Injury at Wingham led to rugby league's start
AN incident in a rugby union game in Wingham in 1907 was one of the catalysts of rugby league starting in Australia in 1908.
On July 22 1907 tough front rower Alex 'Ginger' Burdon led a Sydney representative rugby side into a game against an Upper Manning Selection at Central Park, Wingham. The visitors arrived in Wingham from Taree and defeated the Upper Manning side 29-8.
Burdon, who was a barber, damaged his shoulder in the game. He was taken to hospital in Taree. Such was the serious nature of his injury that the third game of the tour at Wauchope was called off, with the team returning to Sydney.
A lack of compensation for injured players who were unable to work was causing consternation in rugby circles at the time. Burdon's injury sparked further controversy and culminated in a meeting held at Bateman's Crystal Hotel in Sydney on August 8, 1907. Here the NSWRL was formed.
By 1908 the professional competition was ready to roll, with eight clubs.
However, rugby remained the dominant code in the Manning until World War I. As players started to come home at the conclusion of the Great War the push for rugby league started to grow, with players attracted by the possibility of match payments. In 1920 the All Blacks played a Manning side at Taree. At a function after the game officials warned players of the consequences of switching to league despite the fact the code was gaining momentum in regional areas.
In early 1921 rugby clubs in the Manning decided to switch to league and on March 29 of that year the Wingham Rugby League Club was formed.
League historian Graham Steel said the first game was played soon after, although there were some logistical problems.
"They didn't know the rules,'' Graham said.
"All they knew was that it was 13-a-side and not 15.''
Wingham players in 1921 were Bill Skinner, Harold Fulton, George Cannon, Elywn Stuart, A McDermind, Merv Edwards, Jack Schneider, A Hartley, Reg Platt (captain), D Findlay, Jos Flemming, Geoff Hammond, Jack O'Neill. On Saturday May 15 Wingham marked the centenary of rugby league in the town. Known as the Tigers since 1949, Wingham is just the 11th club in regional NSW to reach the milestone.
Tigers in Hall of Fame
GROUP Three Rugby League instigated a Hall of Fame in 2013.
This is to recognise the feats of those who, in the main, played all their football in Group Three or who had a significant impact on the competition.
Three of Wingham's greatest players, Harry Smith, Bruce 'Porky' Slater and Geoff 'Jake' Kennett have been inducted.
Smith was a hugely influential player and coach with Wingham from 1949 to 1961. Slater is generally acknowledged as the Wingham's best post war player while Kennett rates as one of the toughest props to ply his trade here.
Other hall of fame inductees including Errol Ruprecht, Gary Bridge and Barrie Morrison spent time with the Tigers.
The next round of inductions will be held later this year.
Railway line was the border
RUGBY league in Wingham and the Manning consolidated during the 1920s.
In his definitive book, Blood Sweat and Beers, league historian Graham Steel said Wingham played in the strong Manning competition in 1922.
However, in 1923 two Wingham sides, Wingham East and Wingham West were formed to contest the Upper Manning League. This was considered to be weaker than the Manning competition. The railway line was the boundary for the Wingham sides.
Other teams involved were Tinonee, Comboyne, Mount George and Cedar Party.
In 1922 J 'Poley' Turk and Elwyn Stuart became Wingham's first representative players after being named in a Combined Manning team.
Wingham stayed in the Upper Manning competition for the duration of the 1920s. In 1929 cricketing great Don Bradman kicked off in a match played at Central Park.
Wingham continued to field two teams in the 1930s, despite the impact the Great Depression was having on everyday life. In 1931 the club employed its first official coach, with Arthur Mendel, who had played 13 games for Western Suburbs, accepting the position.
The club had one of its best seasons in 1931 and went through the Costas Cup undefeated. The cup involved matches between teams in different leagues and it was also an era when cup challenge football was becoming increasingly popular.
By 1934 Wingham had returned to the Manning League and beat Taree 15-13 in the final. The Wingham cup team only had two losses in games against the Upper Manning, Lower Manning, Port Macquarie, Lower Macleay and Gloucester area sides.
These matches drew huge crowds and attracted significant wagers.
However, the Depression started to impact on player numbers. Wingham went into recess in 1937 and did not play again until April 1939.
Despite Australian forces being involved in World War II there was a competition played in the Manning in 1940, with Wingham joined by Railway, Lansdowne, Cundle, Peters and Wherrol Flat.
Wingham were the premiers, defeating Cundle 2-0 in the final, with the goal kicked by Michael Quinn.
However, league then largely went into recess for the duration of the war before resuming in 1946.
An ex-Balmain player, Harry Smith, was appointed to Wingham Primary School in 1948 and he took on the job of captain-coach of the football club.
He took the side to the grand final, where they were beaten by Forster-Tuncurry.
The following year Smith was instrumental in changing Wingham's colours to black and gold and the club became known as the Tigers. In 1950 Smith steered the Tigers to the premiership.
WINGHAM has won nine Group 18 or Group Three Rugby League first grade premierships.
Harry Smith was the driving force behind the club's golden run in the early 1950s. By now known as the Tigers, Wingham won premierships in 1950, 52 and 53.
With Smith again in charge, although by this time in a non-playing capacity, Wingham won the 1961 title by defeating newcomers, Taree United, 9-5 in a bruising grand final.
Wingham appointed a five-eighth, Warren Turvey, as player coach for 1962. Turvey previously played with Macquarie United in Newcastle. He was an immediate success, representing Country Seconds in the then annual clash against City before steering Wingham to the premiership with a win over Gloucester in the decider.
Unfortunately for Wingham Gloucester was about to start a four year dominance of Group 18/Three football. The Tigers were runners up three times.
This was to start a premiership drought for Wingham. The club was usually around come semi-final time, but couldn't convert this into a title. Wingham made the grand final in 1966 (beaten by Gloucester), 72 (beaten by Wauchope) and 76 (beaten by Port Macquarie).
The Tigers lost just two games in the 1978 season-proper but then failed to make the grand final. Centre Terry McCartney scored 35 tries that year - a record that still stands and has never been challenged.
The Tigers were then beaten in the 1981/82 and 86 grand finals.
However Kim Patrick, an experienced lock, took over as captain-coach and produced one of the great grand final performances when Wingham accounted for Port Macquarie 28-8 in 1989.
The Tigers then had to wait until 1997 and a revamped Group Three competition to again do the lap of honour. Here Wingham accounted for Forster-Tuncurry in the grand final, with Matt Robertson the non-playing coach.
Stu Baker was at the helm when Wingham caused an upset by beating Taree City in the 2002 grand final. The following year was one of the best in the club's history.
A grand final was played at Wingham for the first time and again with Baker the captain-coach Wingham downed Forster-Tuncurry.
This is the club's most recent title.
Three top teams selected
THREE 'best of' teams were named as part of the Wingham Rugby League Club centenary celebrations.
The first spanned the era from 1921 to 70, the second 1971 to present while the third was a team made up of Wingham juniors who were signed by NRL/Winfield Cup clubs.
A committee led by league historian Graham Steel selected the sides. There was strict criteria applied.
The 1921-70 team:
Fullback John McKay
Wingers Cliff Smailes, Trevor Stevens
Centres Ricky Greenaway, Johnny Rouse
Five-eighth Warren Turvey
Halfback John 'Shorty' Murray
Lock George Slater
Second row: Harry Hooson, Bruce 'Porky' Slater
Front row Toby Hinton, Geoff 'Jake' Kennett
Hooker Paul Gleeson
Reserves: Allan Skinner, John Gillogly, Harry Perrin, Elywn Stuart, Bob 'Pommie' Graham, Noel 'Tiny' Wilson
Coach Harry Smith
Trainer Maurie 'Mockles' Greenaway
Fullback Greg Davies
Wingers Neil Elbourne, Greg Murray
Centres Terry McCartney, Nigel Latham
Five-eighth Trent Green
Halfback Brian Wilson
Lock Brenden Summerfield
Second row Phil Lambert, Daryl Palmer
Front row Stu Baker, Tim Welsh
Hooker Andrew Gilbert
Reserves Scott Sullivan, Glen Anderson, Robert Miller, Andy Guy, Kim Patrick, Matt Bridge
Coach Stu Baker
Trainers Rocka Humphries, Paul Lewis, Marshall Meaker
Wingham players who signed with NRL/Sydney clubs
Fullback Greg Davies
Wingers Tom Gillogly, Chris Morcombe
Centres Michael Erickson, Jamie Greenaway
Five-eighth Scott Thorburn
Halfback Mitchell Steel
Lock Paul Barnett
Second row Paul Carlos, Matt Bartlett
Front row Stu Baker, Tom Welsh
Hooker Mick Sullivan
Reserves Shay Livermore, Andrew Spicer, Andrew Cross, Hayden Essery, Joe Latham, Craig Greenaway, James McClory, James Zahra, Kent Hatchwell