A Western Rams legend will make a triumphant return this weekend, with the Tom Nelson Shield to be awarded to the winner of the Under 18s Western Premiership Grand Final.
The Tom Nelson Shield was previously awarded to the champion of the Country Rugby League Under 18s team beginning in 2012, before it was retired in 2017 for the Laurie Daley Cup.
The Tom Nelson Shield has been reinstated and from 2022 will now be awarded to the champion of the Western Region Under 18s competition.
The return of the Shield is a fitting tribute for the legendary Nelson, with his work with the Under 18s and Country Rugby League playing a great role in the growth of Rugby League in country NSW.
Group 11 Secretary and friend of Nelson, Paul Loxley, is happy to see the Shield return and believes there will be a lot of excitement around it.
“For me personally, it’s great recognition for Tommy, he’s given so much to the sport, the return of the Shield I think is a fitting tribute,” Loxley said.
“He was a humble man, he got a buzz out of it, and the return of the Shield is something that his whole family will get a buzz out of.”
Known as ‘the King of Under 18s’, Nelson coached the Western Division Under 18s from 1975 to 1988, except for 1979 and 1980 when he coached the Dubbo CYMS first grade team.
Nelson led the Western Rams to seven titles and three runner-up places between 1970 and 1980 and was also the coach of the Under 18s Country team that defeated City in 1978.
Nelson was known to have an eye for the “one percenter” that could take a player from a club footballer to representative level.
“Tom told me on a number of occasions that coaching a league team was a lot about managing people as well as passing on skills,” Peter McDonald Premiership Chairman Geoff Mann said.
“Whether you were a player who was offered an encouraging word or a star who needed a rocket to stir you up, Tommy’s words were always received as they were meant, with your best interests at heart.”
As a coach, Nelson was a tactician and strategist who was meticulous in preparation and detail. His eye for talent allowed him to select the best young players and he watched proudly as they blossomed from young bush kids into NRL superstars.
“Tom saw the best, his astute eye selected the best,” Mann said.
Nelson was a key figure in establishing the relationship between the Western Region and Penrith Panthers, which has provided a pathway for young players from the Western Region to make it to the NRL, including premiership winners Isaah Yeo and Matt Burton.
As well as his coaching responsibilities, Nelson served prominently in administration as Country and state selector, manager, referees appointments board member, and on the Executive Committee overseeing the growth of Rugby League in country NSW.
“He enjoyed being a coach and having a hands on approach to footy, but he also enjoyed the other roles he held in Country Rugby League,” Loxley said.
The Under 18 Western Premiership Grand Final will take place on Sunday 4 September between Bathurst St Patricks and Nyngan Tigers at Apex Park.