – going down 25-22 in a quality match. They also played Newcastle, losing 20-7.

Meanwhile the Maher Cup had a successful year with Barmedman, Young and Cootamundra having decent runs and with crowds still robust.  The Len Cooper case dominated discussion out in the Mallee Country.  Cooper who lived 14 miles from Barmedman and 8 miles from West Wyalong, had fallen out with Wyalong coach ‘Bad’ Bill Brogan, and had been playing with Barmedman for two years. He was one of their star players and wanted to stay. After much huffing and puffing Wyalong granted permission – only to rescind it in 1931.

Grenfell Record 3 July 1930

Grenfell Record 3 July 1930

In a classic Maher Cup dispute Wagga and Young got out their respective surveyors to determine if Monteagle resident, and crack player, Bill Crowe (different from Grenfell’s Bill Crowe) , lived within 10 miles of the Young Post Office.  As could be expected in matters relating to Young, the Cootamundra club’s controlling committee initially favoured the challengers Wagga, but the next week changed their minds once accurate measuring convinced them that Crowe lived only some 9 miles and 77 chains away. Naturally the punters spread rumours that mile posts had been dug up and temporarily relocated.

Frustration with the Maher Cup draw led Temora to introduce a new resplendent Cup similar to Canowindra’s popular Jack Hore Gold Cup, challenge the ‘Old Tin Pot’ for Wednesday supremacy. Eric Weissel was of course the great drawcard so it was named after him.

Football crowds were still pretty good in 1930. But the Depression was about to really bite.