Tamworth Magpies Rugby Club plays in the New England competition, an affiliate of NSW Country. We have five grades - Firsts, Reserves, Third's, Under 17's and Women's. We're a family oriented club which seeks to include all of the family in a safe, respectful environment. We train Tuesday and Thursday nights from 6.30pm at Rugby Park, Marius Street, Tamworth.

 

A BRIEF HISTORY of TAMWORTH RUGBY CLUB

 

Rugby has a long history in Tamworth. The NSW Rugby Football Annual 1894 states that the New England Branch of the NSW Rugby Union affliated with the NSWRU in 1893. The clubs in the branch in that first year included Acme (Tamworth), Albion (Armidale), Armidale, Deepwater, Dundee Rovers, Emmaville, Glen Innes, Hillgrove, Hillgrove West, Nine Mile, Royal Standard (Tamworth), Tenterfield and West End (Armidale). In 1894 the clubs were Acme (Tamworth), Albion (Armidale), Armidale, Arfoma (Armidale), Gunnedah, Hillgrove, Inverell, Uralla, Walcha, Tamworth, Royal Standard (Tamworth), Our Boys (Tamworth),Wallaroos (Dumaresq), New England Proprietary School and New England Grammar School.

The growth of the game in country NSW is a bit of a mystery. By the 1880s, many of the boarding schools in Sydney had adopted the game as their winter sport and returning boarders would bring the game they learnt in the city to their home districts. This was certainly the case with the post WW2 growth of the game. This was perhaps less so in the 1890s. Many players were townsmen and how they learnt their rugby is a unknown but it could be the railway crews constructing the main northern line from Tamworth via Kootingal and Walcha Road to Armidale during the 1880s were influential in spreading the code to towns in the district.

By 1909, there was a Central Northern competition centred on Tamworth which was part of the New England Zone. Teams included East Tamworth, North Tamworth, Our Boys, Walcha, West Tamworth and Manilla in first grade and Easts, Norths, Wests, Our Boys, Werris Creek and Attunga in second grade. Currabubula, Bective, Nemingha, Nundle and Moonbi were playing in 1912. There are references to a League game between Easts and Norths in 1912 and the North Tamworth Rugby League Club state on their website that in 1911, the club was formed from almost the entire first grade side of the North Tamworth Rugby Club. We're not sure what happened to these old Tamworth based rugby clubs from World War 1. Its known that many rugby competitions ceased due to patriotic reasons. Over 80% of NSW grade players enlisted. The Queensland Union only reestablished itself in1929. This hiatus allowed rugby league to strengthen its position in many country towns in NSW and Queensland.

Rugby came back to Tamworth as a result of a meeting in Martin Place Sydney following a conversation between Doug Campbell and John Carroll, who was 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 playing in the New England competition.

The Walcha Rugby Club had only recently reformed in 1950 after a 20 year hiaitus and played in the New England competition. Walcha had weathered many challenges since the club's inception in1884 but the Great Depression of 1929 had caused it to fold in 1930. After the trials of the depression and World War 2, the late 1940s and early 1950s saw a return to normalcy. The growth of the local economy - wool was a "pound for a pound" in the 1950s - and returning GPS boarding-school students to Walcha set the scene for the re-establishment of the Walcha club.

An advertisement was placed in the Northern Daily Leader calling a meeting to see what interest there was 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 the 1952 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 DMR 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.

Walcha supported the promotion of rugby in Tamworth by sending two teams to Tamworth in 1952. 1953 saw Tamworth enter a team in the New England competition which also included teams from Walcha, Armidale City, Armidale Teachers College, University of New England and Inverell.

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.

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 competition at Armidale against Glen Innes Ian had to play as two forwards were injured. Ian later became the Federal Member for New England.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, the 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.

The intermittent nature of the competition because of the dominance of the Armidale Teacher College and University of New England teams saw Walcha look to join with other southern clubs like Tamworth to ensure regular competitive games. 1956 saw Gunnedah, Quirindi, Kootingal-Bendeemer, Walcha and Tamworth form a southern zone to the New England competition. In 1958, the new Central North zone was established from the southern zone. A zone team formed and entered into Country Week. Success came in 1959 and 1960 with the zone winning the Caldwell Cup.

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 Tamworth 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 JohnLyons, Peter Pulley, 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.

 

On the levee bank before the game

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 barbeque 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 the Magpies of some ex-Sydney Grade players in Bill Feggans (NSW Representative), Peter Horsefield and Vince Symons who strengthened the ranks of players and later on, the coaching ranks. However, the great Narrabri teams of the 1970s steam-rolled all before them in the competition.

The 1980s were a period of re-building in the Tamworth Club due 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 1990s winning several Premierships in all grades, based on the former juniors like Peter Thompson, John Wiseman, Craig Coffey, Bernardand 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 the Magpies, with most of the successful players of the 90's either retiring or moving away from Tamworth and the Magpies 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!

That crop of Magpie grade players were mainly youngsters who once again have come through the Junior ranks with great success (including 2 Premierships in 2007), but they have been ably lead by veterans like Tim Griffiths, Darren and Todd Carey, Matt Tripetand Pete "Keg" Wiseman.

2008 saw the fruition of a dream with the opening of Stage 2 of the new clubhouse. The changerooms and toilets, as Stage 1, had been built in 1998 using funding provided by the winding-up of the assets of the Tamworth Gentlemens Club. The Gentlemens Club membership had made the decision that their assets should be used to the betterment of the Tamworth community and selected the Tamworth Rugby Club as being a worthwhile recipient. Stage 2 followed the design by former club secretary/treasurer Julian Smith of Bonnar Smith Hamilton Architects.

Funding for Stage 2 was obtained via a loan from the National Australia Bank with Tamworth Regional Council, being the land owner, acting as loan guarantor. Interest payments for the first 3 years of the loan were covered by the generous support of 30 club members who each contributed $1000 each per year from 2007. The list of foundation sponsors is located in the new clubhouse.

With the finalisation of the new clubhouse in 2008 in time for the first home game of the season, it was fitting the game should be against our cross-town rivals the Tamworth Pirates Rugby Club. The day drew a large crowd to experience the revitalised ground which has set the standard for regional rugby clubs. June 2008 saw us hold our first at home Black and White dinner for 160 members and guests which proved the wisdom of its design. The end-of-season presentation night saw ex-Wallaby Mark Ella as our guest of honour who commented that the clubhouse would be the envy of many clubs in Sydney.

2009 saw a new vibrant Committee consisting mainly of former players like Mitchel Hanlon,Campbell McIntosh, Chris Collins, Phil McHugh, Dave Lane, Ben O'Sullivan and Graham Baldwin (many of whom now have sons in the Junior ranks). That year also saw the establishment of the Social Club and the famous Magpie mascot.

Loyal Magpie supporters have high hopes that these developments will see the present young players develop into teams like those of the 90's that will bring the Tamworth Magpies back to the top of the Central North Club Championship.

Vince Symons, Life Member
Doug Campbell, Life Member
Mitchel Hanlon, fmr Secretary

Drop us a line if you have any stories or anecdotes about the club.
Life Members seen at the Quirindi 19th July 2008 home game: 

Left to right: Peter Burke, Doug Campbell, Chris Collins, Peter Pulley, Vince Symons, Wally Franklin, Bruce Treloar, Bob Locke, Brian Thompson, Steve Moroney.

The club has 27 living Life Members so to have 10 in the one photo is quite an achievement.

Primary sources:
Doug Campbell, Vince Symons

Secondary source:
Croker, G., 1994 "Memories from scrum and ruck : a history of the Walcha Rugby Union Football Club, 1894-1994", ISBN 0 64618 6086

If you're a history buff and have some knowledge of Tamworth Rugby Club's past, please contact the secretary.

© 2017 Tamworth Rugby Football Club

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