The man known in Country Rugby League circles as “the King of Under 18s” has died after a lifetime devoted to nurturing young talent across regional NSW.
Tom Nelson, who turned 81 in October, enjoyed a long association with coaching, mentoring, and selecting young talent for Under 18s teams in the Western Division.
“Tom had the best eyes for talent,” NSWRL director and former CRL chairman John Anderson said.
“I was in a few selection panels with him and when he spoke about a player, you listened. He was a man that knew the lay of the land and you took notice of him.”
His status in the game is evidenced by the fact the best Under 18s player in the SLE Laurie Daley Cup is awarded the Tom Nelson Medal.
Bathurst-based Paul Rossiter is a fellow NSWRL, CRL, and Western Division Life Member like Nelson and remembered some of his sharp leadership qualities.
“Great mate, sensational coach,” Rossiter said, who was Under 18s team manager alongside Nelson in the 1980s.
“He knew how to mould them, bringing blokes from Lithgow to Bourke all into one.
“He was hard but fair, always ensured we as a squad followed core values of Western Division, understanding the importance of instilling pride and history of the green and white jumper.”
Group 11 chair Bob Walsh said Nelson filled administration roles – as treasurer and secretary – for more than 20 years.
“He was very knowledgeable about the game and a very hard worker,” Walsh said.
“Tom was also extremely personable. He got results out of the Under 18s because he treated them like human beings and they respected that.
“The whole of Group 11 and Western Division owe him a huge debt.”
Nelson started as a coach with Westside and St Johns in the late 1960s. He coached the Western Division Under 18s from 1975 until 1988 - except for 1979 and 1980 when he coached Dubbo CYMS first grade.
Nelson steered the Western Rams Under 18s to a swag of titles in the 1970s and 1980s – seven in total plus runner-up three times - and coached NSW Country to an historic win over City.
“Having my name on the Under 18s Country Championship trophy was an honour that I feel very privileged to have happened,” Nelson said in 2012.
“Looking back, it was a really good period for Western Division with a lot of very good players. In those days Western Division had a tremendous reputation and they were the most feared team in the CRL, the team that the others feared and wanted to beat.”
Some of those players under Nelson, who went onto higher first grade honours, included David Walsh, Gary Walsh, David Gillespie, Mark Soden, Dean Pay, Ray Farag, Darren Dunn, David Scott and Grant Barnes.
Gillespie embracing Nelson after Canterbury won the 1988 Grand Final was captured on a footy card at the time.
Nelson still called Dubbo home, until his death after a long battle with illness. He was 81.
The NSWRL extends its deepest sympathies to his wife Marcia, his family and friends.