The Split

The North Tamworth club dropped out of the 1911 Central North competition and converted to the league code. A leagues club was formed at Werris Creek in 1912. 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 the use of No.1 oval for competition games.

The Central North Rugby League’s annual general meeting of 1 April 1914 reports five teams in the CNRL competition: Werris Creek, East Tamworth, West Tamworth, Our Boys and Rebels (the old North Tamworth RFC). The Central North Rugby Football Union annual general meeting of 30 March 1914 states four clubs were affiliated with the union: East Tamworth, West Tamworth, Attunga and Walcha. Though it may seem surprising to see so many football clubs. Tamworth 1911 population was 22,420; an increase of 5,469 from its 1901 population of 16,951. Tamworth was clearly growing and would have had a large cohort of young men who enjoyed their football no matter the code.

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 be played 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 to whether the union should cease its activities in favour of the league game. The NERU rallied and with Walcha changing zones, Armidale continued to play rugby whilst many other centres made the switch. 1921 saw Manilla club convert to league, thus all of the Tamworth district had converted. It was a different story at the top of the Great Divide. Despite efforts, Walcha refused to budge and stuck with the rugby code. In addition, the GPS schools wished to maintain the ethos of amateur sport. As such, The Armidale School’s membership of the GPS system prevented the adoption of the professional code. These factors assisted with the survival of the rugby code in the New England where elsewhere saw its disappearance.

The Armidale Express of the 1920s and 1930s mentions teams such as Armidale Teachers College, New England University College, Armidale FC, GPS Old Boys, Bundarra, Uralla and The Armidale School (TAS). TAS, Armidale High and De la Salle College provided schoolboy games. In 1924, the NERU saw rugby being played by The Armidale School (TAS), St Johns College and Veterans FC with combined Armidale playing against Walcha. The 1930s saw the Armidale City Club reformed with the Bruxner Cup the main competition in New England.

The Armidale Express of 1929 refers to a meeting between the organisers of the two rugby codes. The view was that Armidale did not have the population to sustain both and that one should be adopted. It was suggested that as rugby union was the code played in the schools then rugby union should be the code adopted by the senior teams. Moreover, it is a game played in far more centres across the world compared to the north of England and parts of Australia and New Zealand. Lastly, that league was dominated by Tamworth so Armidale would not gain any advantage in being a league centre. The contrary argument was that Armidale was isolated from other rugby playing centres and there wasn’t a town or village in NSW or Qld that didn’t have a leagues club. It was suggested the league game was better for the player and for the spectator and that public opinion was in favour of the code. Needless to say, no agreement was reached.

There was a hiatus in the rugby union code from the early 1930s until 1938-39 when the competition restart. The Great Depression is likely to have affected the ability of clubs to field players. Another hiatus occurred until 1943 when GA Fisher became president of the reconstituted union. Teams in 1943 included University, Teachers College and the secondary schools.

Rugby did not entirely die in Tamworth. A Sydney Morning Herald article from 1934 reports of games between Tamworth High and Christian Brothers College. Many of the teachers at both schools would have played rugby whilst studying at their teachers colleges with others having played the sport during their school years. It would be natural for the teachers to influence their students to play the game.