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.

One thought on “Group 9 History: 1935

  1. Well done Neil on your interesting blog – very well researched. Its of the same high standard as your Maher Cup history (and explanation of origins of the Murrumbidgee RL). Like the way it puts everything in context.

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