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Merriwa Magpies flying high at 100 years old

The upper Hunter Valley community will come alive this weekend as the Merriwa Magpies RLFC celebrates their centenary.

Back in June 1923 the Magpies ‘opened’ their club doors with a match against the Denman Devils, and at 3pm this Saturday (10 June) Merriwa Oval will have history repeat itself 100 years on.

“We’re a really small community but to have Rugby League available to local people for 100 years is a huge achievement,” said Magpies President Phil Neale.

“We’ve been reasonably successful as we’re probably the smallest club in Group 21.

“We only run a reserve grade side at the moment. We don’t pay anyone so everyone that’s here is because they want to be here, they live in the area, they chose to be a Magpie.

“We’ve got that very close community that’s so important. It binds our club together and produces the great culture that we have.

“In the near future we want to bring back our first grade side and we’re prepared to buy a few players.”

It was the late 1980s that the Merriwa Magpies last fielded a first grade team.

“It’s been 30-odd years and we’d like to get back to that. It’s been too long,” Neale said.

The Magpies won the 2019 Group 21 Reserve Grade Premiership – the first time in 18 years – beating Aberdeen 26-6.

“We were just unbeatable that year, and we came close to organising a first grade side for the next season. But funding and then COVID got in the way.”

Merriwa enjoyed a three-peat from 1999-2001.

“Those three premierships in a row were sweet. Captain coach of those sides was Simon ‘Chook’ Walmsley, who later became Group 21 president,” Neale said.

“He will be there on Saturday along with lots of other former players and supporters, plus everyone in the town basically. I’m hoping we get 300 or more there.

“The spirit of the club is very strong. We just work for each other on the field and look after each other off it.

“It’s a great community … so great in fact that we’ve had some young blokes with offers to go into the pathways at NRL clubs but they’ve wanted to stay here and play with their mates.”

Scottish international Lachlan Walmsley, who had three games in last year's World Cup and is a former South Sydney Rabbitohs NSW Cup player, is a Merriwa Magpie. He is currently playing wing for Halifax in England's second division.


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