The Revival

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. Walcha had only recently reformed after closing down due to the Great Depression.

An advertisement was placed in the Northern Daily Leader calling a meeting to gauge interest in forming a rugby 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 the 1952 New England competition with the inaugural game against the Armidale City Rugby Club on the 5 April 1952. By 1952, the NERU teams were Armidale City, University, Teachers College (2 teams), Walcha and Inverell.

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 DMR did the same. Ted was the man who designed the old club house and whose name is on the foundation stone there. Stan Blake was the coach.

In 1952 games were played against Walcha, Armidale City, New England University, Armidale Teachers College, Guyra and Inverell. The Walcha club had only been reformed in 1950 after a 20 year hiatus when Doug Laurie placed a notice in the Walcha News of a meeting on 28 January at the Literary Institute to consider “...the formation of a Rugby Union Football Club”. The Walcha club brought two teams to Tamworth during a bye weekend. The club contained multiple zone and Country representatives such as Don Lisle who scored four tries in their 34-0 win over Tamworth. Don had played for the New England, NSW Country and NSW teams in 1950. Another Walcha player Peter Fenwicke went one better and went on to play for Australia in 1957.

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.

1953 saw Tamworth fully included in the New England competition along with Armidale City, Walcha, Guyra, Inverell, Teachers College and University.

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 the team was in order to decide whether they played the first game of the day 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.

By 1954 player numbers had increased so that a second grade side was playing. It was a good season for the club taking out the Bruyn Cup. This success was exceeded in 1955. With Ian Sinclair as coach, the first grade side won the Sawers Shield at Armidale against Glen Innes. Ian had to play as two forwards were injured.

The interest in rugby was enhanced by representative games held at Tamworth’s No 1 oval. In June 1954, a crowd of 6,500 watched the touring Fijian side defeat the New England team 37-14. The New England team played well but was outclassed by the tourists. Tamworth hosted the British Lions in a game against NSW Country on 9th June 1959. The touring team won 27-14 but Country had four players who wore the Wallaby colours; Peter Fenwicke (Walcha), Bill Gunther (Molong) and Jim Lenehan and Beres Ellwood (both from Wagga Wagga). Other representative games were held against the Springboks, the NZ Services side and later the New Zealand All Blacks.

1955 saw the club build its first clubhouse on land opposite Viaduct Park. It’s foundation stone is inscribed Tamworth Rugby Union Sporting Club. This was groundbreaking as many country clubs did not have a dedicated clubhouse.

In 1956 the NERFU accepted new nominations for first and second grade from Quirindi, Gunnedah and Kootingal-Bendemeer. These additions meant that distances travelled by the southern zone teams became a problem. The compromise solution saw the New England zone split into northern and southern zones in 1957 with each zone playing two rounds of matches before uniting in a third round to decide the competition. The southern zone teams included Tamworth, Walcha, Quirindi, Gunnedah and Kootingal-Bendemeer.

The revived Central North zone evolved from the old Southern Zone in 1958 under the approval of the NSWRU. A meeting had been held in Tamworth in November 1955 to discuss the formation of a new Southern Zone competition in New England. A further meeting was called by the Tamworth club in November 1956 to discuss football arrangements for 1957. Many clubs were upset by the stop-start nature of the the NERFU competition when University and Armidale Teachers College holiday breaks meant players were not available to field teams.

Teams in the Tamworth-based competition had played in the southern zone of the NEFRU for several years. In early 1958, the Walcha, Tamworth, Gunnedah and Quirindi clubs applied to the NSW Rugby Union for recognition as the Central Northern Union. Despite some opposition the application was granted.

Prior to 1962, there had been only five clubs fielding first grade teams in the central North Rugby Union district. A three round competition had been customary, with Walcha, Quirindi, Tamworth and Gunnedah playing the full season; then the newly formed Moree would play in the second and third rounds

This period saw other towns now playing in Central North formed their own clubs as well as the establishment of the Tamworth Pirates Rugby Club who evolved out of the Tamworth Country based at Kootingal. 

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. Tom Jackson, Geoff Quninlan, Lex Wiseman, Geoff Goodacre and Ron May formed the core of the Pirates Rugby Football Club. Other players in the club’s first year came from Barraba, Kootingal, Army CYO and of course, Tamworth. 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.

Other clubs to join include Narrabri (1964) and Barraba (1964). The Inverell club had reformed in 1951 but the year it joined Central North is not known.

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 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 1990’s 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!


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