The NSW Rugby League in March proposed to extend Group 9 to the Victorian border but remove some Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area Towns, with some 28 teams: Cootamundra, Jugiong, Gundagai, Tumut, Young, Boorowa, Koorawatha, Grenfell, Temora, Barmedman, Wyalong, Ungarie, Lake Cargelligo, Wagga, Junee, The Rock, Rand, Galong, Culcairn, Holbrook, Albury, Urana, Oakland, Henty, Coolamon, Ariah Park, Barellan and Griffith. As most of the above towns south and west of Wagga only played Australian Rules football it seemed to be an aspirational grouping, rather than a reflection of reality.
The importance of the railways as the transportation backbone was highlighted by the Group’s response to the above. They suggested that Group 9 include Harden and “all the towns on the main and branch lines to Albury; all towns on the Temora-Griffith line; also the towns on the Stockinbingal-Forbes line to the border of the Western District (Group 11). Group 9 quietly settled to be composed of ten core towns Tumut, Gundagai, Harden-Murrumburrah, Cootamundra, Young, Junee, Wagga, Temora, Barmedman, West Wyalong and with Irrigation Area teams drifting in and out.
Paid coaches were the issue of 1926. In 1925 all the better Group 9 teams had one. The method applied by Gundagai to appoint a coach was interesting. Although the football club did not have enough funds for a paid coach, they decided to seek to appoint one anyway. They felt that once the appointment was made the public, being largely the local businesses, would come to the party and pay the bills. They did.
When Temora, chastened by their previous years experience of hiring a costly coach, sought successfully to ban them. Coota and Young threatened to abandon the Group in response. Relations between Young and Temora became particularly caustic. However the matter was easily sidestepped by the big clubs. Coaches Ted Taplin (Young), Phil Regan (Coota) and ‘Chips’ Phillips (Gundagai) simply ceased being referred to as coaches – although they continued to receive pay. Just call me ‘Skipper‘. Ironically the following year Temora enticed Eric Weissel from Coota for record reward to coach and captain.
Group 9 was now getting thoroughly organised, with separate committees covering judicial, financial, fixture and selection matters.
The big crowds in the southwest were noted in Sydney, and resulted in more and better City sides visiting. The first signs of friction between the NSW Rugby League (increasingly referred to as the Sydney RFL) and Group 9 emerged – over the practice of visiting teams taking 50% of the gate in friendlies. Even so Young couldn’t resist hosting a strong Balmain team in August on those terms and Grenfell welcomed (and trounced) the season’s premiers South Sydney.
There was considerable conflict between Group 9 secretary Fred Cahill (who was also a journalist for the Young Witness) and the Cootamundra club over the use of Sydney referees. Young wanted to pay imported coaches and save on referees by appointing neutral locals. Other clubs demanded that paid coaches be eliminated but were willing to pay for Sydney referees. Young also called for the challengers to receive a share of the Maher Cup (and other cup) gates. When Cootamundra won the Royal Cup (sponsored by Young’s Royal Hotel) which did provide for a 25% visitor’s share – they returned it, considering that this carve-up made it uneconomic to defend. After a raucous end of season meeting at Cootamundra in September Cahill collapsed and resigned.
In 1924 when Cootamundra put the Maher Cup back into player they framed new rules to suit themselves. Soon the gamesmanship and greed synonymous with this Cup was beginning to become apparent. Cootamundra started to enforce its residency rule whereby players must reside within 10 miles of the team town’s post office. Talented Gundagai stalwart Gerry Crowe from Gobarralong lived a mile or two too far from the Murrumbidgee town and was banned from the Cup. Coota didn’t make any new friends either when Grenfell put in a challenge and were told they had to withdraw their coach from the team – English international representative Ben Gronow – even though Cootamundra’s own skipper Phil Regan was clearly nothing other than a kept coach under another name.
The year ended with bitterness between Cootamundra and Temora, over referees, Temora and Junee, over playing on Show Day, Young and Cootamundra on multiple fronts, and generally ill-feeling against Cootamundra for its dominance of the Maher Cup competition both on and off the field.