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Sunday, 28 June 2015

Annandale – The Perennial Battlers (2015)

In 1900, the strongest Rugby Union clubs resided in Glebe, Balmain, Newtown and South Sydney. These clubs were all required to field three grades of teams which saw them drawing players from neighbouring suburbs.

Glebe were the most dominant and successful club during these early years of the 1900’s while their neighbouring suburb Annandale were a second grade feeder club for Glebe.

In 1908, when Glebe moved from the Metropolitan Rugby Union to the New South Wales Rugby League (NSWRL), soon followed by the Newtown, Balmain and South Sydney clubs, Annandale officials were optimistic that this might provide them with an opportunity to finally move into the first grade competition, however was not an option that the Metropolitan Rugby Union (MRU) were even contemplating.

The NSWRL had a reasonably successful debut season followed by a tumultuous beginning to their 1909 season, however a daring coup on the Rugby Union’s elite playing ranks, financed by entrepreneur James Joynton-Smith saw the MRU decimated for a second year.

The rebel Rugby Union players of 1909 played in 3 exhibition games billed as the Kangaroos v the Wallabies. After the third game, The NSWRL had failed to raise enough funds to repay Joynton-Smith, so a fourth match was scheduled to be played on the same day as the 1909 final between South Sydney and Balmain on September 18.

On August 28, 1909, Annandale announced that they had disbanded from the MRU and had joined with the NSWRL. On the same day five Annandale players, coupled with some Newtown Rugby Union players, participated in an exhibition game against Eastern Suburbs, in the undercard match before the Australia v Maori Test at the Royal Agricultural Ground. With some lenient officiating by the referee towards the newcomers, as they were new to the rules, they won the game 8-5.

On September 3, 1909, the MRU gathered to discuss the rebel players and decided to formally expel Jack Barnett, Alby Burge, Jack Hickey, Paddy McCue, Chris McKivat, Peter Burge, Robert Craig, Edward Mandible, Arthur McCabe and William Farnsworth for their involvement in the Wallabies exhibition games.

The following day, the MRU cited the Annandale club and the Newtown players who participated in the exhibition game against Eastern Suburbs

After these players were expelled, the MRU board then turned their attention to Annandale and ruled that a decision would be made on their fate at a later date.

On September 18, the Kangaroo’s and Wallabies played their fourth exhibition game which, despite Balmain refusing to participate in the final, still generated just enough income to fully repay Joynton-Smith.

Four days later, the MRU met again and decided to expel Newtown players R.Gavin and Viv Farnsworth, along with five Annandale players and a second grade Newtown player for their involvement in the exhibition game with Eastern Suburbs.

Two of the expelled Annandale players were Angus Lennon and Robert Gray who both spoke about the code switch. Lennon revealed that “we went over (to Rugby League) because Annandale will never have a decent show of forming a district club while we are Glebe’s district.” This sentiment was one that run deep within many at the club.

Gray revealed, “I had one night’s meeting to learn the rules. Arthur Hennessy was there; we met at the corner and went to the training room. The only reason I went over was because I thought I would like the League rules better.”

On March 14, 1910 the Annandale Rugby League Club held its first official meeting at the Collondale Hall. The meeting was presided over by Horrie Miller, Harry Flegg and Edward Larkin, officials of the game’s governing body.

It was at this meeting that the New South Wales Rugby League officially declared that Annandale would be the eighth team to join their first grade competition for the 1910 season, effectively replacing the recently departed Newcastle side, despite not having a designated home ground. They would take the field wearing maroon and gold coloured jumpers.

The first secretary of the Annandale club was Walter Henry Clutton, a member of the Liberal Party and a Police Sergeant. The vice-president elected at the same meeting was Alderman James Robertson, who was also the Mayor of Annandale. In mid-August 1910, Clutton resigned from role with the Annandale club to focus on his political career. Both Clutton and Robertson put forward nominations to be the Liberal candidate in the seat of Kahibah at the 1910 federal election. Clutton won the nomination, however his joy was short lived when he managed to obtain just 15% of the votes in his seat. In 1918 he served in WWI in Rabaul, before contracting malaria and being discharged.

Annandale’s first game was on April 30, 1910 against Newtown, where they were overwhelmed by eventual premiers Newtown 31-6. They then went down in a close contest to neighbouring Balmain 8-2 the following week before facing their former parent side in the MRU, Glebe. Annandale again put in another spirited display but went down 17-10. After losing to Easts 20-12 in their 4th game, Annandale then won 5 and drew 1 of their next 9 games to finish the season respectably. One of those wins came in Round 9 against Glebe by 10-7. It would be the only time in 23 games that they achieved the feat.

1911 saw Annandale again win 5 and draw 1 of their 14 games, this time finishing 5th. Utility forward Robert Stuart became the first man playing for Annandale to be selected to represent Australia when he was named in the Kangaroo squad to tour England in 1911-12. He played 2 games on tour but no Tests.

Despite a respectable first few seasons, it was revealed in 1912 that Annandale still had no training ground. When the team first formed they trained on a block of land known as Johnstone’s estate. In the two years after, many buildings have been erected in this area making the land smaller and inadequate. Annandale secretary W. Lennon needed a large enough venue for the 74 players from all 3 grades to train on. He approached Petersham council for use of Petersham Oval, Leichhardt council to use Leichhardt Park, the trotting association for Epping grounds and to the city council to use Camperdown Park. Each request was denied. He also applied to the city council to have Federal Park upgraded for training purposes, as it did not contain dressing sheds, no water, no lights which was also denied. Despite these difficulties, the team did not give up and made the most of what they had. The club slid backwards, winning just 2 games.

In 1913 the Annandale club elected James Giltinan as their president. Giltinan was the man who helped finance and organise Rugby League’s birth just 6 years earlier. It was also in this year that Annandale decided to withdraw from the second grade competition. The club managed just 3 wins through the year, finishing equal last with Wests.

The 1914 season was the first of a number of disastrous seasons for the club as they struggled to compete with all clubs. They had just 1 win, 1 draw and 11 losses as they approached their final game against competition leaders Souths. Newtown were second on the ladder and needed to win their game against Norths, and for Souths to lose to Annandale for them to become premiers. The Newtown players invited Annandale to train with them at the Metters ground, Newtown’s home ground, as well as offering a one pound reward if they could beat Souths.

Newtown went on to Norths 20-12. Souths however were caught by surprise at the enthusiasm of the Annandale side and at halftime, their game was locked at 3 all. But 3 second half tries to nil in Souths favour saw them win 14-5 and claim the premiership.

If the geographical disadvantage inflicted upon Annandale wasn’t enough, the First World War saw a number of players in the area enlist in the war effort. They won 3 of 14 games in 1915 and 4 of 14 games in 1916.

Their first game of 1917 against neighbouring rivals Glebe saw about the greatest controversy in the games existence at that time. Dan Davies played for Glebe in their 26-5 win, however Annandale protested as they knew that Davies was living in Annandale, not Glebe, therefore he should have played for Annandale. Glebe had their 2 competition points deducted for the win and Davies was banned for life. Davies returned and played in Newcastle. The NSWRL decided to ban almost every player, administrator and club in the Newcastle competition. The decision was eventually overturned in 1921.

Over the next 4 seasons, Annandale won just 2 of their 55 games, each season they played a rougher and more unattractive style of play. This saw crowd figures for Annandale games drop and potential local players lose interest in the game, resulting in Annandale relying at times on borrowed players from outside their region. In 1918 and 1920 they failed to win a single game.

On October 13, 1920 the NSWRL Committee decided at a meeting to axe Annandale due to their poor record, poor style of play and inability to field a team of local players. Four of the other eight clubs that voted to axe Annandale were Balmain, Glebe, Newtown and Wests, all of whom would benefit from their demise. Shortly after the decision was passed, delegates of all 4 clubs set about splitting up the Annandale region so that they would all get a share.

A motion to rescind the decision was put forward but was emphatically voted against, and with that, the existence of Annandale whimpered into non-existence.

Annandale 1910-1920
Played 163, Won 26, Drew 6, Lost 131, For 1118, Against 2756

*******This article appeared in Rugby League Review magazine*********

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Hypocrisy (2015)

The NRL for a number of years now, has been working tirelessly to try and improve the image of the game to make it more appealing to women, and subsequently, families.

So much so that they now have on their calendar every year, an entire round dedicated to the women involved in the game, a women's round.

Only one round out of 26.

This Friday, the Australian Jillaroos will play against the New Zealand Ferns in the curtain raiser to the test between Australia and New Zealand.

Yet despite there now being 5 separate Fox Sports channels as well as Channel 9's main and GEM channels, it seems there is no way it is at all possible to show this game.

Tomorrow night, Fox Sports 1 (which tends to host nearly all the Rugby League content out of their 5 channels) will instead show between 6pm and the replay of the Test match:
*The second repeat of NRL 360 and the irrelevant Matthew Johns show in the space of 6 hours,
*90 minutes of two ageing boxers talking about themselves and their upcoming payday, err fight,
*An hour long package of the greatest UFC fights.

Channel 9 will show
*The alleged journalism of A Current Affair prior to the Test
*Over an hour of boxing hosted by the NRL Footy Show

GEM will show
*a 3 hour long Clint Eastwood movie
*the 1967 Bonnie and Clyde movie

A lot of this could be forgiven to an extent. But one thing in my mind can't.

A 75 minute slot after the Test match dedicated to an NRL program and that program isn't even doing anything remotely attached to Rugby League, it's boxing!

Why not have a replay of the Women's Rugby League Test match played then? It's got a hell of a lot more Rugby League content than the NRL Footy Show does even on it's best nights, but even moreso on Friday when it will be showing boxing, not Rugby League.

If the NRL is truly passionate about properly recognising the involvement of women in Rugby League, the most basic of first steps would be to ensure that the National Women's side is shown some level of interest.

As it stands, the Jillaroo's can't even get a link to their website (which I might add is hosted by Fox Sports Pulse, not even an official Rugby League body can be bothered to look after this task) from the NRL website.

If the National women's side can't get airtime over the NRL Footy Show boxing night and cannot even have the NRL give them web space, just how appreciated can the rest of the women involved in the game truly feel?

I believe if the game wants to recognise a group of people, then either do it properly and thoroughly, or don't do it at all. At present it looks half-arsed and somewhat patronising.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Finals Need An Overhaul (2015)

The current finals system is quite simply designed to keep as many fans still invested in consuming right up until the last few days of the year. It makes good marketing sense, clearly.

But is it at the expense of the competition?

In the early days of the game, there was no set system for finals. Different variations of finals were used to determine the premiers. Sometimes, finals weren't even played.

It wasn't until 1938 that a dedicated finals system became mandatory, the mechanics of the system was altered a few times.

From 1938 til 1972 the top 4 teams made it to the finals. In 1973, an extra team was added to the finals system. The top 5 remained in place until 1994.

With the competition having expanded from 12 clubs in 1967 to 20 in 1995 due to expansion in 1982 (2 extra teams), 1988 (3 extra teams) and 1995 (4 extra teams).

In 1995, the game moved to a top 8 system, which remained in place the following season. When the game split in 1997, the ARL had a top 7 in a 12 team competition while the Superleague had a top 5 in a 10 team competition.

When the NRL took over it employed a top 10 system in 1998, before permanently moving to a top 8 system in 1999.

From 1908 til 1972 (4 team finals period) there were just 16 times where a team made the finals having won less than 55% of their regular season matches (over 64 seasons)

Comparatively, the NRL has had 44 occurrences where a team has made the finals with a regular season success rate under 55% (over 17 years)

Furthermore, never has a team won a Premiership with a win % in the regular season less than 57%

In fact, the teams who have won a title with a pre-finals win% of less than 60% are:

St George (1941) - Won 8 of their 14 games to finish 4th
Wests Tigers (2005) - Won 14 of their 24 games to finish 4th
Brisbane (2006) - Won 14 of their 24 games to finish 4th
Melbourne (2009) - Won 14 of their 24 games to finish 4th

There have also been 13 occasions where a team has participated in a finals campaign having won less than 50% of their regular season games. What is concerning is that this occurred 6 times prior to 1998 and 7 times during the NRL era.

Given that no team has ever won a title from 7th or lower on the ladder, it would appear that to ensure a better finals campaign, the NRL should reduce the number of finalists from 8 to 6 at the very least.

A simple finals system could look like this:

Week 1
Game A - 3 vs 4
Game B - 5 vs 6 - loser eliminated

Week 2
Game C - 1 v 2
Game D - Loser A v Winner B - loser eliminated

Week 3
Game E - Loser C v Winner D - loser eliminated

Week 4 - Grand Final
Game F - Winner C v Winner E

If the NRL wants to keep teams and fans interested, then a simple idea could be to bring back the City Cup competition.

From 1921 til 1923, the City Cup had a very intelligent and unique format. All of the return games played by clubs would also count as the City Cup fixtures, adding extra meaning to those games for the clubs who were out of the Premiership contention. Under the NRL draw, there are some teams who only play each other once in a year, so under those circumstances, that one result would be the City Cup game as well.

At season's end, a City Cup final series of just 4 sides could be played. It would essentially give the NRL two Grand Finals every year. It would mean an entire competition could be played but only 3 extra games are played to determine the winner.

Week 1
A - 1 v 4
B - 2 v 3
Week 2
C - Winner A v Winner B

These two ideas could see a stronger competition and a more closely fought premiership race that rewards the very best teams without giving out token finals appearances to a few sides.

Friday, 5 December 2014

The Christmas Party (2014)

As the year winds down to its inevitable close, everyone is invited back to Uncle Dave’s place for a big Christmas party and to unwind.

Standing by the door chatting are Anthony, John, Steve, Matthew and Mick.

Price: I thought I had a safe job, I didn’t do anything.
Elliott: That was your downfall, doing nothing.
Griffin: That’s quite hypocritical coming from you Matt.
Elliott: Ah, but I’m a nice bloke you see. How else do you think I made it this far?
Potter: I’m a nice bloke too.
Cartwright: Grant doesn’t seem to like you.
Potter: Nobody does. *looks sadly to the floor*
Elliott: I like you Mick. Cheer up mate, I’ll get you another cordial.
Potter: Thanks Matty, you really are a nice bloke.
Griffin: I thought I had my job nailed down, I even made the finals. *Looks across the room at Wayne* But then HE wanted to come back!
Cartwright: I thought I had the system beat, I signed a 5 year contract. I thought it was foolproof. Turns out I was a fool and there was a clause about not having a fool as a coach. Damn!

Matthew returns with Mick’s drink

Elliott: There you go Mick.
Potter: This is a shoe. I wanted a drink.
Elliott: That’s right, now I remember. Sorry mate. I’ll fix this up. Now, who did I take that shoe off?

Peter is standing in the middle of the room, looking at his shoeless foot.

Elliott: Sorry Pete, here’s your shoe back mate.
Sharp: I don’t really want that shoe. I’m quite comfortable wearing one shoe.
Elliott: You can’t have one shoe on mate. Either put one shoe on, or take the other one off, make a choice.
Sharp: I can’t figure this out! It’s too hard!

Peter takes his remaining shoe off and leaves.

Standing by the Christmas tree are Jason, Wayne, Rick and Shane.

Taylor: Gee Wayne, how is it you always get the biggest present every year in the secret santa?
Stone: Because he takes the biggest present and swaps the names, so that he gets the one he wants.
Bennett: something inaudible
Flanagan: Open your present Wayne
Stone: Shane! Where have you been mate?
Flanagan: I had a bit of a mishap when I visited the doctor. Had to go into isolation for the year.
Stone: Crikey, that sounds bad!
Flanagan: Yeah, I was holed up in this isolation room in the basement, it was very dank. So happy to be out now though.

Wayne opens present. It’s a Doghouse, with a pet puppy inside.

Taylor: Crikey, what a great gift. But you’ve got two dogs now, the one Anthony bought for you last year and this one.
Bennett: I’ll get rid of the other one. I don’t really like it anyway. Do you want it Shane?
Flanagan: Absolutely!

Standing by himself in the middle of the room is Ricky, engrossed in a conversation with himself. No one dares interrupt him. Trent and Ivan are near the drinks, when Anthony arrives to get a refill.

Griffin: Hi Trent, how’s things?
Robinson: Yeah you know, not bad.

James jumps up behind them with a mask on

Shepherd: BOO!

Anthony, Ivan and Trent jump.

Cleary: I should’ve seen that coming

Ivan hears a booming voice from the heavens. It is Go(ul)d.

Go(ul)d: Do unto others before they do unto you.
Cleary: Yes oh wise one!

Ivan grabs a scary mask and then jumps behind the recovering Trent.

Cleary: BOO!
Robinson: ARRGH! Dammit, I’ve been got again!

The food table is circled by Des, Geoff, Craig and Michael

Maguire: Well I should get to choose what I want first, because I’m the best.
Hasler: You’re new here. You’ve got to wait your turn.
Maguire: But I got here before you!
Hasler: We’ve been here for years and deserve to be here before you, You’ve only just got here. We’ve been coming here for years now.
Bellamy: Are there any chicken wings to eat? I’m getting a bit tired of these entrĂ©e asparagus spears.
Toovey: There’s some chilli dip over there. It’s very hot though. I had a hot flush and lost my voice. I think someone tampered with it. Someone should look into that. It could hurt someone.

Standing on their own are Paul and Brad, having a little chat to one another about their first Christmas party at Uncle Dave’s.

Green: Shame this do is so far from home though. Dave probably built his house here intentionally to make it hard for me to come.
Arthur: How can you sit here and try and sympathise with me with your petty travel complaint. I lost my toy plane Christmas present!

Paul tries to console Brad, but nothing seems to work. Standing nearby, watching, are Neil, Paul and Andrew.

Paul: Gee that Brad isn’t coping well with losing his plane is he?
Andrew: It was a pretty special toy though.
Paul: I lost my toy present as well. But I bought myself a new toy earlier in the year, so I’m not really worried. Brad should’ve done the same thing.
Neil: He did, but it’s not as good as the one he lost.

There’s a knock at the door.

Sheens: Can I come in?

Everyone: NO!

Pat Walsh - The Natural (2014)

Born in Cooks Hill on May 3, 1879, Patrick Bernard Walsh attended Newcastle Superior Public School where he received medals for running and in 1895 he received a medal for the best cricket all-rounder.

The following year he left school aged 17, to work as a railway porter. He joined the Norwoods Rugby Union club and was an integral member of their undefeated side who also avoided conceding a point during the 1896 season.

In 1897 Walsh and his team-mates were presented with medals to commemorate their previous season’s feats. While he was walking along a city wharf, the medal fell off his waistcoat chain. He returned half an hour later to find his medal had been crushed by a cart and the gold inlay was missing. Walsh kept the damaged medal remnants which remained one of his prized possessions.

In 1898 a residential system was introduced forcing players to join the team representing the district where they lived. Walsh and other players from the Norwoods and Carlton clubs formed the Newcastle Central team for the 1899 season, who won the premiership that year. Walsh would go on to win another four premierships with the club.

In 1899 he was selected to represent Northern Districts against the touring British side that contained the player Blair Swannell, whom Walsh would have several clashes with in his career.

Walsh again represented the Northern Districts in 1900 and in September of 1902, was instrumental in their 18-6 victory against the more fancied Sydney Metropolis side.

In 1903 Walsh moved to the Carlton Club where he was soon regarded as one of the premier forwards in New South Wales. He was selected in the Combined Country side that played Sydney Metropolis and the touring New Zealanders, before earning his first cap for NSW when selected to play against Queensland in the interstate series.

On July 2, 1904, Pat Walsh made his debut for the Wallabies against Great Britain. Despite his own good performance, the Wallabies went down 17-0. Joining him in the Australian team that day were future Rugby League pioneers Alec Burdon and Dinny Lutge. Walsh's opponent in the British side was Blair Swannell.

After the test, Walsh lined up for the Northern Districts against the British. During the game he had a collision with British winger Fred Jowett, causing the winger to retire from the match with concussion. The tourists went after Walsh, but he held his own.

During this game it was alleged that British player Denys Dobson swore at referee Harry Dolan. Dobson was immediately sent from the field. England's captain David Bedell-Sivwright was incensed at the decision and ordered his team to leave the field in protest, before soon returning. Walsh was one of five Northern Districts players that supported the referee's decision at an ensuing investigation into the “Dobson incident” by the NSWRU, who surprisingly sided with the English players, claiming the referee had heard wrong. This would prove to be a catastrophic decision by the NSWRU.

Walsh played in the second test at Brisbane but the British were again too strong, running out victors 17-3. Blair Swannell flattened Walsh in what appeared to be a personal vendetta.

The Wallabies lost 16-0 in the third test, where Walsh was one of the few shining lights for the Australians.

Walsh and the British squared off one last time when NSW played the tourists in their last tour match. The game was dominated by very heavy forwards clashes, most involving Walsh.

He retained his place in the state side for the first interstate game of 1905 and was considered one of the best three players in the losing NSW side on the day.

The next week Walsh played a starring role, leading NSW to victory against Queensland. The praise for his performance was great and unanimous, with commentators stating: “Walsh played grandly”, “Walsh played a brilliant game” and opinions suggesting he was one of Australia's best forwards.

However, it was oddly deemed not good enough to see him retain his place in the state side for the upcoming match against the touring New Zealanders. Walsh was replaced by Blair Swannell, the British tourist who was now playing for North Sydney.

His omission to this day is one of the most baffling made in either Rugby code in Australia. The Referee reported that “Walsh's exclusion is simply a Chinese puzzle” after state selectors suggested that Pat Walsh's form had dropped in his last two games.

After the third interstate game, the NSW squad was selected for an end-of-season tour of New Zealand. Walsh was again omitted.

He then captained the Newcastle side to a convincing 30-0 victory, putting in a best-on-field display, scoring three tries. The NSWRU still refused to select him. The Arrow reported:

“If the Australian team to visit New Zealand included Walsh, one would have no fear as to the forwards holding their own against anything in New Zealand. There is no better forward in Australia than Walsh, probably no one quite as good. In the Newcastle district, the “Dobson incident” inquiry is thought to have in some way prejudiced Walsh's chances of being selected. It is clear that the Newcastle forward has not been omitted on the ground of his ability not being good enough.”

Walsh played for Carlton in the Grand Final against Newcastle. Carlton had lost to Newcastle three times during the year, each time they were missing Walsh who was on representative duty.

Ten minutes before full-time, with Carlton holding a 2-0 lead, Walsh gathered the ball and ran twenty yards to score between the posts. Carlton won 9-0.

Pat Walsh then travelled to South Africa and participated in an expatriate Australian Rules competition in Johannesburg to maintain his fitness. He became vice-captain of the Commonwealth Football Team, who in November of 1905 won the Australian Football League Premiership.

Walsh returned to Newcastle early in 1906 where he learnt that the Northern Districts Rugby Union had lodged a protest with the NSWRU regarding his omission from the Australian touring team in 1905, however there was no resolution.

In April 1906, Walsh suddenly departed for New Zealand. Walsh admired the quality of football that the 1903 New Zealand tourists played and wanted to play among who he regarded as the best players in the world.

Upon arriving in Auckland, he was signed by the Parnell club and quickly earned selection in the Auckland Province representative team that toured New Zealand's South Island, a feat he repeated in 1907.

Many believed he should have been selected in the New Zealand All Golds squad that was to tour Australia and England, with one commentator stating “Walsh stood out as being the best player in the senior grade competition.”

In 1908, the Auckland press proclaimed Walsh was the best forward in New Zealand. He was expected to be named in a representative side to face the touring British side; however he was again oddly omitted.

Around this time, Walsh received a cable from James Giltinan in Sydney, who asked Walsh to join the newly formed Rugby League competition, where he could be selected in an end-of-season tour to England. He accepted the offer as he saw it as his last chance to visit England.

He was greeted at Sydney wharf on the Saturday morning of July 18 by NSWRL secretary Henry Hoyle, who took Walsh to the Royal Agricultural Showground. Walsh was given an hour to learn the new game before lining up for Queensland against NSW. Queensland lost 12-3 in Walsh's first game of Rugby League.

He played the last two games of the season for Newcastle, who wore the red and white striped jumpers of the Carlton club, as a tribute to Walsh. 

Walsh was a late inclusion in Giltinan's squad to tour England but was unable to get a ticket with the rest of the squad, so he had to board the SS Salamis instead. It was revealed he had brought a kangaroo with him as a mascot, which he hoped but failed to train to lead the team out carrying the ball. The kangaroo died after the tours completion, on the day before the players left England to return home.

Once in England, Walsh was selected in the Kangaroo's side to play Salford. He started the game very strongly but was moved to the backs later in the game which met with little success.

The 11th game of the tour saw Australia face Northern Union champions Hunslet, whose forward pack contained the formidable “terrible six” and was led by champion Albert Goldthorpe. Walsh was a star performer, helping Australia to an impressive 12-11 victory.

Walsh played in all three of Australia's test matches against England. The first test was a 22 all draw, the second, a 15-5 victory to the English who also won the third test 6-5. Walsh played in 29 of the exhausting 45 game tour, including an impressive performance in an exhibition match in Glasgow where he scored “a skilful dribbling try.”

While on tour, he became the first Australian player approached by an English club and accepted an offer from Huddersfield, whom he would play 6 games for at the end of their 1908-09 season, after the Kangaroo tour concluded.

Kangaroo tour manager James Giltinan stated at the time that Walsh was “the finest forward in the Northern Union.”

In the 1909-10 season, Walsh suffered a knee injury in a game against Hull on a frozen field at Craven Park. Huddersfield paid for him to travel to London to have an innovative and rarely performed operation on his knee.

His first game back was against Hull Kingston Rovers at Fartown where he managed to get through the first half, displaying his trademark unrelenting defence, but just before full time he re-injured the knee.

Walsh then travelled to Liverpool where he had the damaged cartilage successfully removed. He revealed years later “The club regarded me as something of a guinea pig. When my operation proved successful, they sent three other players along to have their cartilages removed. They'd been on the crock list and weren't game to have the operation. I had it only because I knew that if I didn't take the risk with a surgeon in England, there was no one in Australia who could help me.”

He played 7 games for Huddersfield in the 1910-11 season before returning to Australia with his future wife Rebecca Eve, a lady he met while she was playing piano at post-match functions during the Kangaroo tour. Upon his arrival in 1911, Pat Walsh joined the Newcastle Central team and three weeks later captained the Northern Districts team on their tour to Queensland, winning all three of their games.

Walsh moved to Queensland, first working in a Brisbane Post Office, then with the railways at Townsville where he briefly coached a local side.

Early in 1915, Pat and Rebecca married before the outbreak of war. Walsh enlisted with the 12th Light Horse Regiment and was promoted to Corporal two months later before being transferred to a railway construction unit. His younger brother Clem, also enlisted for service and was promoted to Major and later earned a Military Cross.

Pat suffered a number of illnesses while on duty; one caused paralysis in his legs which saw him require metal callipers on his legs and crutches to get around.

During the great depression, Pat would sit on his front veranda and talk to passers-by, offering them into the house for meals if they were hungry, much to the dismay of his wife. Pat's brother Clem would often take him sailing around Newcastle.

In 1922, his son John Patrick Walsh was born. John became a Rugby Union player for the Newcastle Wanderers, earning selection in a Newcastle representative side, but his career was unable to reach the lofty heights of his father. John later became secretary of the club.

Pat Walsh passed away on May 22, 1953, 3 weeks after his 74th birthday.

While at Huddersfield he was described as “a grim, gaunt forward, with a deadly embrace, tackles with scrupulous fairness and proportionate effectiveness.”

James Giltinan succinctly described Walsh as “a generous-hearted, able forward and a sterling character.”

His mistreatment fuelled a simmering groundswell of animosity by some players against the Rugby Union which eventually led to the birth of Rugby League in Australia. Despite this mistreatment, he never complained. He became a successful player in three football codes across three different countries.

A true legend.

********This article appeared in Rugby League Review Magazine************

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Glebe - The First Club (2014)

On January 9, 1908, a meeting at the Glebe Town Hall containing the Metropolitan Rugby Union’s best side, Glebe, their officials and board members, politician Henry Hoyle and businessman James Giltinan lead to the iconic club deciding to switch codes and join the breakaway Rugby League for the upcoming season.

The club’s decision to switch codes was the catalyst for Balmain, South Sydney, Eastern Suburbs, Newtown, North Sydney and Western Suburbs to also abandon the MRU and join the Rugby League. It was just as integral to Rugby League’s birth as the procurement of star player Dally Messenger.

The story behind Glebe’s decision is very closely and heavily linked to the rise of professional Rugby in Australia.

In 1899, Glebe board member Lewis Abrams is made President of the MRU in its debut season of 1900. Abrams was an Alderman for the Glebe Council from 1893 til 1898. He was also Secretary of the Glebe Cricket Club from 1892-1900, President of the Glebe Bicycle Club and Secretary of the Glebe Free Trade & Liberal Association.

Abrams was largely responsible for the introduction of what was called ‘electoral cricket’, which was essentially the residential rule which would later be used in Rugby Union and Rugby League for many decades. Abrams was also a key man involved in the creation of the MRU in 1900.

In 1900, the MRU announced that clubs from Sydney University, Eastern Suburbs, North Sydney, Glebe, Newtown, Western Suburbs, South Sydney and Balmain would field teams in all three grades of competition. Glebe was one of the first teams entered into the competition as it was seen as “a stronghold of sport.”

Glebe’s side in the new MRU saw them change their jersey colours from Blue, Black and Yellow, to their iconic maroon (or Dirty Red as they would later be referred to). Abrams accepted the role of Glebe Club Secretary. The club patron was none other than Sydney Mayor, Sir Matthew Harris.

Sir Matthew Harris was a very valuable man to have on board, as he wasn’t just the Mayor of Sydney, but also president of the Wentworth Park trust, a ground which had never had a game of football played on it, but would become Glebe’s home ground for the 1900 season. Harris was also Vice President of the Royal Agricultural Society, whose ground was considered a marquee venue at the time as well.

Glebe’s dominance over the competition combined with an area full of talented and gifted athletes was proven when in the MRU’s debut season, Glebe won all three grades.

On July 23, 1904, Australia played Great Britain in a test at Brisbane’s Exhibition Ground. Glebe’s talented forward Alex Burdon, playing in his third consecutive test for the Wallabies, scored the opening try that gave the Wallabies a 3-0 lead at halftime. During the second half, he suffered a very heavy knock to his shoulder which forced him from the field. In typical Burdon style, he returned to the field 17 minutes later. Great Britain went on to win the game 17-3.

For Burdon though, it was the start of an extended lay off from playing and from work. He would return for the following season. His injury, like in sport today, was just an unfortunate risk every player took when they ran out onto the field.

However, Rugby Union was strictly amateur which meant players were not paid to play. Nor were they financially supported if their Rugby Union injury prevented them from working.

On July 14, 1906, Glebe hosted Auckland City at the Sydney Cricket Ground. In a close fought match, Glebe trailed 11-8 with 10 minutes remaining when Glebe’s George Riddell and Auckland’s George Little collided heavily when they both attempted to kick a loose ball. The collision saw both players suffer an horrific broken leg each. The sight of the injuries was so severe that the referee and players agreed to call the game off early and the players were sent to St.Vincents Hospital. Coincidentally, the same two players collided with each other in a game just 12 months prior which resulted in both players suffering broken collarbones.

The Glebe club decided to hold a benefit concert to raise funds for both players. Glebe officials asked the NSWRU to support their campaign; however the request was declined because the NSWRU would not support any activity that gave players money for their involvement in Rugby Union. Glebe went ahead with the fundraising and managed to raise £45 for each player (approximately 3 months wages).

Former Glebe Rugby Union board member Joe McGraw publicly criticised the NSWRU for their not helping Burdon in 1904 or Riddell in 1906. The NSWRU shortly after agreed to provide extra financial assistance to Riddell and Little.

In 1907, the MRU decided to abolish its insurance cover for players, instead leaving insurance up to the clubs. On May 4, Sydney played South Sydney in a match at the Sydney Cricket Ground. It was towards the end of this game when Burdon infamously broke his arm. With no insurance to cover him while he was injured and unable to work, Burdon’s feeling of anger towards the Rugby Union for twice failing to help him reached its peak. Burdon began attending meetings at Test Cricketer Victor Trumper’s sports store. The meetings were frequently attended by James Giltinan, Trumper, Henry Hoyle and some players who were regular attendees included Trumper’s friend Peter Moir (Glebe), Arthur Hennessy (South Sydney), Bob Graves (Balmain) and Jim Moir (Glebe).

Two weeks after Burdon’s injury, Peter Moir received a telegram from George Smith in New Zealand, who was asking if a team of players in Sydney could be assembled to play against a professional Rugby team from New Zealand who would be visiting Australia en-route to England where they would be partaking in a tour against the professional Northern Union clubs.

Moir took the telegram to Trumper’s shop and a brief meeting was held and the request by Smith was accepted.

Professional Rugby started to become a reality and a great attraction for many disgruntled players. Glebe RU board members who were delegates that sat on the MRU committee actually supported the Rugby League movement and made it clear that they felt that a player revolt towards professionalism was the fault of the Rugby Union for treating the players with such contempt and insincerity.

On August 17, 1907, New Zealand played against New South Wales in a game under Rugby Union rules, but where all players were paid in what is considered the first game of Rugby League in Australia. A huge crowd of 20,000 turned out for the match, which was won by the visitors 12-8. Two more games were played in the following 6 days, with New Zealand winning both. Glebe fullback Charlie Hedley and forward Peter Moir represented NSW in all three games.

The MRU held a meeting shortly after the series finished. Lewis Abrams proposed that the Rugby Union should give its players the same entitlements that Rugby League planned to, as it would ensure that the players would not leave their code. The committee ruled his comments out of order and he was forced to deny that his intentions were to turn Rugby Union professional. The committee then ruled that all players who participated in the games against the visiting New Zealand professionals would be disqualified.

And so on January 9, 1908, Glebe agreed to become a Rugby League club. Many of their board members supported this decision, including the most important of them all at the time, Sir Matthew Harris.

Harris’ switch of allegiance saw the Rugby League gain exclusive use of both Wentworth Park and the Royal Agricultural Showground.

At Glebe’s landmark meeting, Tom McCabe was made a member of the management committee and future Prime Minister Billy Hughes was appointed as club patron. Alderman Percy Lucas was elected as the clubs first President.

On April 11, Glebe played their first game as a Rugby League Club, losing a trial against Western Suburbs 10-9.

On Easter Monday, April 20 at 3.15pm, Glebe kicked off their first official game against Newcastle in front of 3,000 fans at Wentworth Park. Glebe won the match despite playing quite poorly, by 8-5. Glebe went on to win their first 5 straight games before falling to a dominant South Sydney side 21-5. They won the next two before dropping their last game of the season against neighbouring rivals Balmain.

On May 6, 1908, Glebe fullback Charlie Hedley and forward Tom McCabe were selected to play in Australia’s first test match against the visiting New Zealand side. Australia lost 11-10.

On July 11, Hedley and McCabe also played in the first interstate game of Rugby League, when they represented NSW against Queensland. NSW romped home 43-0, with McCabe scoring 2 tries.

Glebe finished the inaugural season third, winning 7 of their 9 games, but the loss of their star first grade players Alex Burdon, Albert Conlon, Arthur Halloway, Charlie Hedley, Tom McCabe and Peter Moir to the pioneering Kangaroo tour to England, saw them lose 16-3 to eventual premiers South Sydney in the semi-final.

The Kangaroo tour was a failure, on and off the field. By the time they returned, Giltinan and Trumper had been sacked and Hoyle had stood down amidst allegations of corruption. Messrs Weymark (Glebe) and Fry (Souths) were heavily amongst the animated discussions to depose the founding trio, when they were given the right to vote on behalf of the Newcastle side at the Annual Meeting, despite there being no official documentation stating such. This incident drew the ire of board members from other clubs and saw about the abrupt ending of the meeting and a second Annual Meeting planned, which sealed the fate of the games founding fathers. This turmoil and financial uncertainty of the code necessitated a change of epic proportions in 1909 to keep the Rugby League alive. So began the purchase of the Gold Medal winning Wallabies players, led by test captain and Glebe’s champion half, Chris McKIvat. The secret meetings between League and the Union players took place at the Shearers Hotel on Bay St, Glebe.  

Glebe’s 1909 season was quite poor compared to the previous year, winning just 4 of 10 games and finishing fifth and consequently missing the finals.

In 1910, the NSWRL introduced a team from Annandale, which automatically impacted on the region that Glebe once had to obtain players. They won 6 of 14 games in 1910 and again finished fifth on the ladder.

Glebe however had picked up former Wallabies Chris McKivat and Jack Hickey for the 1910 from the previous seasons coup. Both were named in the first test side to face England in the first test between the two nations in Australia. Hickey scored the first try for Australia but it wasn’t enough to overcome the British side, who won 27-20.

1911 saw the Glebe club finish the season as Minor Premiers, winning 11 of their 14 games, as well as scoring more points than any other club and conceding less points than all the other clubs as well. The finals system in place at the time was to be a final between first and second. As South Sydney and Eastern Suburbs were both equal second, they had a play off to determine who would play Glebe in the final. Easts had not lost any of their last 7 games and star player Dally Messenger was in vintage form. Easts accounted for Souths 23-10, Messenger scoring 20 points. Easts then defeated Glebe in the final 22-9. This meant that Easts and Glebe were now essentially equal first on the ladder and so a second final was played, which was also won by Easts 11-8. Glebe was without test half Chris McKivat and test forward Peter Moir, who were both on a boat with the Australasian touring side to England.

1911 was also the year that their greatest ever player, Frank Burge, made his debut, aged just 16. He was so impressive that he was seriously being considered for the 1911 Kangaroo tour to England, but it was his young age that prevented him from being selected.

The first final was also declared a testimonial match by the NSWRL for Alex Burdon, Bob Graves and Arthur Hennessy, to thank them for their roles as selectors in 1908. Each man received £152 each.

Glebe also played a representative match against a representative team from Newcastle, winning 12-10. They were the only Sydney team who managed to defeat the Newcastle side.

Glebe continued their run of good form in 1912, when they won 11 of 14 games, finishing second on the ladder. Glebe also managed to reach the final of the inaugural City Cup competition, but were convincingly beat by Souths 30-5. In August, Glebe President Thomas Keegan, a Labor member of the NSW Legislative Assembly, mentioned his displeasure at the omission of Tom Gleeson from the NSW side selected to tour to New Zealand. He also was very critical of the NSWRL for their omission of Chris McKivat from the tour. Keegan finished with a final attack on the NSWRL when he stated that the Glebe players Fritz Theiring and Jack Redmond received very severe suspensions in comparison to Easts Arthur Halloway.

The Glebe club won their first title, when they won the 1912 reserve grade competition.

Champion Glebe centre Jack Hickey is admitted to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital suffering from typhoid fever, of which he eventually made a full recovery.

September 6, 1913, the day when Glebe’s 10-8 defeat of North Sydney at the Sydney Cricket Ground, gave them their first and only ever first grade title, when they won the City Cup. In the premiership, they slumped, winning 8 of their 14 games and finishing fourth.

In January 1914, the NSWRL announced that it had completed a review of club boundaries, after a request by Glebe the previous year for more territory, as they were finding themselves fighting with Balmain and Annandale. The NSWRL decided that no boundary changes would be made in the short term. March 1914 saw the creation of the Glebe Junior Rugby League.

1914 saw the club slip to fifth on the ladder, winning 7 of their 14 games. In their defence of the City Cup title, they faced Easts in the semi-final, going down 26-9 at the SCG.

January 28, 1915 saw Glebe defeat Balmain 3-0 to win the ‘Australia Day’ Carnival. Frank Burge also won the 100 yards race for Rugby League forwards on the same day.

The outbreak of war saw around 95 players and officials from the Glebe club alone, enlist for service over the duration of the conflict, 66 of whom signed up in 1915-16 alone. Despite this immense loss, the competitions continued and Glebe was in a hard fought battle for first place with neighbours and rivals, Balmain. Both clubs finished the season with 12 wins from 14 games, however, Balmain drew their other two games, whereas Glebe lost theirs, giving Balmain their maiden premiership. In the City Cup, Glebe again reached the final after defeating Balmain 18-13 in the semi-final. They were outclassed by Easts 22-3 the following week.

1915 also saw legendary forward Frank Burge top the try scoring list for the competition, amassing 20 tries.

Burge again topped the try scorer’s board in 1916, this time with 22 tries. Glebe finished third behind Balmain and Souths, who were equal first with 11 wins from their 14 games. Glebe had 10 wins and a draw, The City Cup final was again played out between Easts and Glebe and again, Easts were victorious 18-15. Glebe finished the year playing against Newcastle, but were outclassed 25-6.

The first game of the 1917 could arguably be the start of the demise of Glebe, when they constantly battled with the NSWRL over a number of issues. Round 1 saw Glebe play neighbours Annandale. Glebe had recruited a player from Newcastle, Dan Davies. Davies moved to Sydney and lived with relatives, in Annandale. Glebe changed his address in the hope that no one would notice. But officials from the Annandale club did and after the game, in which Davies scored a try and helped lead Glebe to a convincing 26-5 win, issued a protest to the NSWRL demanding that Glebe’s 2 competition points be taken from them and given to Annandale. The NSWRL decided to strip Glebe of their points for the win only. Then they banned Dan Davies from playing Rugby League for life. Davies returned home to Newcastle to return to his job in the mines.

Events came to a head in July, when Glebe officials complained to the NSWRL that a number of their players were harshly treated by the referee in their Round 12 game against Newtown, when a number were sent off for seemingly minor indiscretions.

During the week, leading up to their Round 13 clash with rivals Balmain, which was scheduled to be played at the SCG, the NSWRL instead switched it to Balmain’s home ground, Birchgrove Oval. This meant a much smaller gate and far less funds for Glebe.

This time the players had decided to revolt, choosing to go on strike for the game against Balmain. Glebe fielded a reserve grade side that was thrashed 40-9. The NSWRL then decided that all players who abandoned the match would receive a 12 month suspension. Glebe lost their last game of the year against perennial strugglers Wests 33-16 to finish the season sixth. Glebe also failed to reach the finals for the City Cup.

After much negotiating, the NSWRL agreed to overturn their month suspension on 12 of the 14 Glebe players by seasons end. Frank Burge and Alby Burge had to wait until May 1918 to have their suspensions lifted.

The 1918 season Glebe finish third, with 9 wins from their 14 games. They also made the finals of the City Cup, but this time they lost their semi-final to Wests 12-8. Burge again scored more tries than anyone else in the competition, this time scoring a club record 24 tries for the season.

Glebe’s reserve grade side picked up their second premiership.

In a match against Easts in 1919, the crowd, angered by the officiating, rushed the ground and upended the referee. It was the same game that also saw Frank Burge score his 100th try for Glebe. The year again saw Glebe again finish third with 9 wins from 14 games. However in the City Cup, they reached the final, against Wests. Defending their title, Wests went on to defeat Glebe 14-10.

Glebe’s reserve grade side won their third premiership.

In 1920, Frank Burge scores a club and competition record 8 tries in a game, when Glebe defeats new club University 41-0. Burge scored 32 of his side’s points in the match. Glebe finished the year second behind rivals Balmain, with 8 wins from 13 games. They failed to reach the finals of the City Cup.

The year also saw Glebe’s long serving official Mr CHJ Upton resign from his role due to a health issue with his eyes. Upton had been a long respected official and his departure saw communication between the club and the NSWRL suffer immensely.

Glebe’s reserve grade side won their third straight title.

On October 13, 1920, the NSWRL decided to axe Annandale from the competition. This decision gave Glebe some of their old territory back and seemed certain to ensure their future.

Glebe finished third in 1921 despite winning 6 of their 8 games. They lost to Souths 28-14 in the semi-finals of the City Cup. Their reserve grade side won their fourth consecutive Grand final.

The 1922 season finished with Norths and Glebe equal first and thus a final was played. It was the first premiership final Glebe had played in since 1911. However they were completely outclassed by a star studded North Sydney outfit, who ran away 35-3 winners. Glebe lost 21-3 to Easts in the semi-finals of the City Cup.

Glebe celebrated their favourite son, Frank Burge, with a testimonial match against Souths in Round 11 of 1923. The match was played at the Sydney Sports Ground in front of 15,000 fans. Souths won 10-0 in a tough contest. There were suggestions made at the time that the NSWRL tried to schedule other events on at the same time to try and minimise the gate for Glebe, however if it were the case it failed. The testimonial match attracted 15,000 fans, while the other three games of the round attracted a combined total of 9,500.

Just three weeks later in Round 14, was the infamous game where North Sydney’s Test halfback Duncan Thompson was sent off for allegedly kicking Glebe forward Tom McGrath. Thompson was illegally held back after passing the ball and was trying to free himself when he accidentally struck McGrath in the face. Many supporters from both teams supported Thompson’s response that it was an accident; however the NSWRL suspended him for the rest of the year. When they wouldn’t overturn the decision, Thompson returned to Toowoomba and vowed to never play in Sydney ever again.

It would turn out to be the single event that brought North’s two year reign undone.

Glebe finished the season sixth on the ladder, winning 6 of 16 games; however they managed to reach the final of the City Cup, against rivals Balmain.

At fulltime, the scores were tied at 5 all. An extra 8 minutes of extra time was played, however the scored remained unchanged. So another 12 minutes of extra time was ordered, but the duration of the match seemingly took everything out of the Glebe players as Balmain ran in 20 points to win 25-5 in the competition’s first game to last 100 minutes.

1924 saw Glebe climb back up the ladder, finishing third with 4 wins from 8 games. Glebe failed to reach the finals of the City Cup.

Glebe won just 5 of 12 games in 1925; however they managed to reach the City Cup final against a remarkable South Sydney side that had not lost a single premiership or City Cup game all year. They continued that run with a 15-8 win over Glebe in the City Cup final.

1926 was Frank Burge’s last year playing for Glebe, as he decided to accept a captain/coach role with St.George for the 1927 season. In his Round 8 game against University, Burge got badly injured and was carried off the field. Glebe finished the season equal second with Easts, having won 9 of 16 games (with 1 draw). Glebe however lost to finals debutants University in the first semi-final 29-3.

At the Glebe Annual Meeting on March 18, 1927, Alex Burdon suggested that the club consider importing players to improve their results and performances on the field, just like Norths did a few years earlier. His suggestion was met with great opposition and was refused. Consequently, the season saw Glebe turn out their worst season ever, winning just 4 of their 16 games, only one more than the last placed University. Glebe’s administration had become quite poor, as had the coaching. It wasn’t long before the on-field performance dropped immensely as well.

Glebe’s third grade side won their maiden title, giving the club 7 titles over all 3 grades, but the first grade side being the only one not to win a premiership.

In 1928 Glebe won 4 of their 12 games and finished sixth. They also lost their long-time home ground of Wentworth Park at seasons end. A match against Easts at the Agricultural Showground saw angry scenes amongst the crowd.

On June 8, Lewis Abrams died. Some people at the time suggested that the heart and soul of Glebe died with him.

In 1929 Glebe won 3 of their 16 games and finished second last again. A NSWRL special committee revealed its report regarding revised boundaries on November 4. When NSWRL Secretary Horrie Miller unrolled a map of the boundary changes, all of Glebe’s territory had been absorbed by neighbouring club and rival, Balmain. The meeting grew very animated and an adjournment was made, whereby the matter would be readdressed in a weeks’ time,

On November 11, 1929, a ballot was held to determine if Glebe should be axed from the competition. The result was 13 votes to 12 in favour. The NSWRL stated that there were a number of reasons, but most prominent were Glebe’s recent poor form, a lack of home ground, low crowds and a growth of interest in soccer in the area. It’s also suggested that Glebe’s many battles with the NSWRL hierarchy helped sway the decision against Glebe’s favour.

Local politician Tom Keegan, who had been a member of the NSW Legislative Assembly since 1910, lobbied the community in the week between the two meetings, in a bid to get the Glebe team reinstated for the 1930 season. He managed to obtain 3,000 signatures which Messrs E.Lloyd and F.Benning presented to the NSWRL, along with a provision that Glebe be retained. The petition and the request were ruled out of order by Harry Flegg. Non-voting delegates from nearly all the clubs sided with Glebe (including the benefactors of Glebe’s demise, Balmain) and suggested that if Glebe were to be given some of South Sydney’s territory, then they would stand a chance of not only survival, but prospering once again.

But the NSWRL stood by their decision and Glebe were no more.

On November 18, a public meeting was held at the Glebe Town Hall, convened by the Mayor of Glebe with the intention of forming a protest against the NSWRL decision. But despite their efforts and good intentions, the decision would not be overturned.

The decision decimated the area and its interest in Rugby League died off very quickly. It was such a proud sporting area full of very loyal and passionate athletes that when it was announced that Glebe would no longer compete, almost their entire squad of players from the 1929 season retired from game. Syd Christensen moved to Balmain and helped lead their resurrection in the late 1930’s. When he retired at the end of the 1937 season, he was the last man that had played for Glebe left playing.

And it was on Armistice Day, 1929, that the NSWRL finally got their peace with the Glebe club. A team whose history was integral to Rugby League’s birth and growth had given way to plans for an expansion to the Belmore region of Sydney. In fact, it would take 6 years before a team from that area was introduced into the competition.

****************This article appeared in 2 parts in the Rugby League Review Magazine***********************

Friday, 26 September 2014

The Halftime Spray #21 (2014)

Recently, Manly coach Geoff Toovey commented that the Minor Premiership is undervalued, especially given the length and toughness of the modern competition. And he is absolutely right.
From 1910 til 1925 the team who were Minor Premiers were instantly awarded the Premiership. It was deemed that being the best side over an entire season was worthy enough of the title of Premiers. The only time a final was played was when two teams finished the year on the same competition points (Points differential was not used to determine premiers). Since then the glory of Minor Premiership success has been whittled down.
From 1926 until 1953, a finals system was employed (with the exception of the 1937 season which was cut short to accommodate the Kangaroo's tour). In this finals system, the Minor Premiers would play the third placed side and second would play fourth. The winners would square off in the final.
If the team, who was the minor premier in this time, lost their finals match, they had the right to challenge the winner of the final in a Grand Final.
It was 1954 that saw the worth of the Minor Premiership after a year of toil and being the benchmark, get downgraded. The Minor Premier and the second placed side would play each other in the first week of finals and the losing side would get a second chance and remain in the finals series, while the winner would advance to the Grand Final and get a week off. This system remained in place up until 1972.
From 1973 til 1994 the game moved from a top 4 system to a top 5. The Minor Premier received the first week of the finals off. If they won their first finals game they advanced straight to the Grand Final. If they lost they got a second chance and another week off, while the team that beat them advanced directly to the Grand Final.
As the game expanded to 20 teams in 1995, the finals system did too, with 8 teams vying for premiership glory. Under this system, the teams in the finals were split into two groups, the top 4 and the bottom 4. The Minor Premiers played the fourth placed side. As in the previous finals series, the Minor Premiers still received a week off if they won their first final match or a second chance if they lost.
In 1999, the newly formed NRL adopted the McIntyre system which granted the second placed side the same privilege as the Minor Premier, being that they could both lose in week 1 of the finals and get a second chance, or
win and a get a week off.
It's time that the Minor Premiership was made to be much more rewarding.
So you guessed it, here's my proposal and it is simple.
Keep the current top 8 system, but re-introduce the old rule whereby the Minor Premier could challenge the Grand Final winner for the Premiership.
You could essentially see two Grand Finals in a year. That's bound to make some big coin. It most importantly gives the Minor Premiership an immense amount of importance.