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The rugby league club graveyard: The casualties between the wars (Part 2)

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Roar Guru
8th December, 2021
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This is the second article in the series where we’ll have a look at the 17 rugby league clubs that have come and gone in the last 113 years.

Who were they, what happened to them, who were their best players, what legacy did they leave behind, and what did they achieve?

With so many defunct teams to get through, we’ll work through them in the chronological order in which they departed the competition.

In Part 1 we looked at Central Cumberland and Newcastle, who were the first clubs to depart, while today we’ll look at the clubs that folded between the wars in Annandale, Glebe and University.

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Annandale
Annandale entered the competition in 1910 and departed at the end of 1920.

Formed by JJ Giltinan, one of rugby league’s founding fathers, from the disaffected members of the Annandale Rugby Union Club, Annandale looked to be a folly from the very beginning.

In hindsight, perhaps the best that could be said about it was that Annandale’s inclusion in 1910 maintained the competition’s eight-team structure following the departure of the Newcastle Rebels at the end of the 1909 season.

The Annandale club was wedged in between the suburban catchments of the Glebe, Newtown, Balmain and Western Suburbs foundation clubs, and while ultimately proven not big enough to be successful in their own right, their presence certainly detracted from the success of those clubs, particularly Glebe.

What little success Annandale had came in their first two seasons. 1910 saw them finish in sixth place with five wins and a draw from the 14 rounds played, while 1911 saw them finish just outside the semi-finals in fifth place with the same number of wins and draws as the previous year.

The next nine years would prove to be very lean ones though, as they won just 15 more games in total, picked up the wooden spoon in 1914, 1918 and 1920, and failed to win a single game in either 1918 or 1920. They also finished in second-last place in 1912, 1913, 1916, 1917 and 1919. Not much joy there!

Generic vintage rugby league or rugby union ball

(Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Despite their struggles, there were some handy players who turned out for the club, with few better than the Norman brothers, Hercules, Hollester, Hugh and Joseph. Between them they played over 140 games for the club and notched up 180 points.

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The small size of the club’s catchment, the close proximity to rival clubs, the impact of the First World War, and the increasing industrialisation of the inner suburbs made it difficult to attract enough quality players to be competitive.

Their lack of success, and the NSWRFL’s desire to have the St George club join the competition, saw Annadale excluded at the end of the 1920 season. The Dales were gone!

Some Annandale fun facts:
• They had the unimaginative nickname of ‘The Dales’.
• The club colours were maroon and gold.
• Hooker and NSW representative Walter Haddock holds the club record for most games with 83. He played in every season for the club except for two years he spent with Newtown in 1913 and 1914.
• Winger J Bain scored most tries for the club with 16, including a treble against Eastern Suburbs in 1917.
• Australian five-eighth and centre Hugh Norman holds the point-scoring record for the club with 88 points.

Glebe
Glebe entered the competition in 1908 and departed at the end of 1929.

The Glebe District Rugby League Football Club was formed on 8 January 1908 and is arguably the first club formed in Australia, just edging out Newtown and South Sydney. Many players from the top-flight Glebe Rugby Union Club made the transition to league in 1908, giving Glebe a competitive edge from day one.

They weren’t able to convert this advantage into premiership success though, and finished without ever winning a premiership despite finishing in the top four 13 times in their 22-year existence.

This premiership drought is partially due to the NSWRFL often changing between either a first-past-the-post premiership system to a finals-based system, and Glebe found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time on more than one occasion. The best they could do was finishing as runners-up in 1911, 1912, 1915 and 1922.

Glebe produced some wonderful players during their relatively brief existence with none better than rugby league Immortal Frank Burge, who is arguably the greatest forward of all time.

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Burge played 167 games in his first-grade career, including 149 for Glebe. He scored an incredible 146 tries, including eight tries in a match against University in 1920, six tries in a match against North Sydney in 1916, four quadruples, nine trebles and 25 doubles. Not a bad effort for a forward!

Burge also notched up 47 representative games during his career, including 13 Tests, scoring another 55 tries in these games. After he retired from playing, Burge went on to coach for 11 years, taking his team to the finals every year but somehow failing to win a premiership.

Steeden football on the tryline

(Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Apart from Burge, the most notable Glebe players were rugby league hall of fame members Les Cubitt, Chris McKivat and Arthur Holloway.

Following the departure of talisman Frank Burge at the end of 1926, Glebe began to fade, finishing eighth, seventh and eighth over the next three years in a nine-team competition.

At the end of the 1929 season, Glebe were surprisingly axed from the competition, being voted out by the narrow margin of 13-12. Conspiracy theories abound, but dwindling success and the growing industrialisation of Glebe’s catchment were probably the real reason for their demise.

Some Glebe fun facts:
• They were nicknamed the Dirty Reds due to the maroon colour of their jerseys.
• Frank Burge was top try scorer with 137 tries, top point scorer with 511 points, and played most games for the club with 149. What a player!
• They had an overall winning percentage of just under 56 per cent.
• They won the City Cup in 1913.
• They finished as minor premiers in 1911.
• They won the reserve grade premiership in 1912, 1918, 1919, 1920 and 1921 and the third grade premiership in 1927.

In 2017, in a Lazarus-like recovery, the Dirty Reds emerged from hibernation after 89 years to resume playing in the secondary competitions of the NSWRL, and continue to compete today.

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University
University entered the competition in 1920 and departed at the end of 1937. The addition of the University of Sydney RLFC to the NSWRFL in 1920 was more about rubbing rugby union’s nose in it rather than gaining a strong and viable club.

Such was the prejudice against rugby league at this centre of the free-thinking universe in Sydney, that the game’s participants were threatened with all manner of sanctions, never once were allowed to play at the university’s oval during their 18-year incarnation, and were only allowed to train there some years after they commenced competing.

The University players were all amateurs and could only be selected if attending the institution, and this not only made it difficult to attract talented players, but also resulted in a high player turnover as they came and went from the university.

This showed in their performances, and it’s quite surprising that they survived in the competition for 18 seasons, particularly following the demise of the nearby Glebe club.

University were nothing if not unsuccessful. Very unsuccessful in fact. In their 18 seasons they picked up ten wooden spoons, had an overall win percentage of just 20 per cent, and averaged a mere 2.6 wins per season.

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University’s one chance at glory came in 1926 when they finished in third place on the ladder, thrashed a then-struggling Glebe 29-3 in the semi-final, and then met South Sydney in the decider in front of over 20,000 fans.

Souths held on to win the game 11-5, scoring three tries to one, despite having one of their players sent off during the game. Some of University’s best players left the club the following season and the club went from the penthouse to the cellar, finishing with the wooden spoon.

After eight very unsuccessful seasons between 1929 and 1937, the club could see that they couldn’t match it against professional players and that continued failure was far more likely than success, so voluntarily withdrew from the competition.

Some University fun facts:
• They were known as ‘Varsity’.
• Their colours were blue and gold hoops.
• They received seven wooden spoons between 1929 and 1937.
• They only won two games after 1933.
• Future judiciary supremo Jim Comans played for the club between 1923 and 1936.

Next, we’ll look at the Newtown club.

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