Tamworth Rugby Union Sporting Club
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The Tamworth Rugby Union Sporting Club plays three men's team and one women's team in the New England Rugby Union. The club is based at Rugby Park, Marius Street, Tamworth, NSW.
The nearest clubs were located in the Newcastle district so matches were organised on an ad-hoc basis. The Main North Railway had been extended to Tamworth in 1878 and to Armidale in 1883. Its construction no doubt aided the development of the rugby code simply because teams could travel with speed and comfort. Inter district competition assisted with the promotion of the game as did the promotion of a shorter working week so workers could enjoy recreational activities. Saturday afternoons became available for activities such as organised sports.
There is a report of a game to be played against the Maitland Albions in 1880 whilst the Tamworth Rugby Club is listed in the report of the Southern Rugby Union of 1881. The Tamworth Rugby Club appeared in the list of clubs that formed the New England Branch of the New South Wales Rugby Union. Tamworth is listed as one of the 35 clubs subscribed to the Southern Rugby Union at their AGM of 1882.
The Newcastle Football Club in 1891 visited Tamworth with a scratch team and had a pleasant time winning against the local team 10 points to 3. Also in 1891, a combined Armidale team won against a local Tamworth team by 3 points . The Tamworth Acme Club combined lost 0-6 against a team from the newly formed New England Rugby Union in 1893.
The NERU was formed in 1892 with a subsequent formation meeting in 1893. Its listed member clubs in 1894 were: Uralla, Armidale, Gunnedah, Hillgrove, Quirindi, Tamworth and Walcha. Tamworth-based teams were Acme, Tamworth and Royal Standard. Rugby continued to be played around Tamworth and Armidale with teams leaving and joining the competition. The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miner's Advocate reported a crowd of 800 people attending the rugby union ground to watch two games between 15 players representing the three Tamworth clubs and the first 15 of the Newcastle Club.
The NERFU championship teams from 1892 to 1901 are:
- 1892 Armidale d Albion
- 1893 Armidale d Tenterfield 3-0
- 1894 Albions (Armidale) d Acme (Tamworth) 12-0
- 1895 Gunnedah d Armidale 12-6
- 1896 Gunnedah d Arforma (Armidale) on forfeit
- 1897 Albions (Armidale) d Gunnedah 9-0
- 1898 Gunnedah d Federals (Armidale) 16-8
- 1899 Federals (Armidale) d Tamworth 14-7
- 1900 West Tamworth d Albions (Armidale) 8-0
- 1901 Carlton (Armidale) d West Tamworth 9-3.
The Sawers Shield was donated by William Sawers MHR for best team in Central North and New England Rugby Unions. William Sawers was one of the few non-Armidale resident to hold a position on the NERFU committee. He was president of the Tamworth Rugby Club in 1896 and a vice-president of the NERFU. he was the inaugural member of the new New England electorate in the first Federal parliament.
The mood to move away from the NERU is expressed in an article from 1900 where Tamworth Club at its annual meeting passed the following resolution:
"That the secretary communicate with the Tamworth West, Werris Creek and Manilla Football Clubs as to the advisability of not joining the New England Rugby Football Union unless it was guaranteed that the final match be played in Tamworth."
it was felt that the local clubs had supported the NERU for a number of years but that a final match had never been played in Tamworth. Central North (Tamworth) was subsequently formed and applied to affiliate with the NSW Rugby Union in 1903.
A newspaper report states the club's colours as chocolate and pink and narrowly winning the premiership by prevailing over Walcha in the last game of the season with a one-point victory.
In 1913, in spite of the smallpox epidemic which was then raging, the New Zealand Maoris played the Northern Districts team at Tamworth winning 29–8. All players had to have smallpox vaccinations prior to playing.
Prior to the outbreak of World War 1, two New South Wales country matches were played by the visiting All Blacks, the last for six long years because the New South Wales Rugby Union decided to discontinue all senior games for the duration and to give maximum support to the war effort. In contrast to the professional game which continued to play at all levels.
In 1911, the East Tamworth Club wrote to Central North Rugby Football stating it strongly resented the move of some players to the new code. An article in the Tamworth Daily Observer of 29 May 1913 wrote about the conflicting rugby codes wanting use of No.1 oval for competition games.
The Central North Rugby Union annual general meeting on 30 March 1914 indicated a reasonably healthy commitment to the game. Four clubs were affiliated with the union in East Tamworth, West Tamworth, Attunga and Walcha. There were visits from six teams: Maoris, South Sydney, Tenterfield, Muswellbrook and St James (Western Suburbs) with zone teams sent to Armidale and Muswellbrook. An inter zone game between the winners of the CNRFU (West Tamworth) and the NERU (South Tamworth) resulted in a 6-5 win to South Armidale.
The advent of WWI saw many rugby union competitions dissolve for patriotic reasons and lack of numbers. An Inverell Times report of 24 April 1915 stated that the North West Rugby Football Union took the view that anyone who was able to train for football should enlist and resolved to abandon all competition games. Numbers were lost to the war effort or to the rival league code. Rugby league continued to play and gained a strong foothold as a result. A meeting of rugby enthusiasts meeting at Nail's Criterion Hotel on 16 June 1916 resurrected the CNRU. The Manly Rugby Club visited Tamworth later in the month and played games against the Tamworth Union 15. The following month saw Tamworth and Manilla play a match with funds raised devoted to a local patriotic fund.
Despite these intermittent efforts, the 1914-18 war years were hard on the rugby code. An example of the effect the league movement was having on rugby is the AGM notice for the New England Football Union of 1919 where consideration would be made as whether the union should cease its activities in favour of the league game. Fortunately the NERU rallied and Armidale continued to play rugby whilst all other centres made the switch.
The Revival - 1952
Rugby came back to Tamworth in 1952 as a result of a conversation at Martin Place, Sydney between Doug Campbell and John Carroll, a member of NSW Rugby Union. Both Doug and John were members of the Northern Suburbs Rugby Club. When John heard Doug was coming to Tamworth to live he suggested attempts should be made to form a rugby club to join up with Armidale and Walcha who were both playing in the New England competition.
An advertisement was placed in the Northern Daily Leader calling a meeting to see what interest to form a club. About a dozen people attended. All were fellows who had played rugby in other places with one being former Gordon player Stan Blake. The meeting resolved to form the Tamworth Rugby Union Club. That was in late 1951. Application was made to enter a team in the1952 New England competition. The first group of players was made up of former rugby players as well as some players who had never played the game before. A lot of them were employees of the NSW Department of Main Roads and Bank of Australasia. As was common for the time, most of the players had to work Saturday mornings which would prevent them from travelling to away games. Jeff Jefferies, who was manager of the bank and became the first President of the club, gave Saturday mornings off to any fellow who would play rugby. Ted Wood of the NSW Department of Main Roads did the same. Ted was the man who designed the old club house and whose name is on the foundation stone there.
In 1952 games were played against Walcha, Armidale City, New England University, Armidale Teaches College, Guyra and Inverell. Some Saturdays, it was hard to round up 15 players even after a round of the pubs. Needless to say the standard of play was not all that good and in that first year the team suffered some terrible hidings sometimes by scores approaching 100. The first try was not scored until well into the 1953 season that was by Doug Schultz in the snow at Armidale.
By 1954 player numbers had increased so that a second grade side was playing and in 1952 with Ian Sinclair as coach the first grade side won the New England comp. At Armidale against Glen Innes, Ian had to play as two forwards were injured.
In 1953 Tamworth was having annual games with Merewether Carlton from Newcastle and were invited to play a curtain raiser to the touring Fijians, the problem was to determine how good we were as to whether we played the first game or the main curtain raiser. There were a couple of former Newcastle rugby players who were playing with the East Tamworth league side as rugby was not played when they arrived in Tamworth. In those days you could not play rugby union if as a league player you had been paid. You had to get statutory declarations and other evidence before you could go back to rugby union. With some deft paper work, these two very good footballers played with our team and we nearly won the main curtain raiser against Merewether Carlton. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Tamworth Rugby hosted games at Tamworth's No. 1 Oval between combined NSW Country and Fiji, the Springboks, the British Lions, the NZ Services side and later the New Zealand All Blacks. 1955 saw the club build its first clubhouse.
The New England zone was split into northern and southern zones in late 1950s. The now familiar Central North zoned evolved from the old Southern Zone when the other towns now playing in Central North formed their own clubs and the establishment of the Tamworth Pirates Rugby Club who evolved out of Tamworth Country based at Kootingal.
The 1960s and 1970s
Coming into the 1960s, many of the senior Tamworth players could see that they were keeping younger players out of the game, so they decided to form another club. As they were of somewhat advanced age, they decided that the new Pirates Rugby Club that they formed would be for fun Rugby only. The Rugby game would not be taken too seriously, with training to be minimal, and social interaction was to be the most important aspect of the Club. This culture survived for many years in the new Club, while the new group of young players at the Tamworth Club did very well in the match aspect of the game. Among these players were many other well-known Tamworth identities, including John Lyons, Brian Thompson, Brothers Col and Doug Fraser, John “Bo” Boschetti, Ken Noble, Doug Smith, Doug Ashford, Brian Mansfield (later to become a Wallaby), and many more.
The Fijian national team revisited the region and played the New England team in front of 7000 people at No.1 oval winning the game 37-14.
The 1970s ushered in the “Somerton Era”, with often more than half of the First and Reserve Grade teams made up with mostly sons of the soil from the Somerton area. Tom and Bob Woolaston, Bob and Jim Brown, Graham Baldwin, Brian Heyman, Greg Hamilton, John Chaffey, Ty Atkinson, Alistair Fenwicke, John Barnier, and later Peter Norris, Gavin Hombsch, Alex and Andrew Draper, etc. This was a period of great spirit within the Club because of the closeness of the players to each other, shown by the way all helped in the running of the Club. Sunday morning was clean-up time after a home match, and most players from Somerton and elsewhere attended to help remove the mess and enjoy a bar-b-q and beer afterwards.
The standard of play in Central North began to improve in this period with the appearance of the first Australian Rugby Manual, and the arrival at Tamworth of some ex-Sydney Grade players in Bill Feggans (NSW Representative), Peter Horsefield and Vince Symons strengthened the ranks of players and later Coaches. However, the great Narrabri teams of the Seventies steam-rolled all before them in the competition.
The 1980s and 1990s
The 1980s were a period of building in the Tamworth Club based largely on players coming through from the newly formed Under 19 Competition, plus another influx of ex-Sydney Grade Players like Stefan van Aanholt, Stu Keller and Chris Collins.
Tamworth enjoyed a golden era in the Nineties winning several Premierships in all grades, based on the former Juniors like Peter Thompson, John Wiseman, Craig Coffey, Bernard and Adrian Klasen, Bernie Whale, Shane and Grant Davidson, Scott Leis, Bob Balcombe, Bob Ford, Andrew Page, and so on. All of these players went on the represent Central North, and several at Country level including captain Bernie Klasen. Outstanding Coaches Joe Goldsworthy and Michael Bird were behind most of the First Grade successes, and they too went on to coach Central North and later Country Firsts in the new National Competition with distinction.
The year 2000 was a very tough one for Tamworth, with most of the successful players of the 1990s either retiring or moving away from Tamworth and the club could only field one Senior Team. This First Grade team, with several of them new to rugby, proved themselves to be very courageous men, turning up week after week under coach David Crowley to cop record hidings from all and sundry, but never even de-powering scrums even though at least one prop had never played in a scrum before. They always fronted up to the social get-togethers afterwards to cop more good-natured banter, but never lost the Magpie tradition of doing their best and enjoying their Rugby. 2001 saw a remarkable turn-around with the return of players like Bernie Klasen and Tony Hunt, and the Wayne Brown coached First Grade side finished runners-up in the Competition to Moree. A fitting reward to all the 2000 battlers.
The 2000s and 2010s
The new clubhouse was built in 2010. Club member and secretary, Julian Smith an architect, prepared the design. Funding for Stage 1, the change rooms, came from the sale of the Tamworth Club. Stage 2 was funded from a $300,000 loan from the National Australia Bank and a $1,000/year contribution from 30 donors for a 3-year period to help offset the interest. The contributors are listed on the wall of the clubhouse.
The 2010s saw many of the senior Tamworth teams struggle to keep up with some of the stronger Central North clubs. The under 17s and 19s Tamworth teams were consistently strong and made many finals. Over the decade, many Central North clubs struggled to maintain their juniors. With the decline in player numbers throughout Central North, Tamworth after a 59-year absence, rejoined the New England Rugby Union in 2018.
- First grade premierships: 1956 (New England), 1959 (Central North), 1960, 1963, 1969, 1991, 1993, 1994 and 1996.
- Reserve grade premierships (Central North): 1966, 1972, 1989, 1991, 1993.
- Under 19s (Central North): 1982, 1983, 1990, 2005, 2007 and 2011.
- Under 17s (Central North): 2002, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011.
- Club champions (Central North): 1993, 1994 and 1996.
Wally Franklin coached the 1989 “Super Squad” reserve grade to a premiership followed by success as club President during the club's golden period of the 1990s. Chris Collins and Micheal (Dick) Leonard coached many Under 17s sides to premierships during the 2000s.
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