Saturday, 10 October 2015

The Birth of Balmain (2015)

On August 5, 1905 Balmain took on Newtown in a club Rugby Union match which, unbeknownst to anyone that day, would be the catalyst for the formation of the Balmain Rugby League Football Club.

Newtown was leading 16-0 in a rough game when a penalty against Balmain drew the ire of their forward Joe Apolony, who began remonstrating with the referee, Mr H.Nelson. Apolony claimed that the referee’s decisions were unfair towards him before he was sent off for allegedly striking the referee.

Balmain officials produced 25 pages of witness accounts of the incident in the hope that it would prevent their forward from any severe punishment; however the Metropolitan Rugby Union sided with their official, who provided only 1 page of supporting evidence.

The MRU agreed to ban Apolony from playing the game for ten years. The decision incensed Balmain players and officials alike. At the club’s next meeting they submitted a motion “That the Balmain team withdraw from the competition as a protest against the action of the Union.” The motion defeated by just one vote.

This incident was the beginning of what would become a fractious relationship between the Balmain Rugby Union club and the MRU.

In 1906 Balmain played more games outside their area than within it. This trend continued in 1907, to the extent that their home ground, Birchgrove Oval was even seeing a reduction in senior and junior level games.

On August 8, 1907, Rugby League was formed after weeks of speculation surrounding its existence. Key players from many of the Rugby Union clubs had already sided with the new code, including Balmain test player Robert Graves and State player Alf Dobbs. The committee selected a squad of 20 players to participate in the 3 games against the touring New Zealand professional side who were en-route to England. Present at the meeting were Graves, fellow player Tommy O’Donnell and official Robert Hutchison.

The games were scheduled for the latter half of August, which coincided with a Country NSW tour that Balmain were embarking upon. While the team was in Mudgee, Dobbs was reading a newspaper which named him as one of the players taking part in the matches against the Kiwi professionals.

Dobbs immediately knew that his secret alliance with the professional code was now exposed, so he immediately asked his club officials on the tour if he could have his return train ticket so that he could begin training with the Professional New South Wales side. The Balmain officials contacted the MRU who made it very clear, that if Dobbs was requiring a ticket back home to partake in a professional game, then he should buy his own ticket.

Balmain secretary Pat McQuade was so furious at this decision that he demanded Balmain forfeit their next match against Lithgow and all players return back home. The players and officials all agreed and they abandoned their remaining fixtures.

McQuade attended the next MRU meeting where he defended Dobbs, but all this did was see him accused of being a professionalism sympathiser.

Dobbs played in the second of the 3 games against the Kiwi’s, while Graves appeared in all 3 games.
Apolony began the push within the Balmain club to abandon the MRU. He organised a meeting with club players and officials but was unable to hire a venue. Undeterred, he held the meeting outside the Leichhardt Council Chambers, where he called on the club to join Rugby League.

On January 23, 1908, a meeting was held at the Balmain town hall “for the purpose of forming a Balmain club to affiliate with the NSWRL.”

Future NSW State Premier John Storey MLA presided over the meeting, where 600 players, officials and club supporters were present. Fellow Labor politician Henry Hoyle, who was the inaugural president of the Rugby League, addressed the meeting and explained the objects of the league. “His remarks were frequently applauded.”

NSWRL Secretary James Giltinan also spoke before Hutchison moved “That a Balmain club be formed to affiliate with the NSW League.” Robert Graves seconded the motion and it was carried.
Local lawn bowler and long-time Balmain Rugby official Cecil Turner was appointed the club’s inaugural President, Hutchison treasurer and Horace Davis was secretary.

One of the provisional members of the inaugural committee was Mr F Napier. Napier was a key member of the new League side, as he was also a trustee for Birchgrove Oval. He brought exclusive use of the ground with him to the League.

March 19, 1908 saw Balmain’s Rugby Union club hold a heated general meeting, where the discussions focussed almost entirely on the club’s mistreatment by the MRU. Napier attended the meeting and revealed that the trustees of Birchgrove Oval had opted to abandon the MRU and side with the NSWRL because they want to see more games being played at their ground.

Hutchison chimed in, saying he felt that he and the club hadn’t been treated with any respect by the MRU, who barely made an effort to attend Balmain meetings.

Many members at the meeting felt that the MRU was not trying to help the game grow in the area, via Balmain’s lack of games in their own area and seemingly abandoning Birchgrove Oval.

A week later, the Balmain Rugby League Club held its general meeting at Oldfellows Hall on Darling St. Hoyle was again present and was greeting with great enthusiasm.

Unlike the clubs who had already agreed to join the NSWRL, where there had been hesitations and uncertainty amongst the players whether to join the professional game or not, Balmain joined almost entirely, decimating the playing ranks within the Balmain Rugby Union side so much that the MRU announced at a meeting at the end of March, that Balmain would not be competing in the 1908 season.

On April 18, 1908, Balmain played its first Rugby League game, a trial match against, fittingly, Newtown. The match ended in a 6 all draw.

The official competition kicked off a week later, Balmain winning their opening match with an emphatic 24-0 demolition of Western Suburbs.

The club had the services of Apolony once again, along with Dobbs, Graves, Alf Latta (who scored the clubs first try and goal) and O’Donnell, won 3 games, drew 1 and lost 5.

Apolony went on to get selected as a reserve in the NSW side to face the visiting Maori side of 1909; however he didn’t take the field. He was eventually made a life member of the NSWRL and of the Balmain Club.

The Endeavour Cup (2015)

The 1970’s in Australia saw the introduction of many minor competitions. The Wills Cup which was a preseason competition running from 1962 til 1981, the mid-week, mid-season competition which ran from 1974 til 1989 and even a mid-season Challenge Cup in 1978.

But none of those had a lasting impact on the game as the short lived Endeavour Cup.

For a number of seasons, there had been some concerns from players whose club didn’t make the finals, that they were being overlooked for end-of-season Test and Tour selections, in favour of players participating in the finals.

In 1970, the Cronulla-Sutherland club put forward a proposal to the NSWRL to host an end of season competition between the teams finishing 5th to 8th on the ladder. They had secured Toyota-Thiess to sponsor the event. The competition would be played over the first two Sunday’s during the NSWRL finals series, to allow players to remain match fit and in contention for selection in the World Cup squad at the end of the year.

On July 27, 1970, the NSWRL board held a meeting and agreed to let the competition go ahead. It was to be held entirely at Endeavour Field.

The competition was to have a total prize pool of $10,500. First place winning $5000, Second $3000, Third $1500 and fourth $1000.

With two rounds of the main competition remaining, Cronulla were sitting ninth on the ladder and looking like they may not qualify for their own competition. But they snuck in thanks to two convincing victories. A 23-2 win against Penrith in Round 21 and a 34-6 hiding of Parramatta.

On August 30, the Endeavour Cup began with a double header at the Sharks home ground. Hosts Cronulla took on Newtown in the first game at 1.30pm and then Balmain played Eastern Suburbs in the 3.30pm game. These games were the first played under the 6 tackle rule, purely as a trial, as opposed to the 4 tackle rule that was in place.

The first game was a sloppy affair and the full merits of the new rule were not seen. Cronulla’s captain-coach Tommy Bishop copped a stray elbow to the face which resulted in him losing two teeth. With 12 minutes remaining in the game, Bishop was sent off for tripping. Newtown won the game 13-11.

The second game was much better and provided everyone with the full benefits of the 6 tackle rule. Most notably was the reduction in scrums. The first game had 38 scrums which was on par for most games played during the year, however there were only 16 scrums in the second game. There was also the extra involvement of ball playing forwards, most notably Arthur Beetson, who was getting involved 2 or 3 times per set.

Balmain defeated a bits and pieces Easts side 34-12 which saw them advance to the final against Newtown on the following Sunday, while Easts and Cronulla will play off for 3rd.

After the match all coaches were in agreeance that the new rule looked to improve the game.

Harry Bath (Newtown and Australian Test coach): “I like it. The six tackles give a team that little extra to work with and provide more continuity to the play. The element of panic is not as prevalent and there aren’t as many dropped passes. The players have more time to settle down.”

Tommy Bishop (Cronulla captain-coach): “The rule could bring the forwards into the play a bit more but there would be no chance of going back to the old bash and barge because, after all, there are only six tackles to work with. I can see the forwards driving the ball in attack but this is good football. I would like to see another couple of matches under the rule before finally making up my mind on its merits.”

Don Furner (Easts coach): “In our game there were only 16 scrums, and this has to make the match better. I like the idea of the six tackles. The best football will come on the fourth, fifth and sixth tackles, when the defence is starting to tire a little.”

Leo Nosworthy (Balmain coach): “From our match it was obvious there was not the panic from the players that has been there at times. Nor was there as much useless kicking and this has to be better.”

The final saw Newtown beat Balmain 12-8, to claim their first title of any kind since they won the City Cup in 1945, 25 years ago. The win was more impressive given Newtown played the last 30 mins with 12 men, after forward John Oakley was sent off for a deliberate high tackle.

Despite Easts fielding a poor side and Cronulla failing to reach the final, the competition saw the Cronulla club financially “almost square.”

So successful was the trial of the 6 tackle rule that the NSWRL decided to implement it fully for the upcoming season.

Toyota-Thiess decided to continue their sponsorship for the competition in 1971, due to the Cronulla club deciding to expand the competition to include more teams, possibly from Wollongong, Newcastle and Brisbane.

The 1971 competition would see trainers being allowed to attend to injured players without stopping play, as well as each game being just 25 minute halves. Every game of the competition would also be televised live. All 8 sides not involved in the finals would be taking part.

The final of 1971 saw Cronulla pick up their first ever title, defeating Canterbury 20-13. The trial of trainers being allowed to treat players without stopping play was seen as another success from the Endeavour Cup and was introduced from the start of the 1972 season. Half of the gate takings were donated to the NSW Paraplegic Association.

With the competition being used as a sounding board for new rule ideas, it was thought that the Endeavour Cup would continue functioning beyond 1971, especially given that it was the only post-season competition on the calendar.

However, a lack of major sponsor and the concern by the NSWRL that some clubs were not taking the competition seriously, with some clubs using the competition as an opportunity to allow suspended players to serve part of their suspension, it was decided not to continue the competition any more.

But in the space of two years and just 12 games, the Endeavour Cup provided the competition with the 6 tackle rule and no stoppages to allow injured players to be treated, making it arguably the most successfully innovative competition in the post-war era.

1970 Competition
August 30 – Newtown 13-11 Cronulla
August 30 – Balmain 34-12 Easts
September 6 – Playoff for 3rd – Cronulla 30-2 Easts
September 6 – Final – Newtown 12-8 Balmain

1971 Competition
August 30 – Canterbury 19-15 Newtown
August 30 – Cronulla 15-3 Penrith
August 30 – Norths 7-5 Easts
August 30 – Wests 22-3 Balmain
September 5 – Semi-Final – Canterbury 17-7 Norths
September 5 – Semi-Final – Cronulla 20-19 Wests
September 12 – Playoff for 3rd – Wests 25-21 Norths

September 12 – Final – Cronulla 20-13 Canterbury

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