(Photo courtesy of Tumut and Adelong Times)
Few sporting trophies anywhere in the world can match the drama, controversy and romance of Rugby League’s most famous bush footy prize, the Maher Cup.
To mark the centenary of the famous old “Tin Pot” the two original combatants, Tumut and Gundagai, will meet again at the Twickenham Rugby League Complex on Saturday at 3pm and it is timely to recall the wonderful history associated with the treasured Maher Cup.
Ted Maher was a local publican who donated the trophy to help revive sport in the Riverina area in the years after the end of the First World War.
Initially a rugby union trophy, it was first contested under Rugby League rules in 1921 and within a decade had changed the sporting landscape in the district.
It grew to be the face of local communities and the game across the Riverina, through some wonderful and unforgettable games as well as some star players. Tumut and Gundagai have their own rich chapters in the story but so do Cootamundra, Wagga Wagga, Barmedman, Junee, West Wyalong, Young and Junee.
Old timers still talk about a match when rising flood waters threatened players and spectators, another was played on a field infested by rabbits, and then there was the day a lengthy halftime speech by a politician led to fires being lit around the ground perimeter to provide enough light for the game to finish in the days before electric lighting.
There were also stars galore. Some were imports but there was also a constellation of locals who are still revered in their hometown. The likes of Eric Weissel, Bill Brogan, Ron Crowe, Abe Hall, Col Ratcliff, Ray Beaven, Nevyl Hand, Fred De Belin, a teenage Tom Raudonikis, and many others who are still talked about and remembered fondly.
Changing demographics and work practices led to the competition’s demise in 1971 but the Riverina remains a stronghold of the game that continues to produce great footballers that proudly carry the tradition of those who have come before.
The New South Wales Rugby League congratulates the Tumut and Gundagai clubs for their role in organising this landmark event to mark the centenary, as well as all those who played their part in the history of the famous old trophy.
To learn more about Maher Cup history, visit Neil Pollock’s website http://mahercup.com.au/