With the NSWRL Presidents Cup being played in Maitland this week, it’s timely to look back at the first game of rugby league played in the town way back on April 15, 1911.
What was meant to be an exhibition game played early in the season turned out to be no ordinary contest as the two competing sides were Newtown and South Sydney who had met to decide the premiership the previous year.
A cursory look at the names shows the quality in each side. Newtown would have seven players selected for the Kangaroo tour later that year and any team boasting the likes of skipper Bill Noble, Paddy McCue, Boxer Russell and the Farnsworth brothers would always be a handful for their opposition.
Not that the Rabbitohs were short on quality – Harold Hallett, Bill Cann and Herb Gilbert headlined a team bristling with internationals too.
So a big crowd was on hand at the Maitland Showground that Saturday, and whilst both teams were a bit rusty (it was their first real hit-out of the year) they certainly gave their all. Newtown led 7-6 at half time and pushed that out to 12-6 with another converted try early in the second half before the Red and Greens posted three tries in succession to claim a 17-12 victory.
This wonderful photo of the teams taking the field (see above) comes from the collection of Webby Neill, who won premierships with Souths in 1908 and 1909 before switching to Newtown to collect a trifecta of premierships in 1910. Neill went on the 1911 Kangaroo tour and after retiring rose to become a leading referee, again achieving international honours.