A Maher Cup clash 100 years in the making

Tumut Blues captain/coaches Lachlan Bristow and Zac Master stand with the Maher Cup alongside Saturday’s opponents and Gundagai captain/coaches Luke Berkrey and Jarrod Crane.

A rivalry that is a century old will come to the fore at Twickenham on Saturday when the Tumut Blues host the Gundagai Tigers in what will be the first Maher Cup challenge game played in 50 years. 

The two sides kicked off their rivalry on Wednesday August 3, 1921, which was also the first Maher Cup challenge game ever played, when Tumut and Gundagai played at Tumut Showground – Tumut won that game 5-nil on the back of a Tom O’Brien try and conversion.

Fifty years of the Maher Cup would follow, with the Blues and Tigers competing with teams from all over the Riverina for the coveted piece of silverware, before in 1971, following Tumut’s 43-4 victory over Young, the competition eventually folded. 

Saturday’s game will bring back memories of a great rugby league era, one which saw Cootamundra contest the most games (224) and Harden win the most games straight (29), while the competition boasted players such as Ray Beavan, John ‘Bronc’ Jones, Ron Crowe, Bill Brogan, Fred de Belin, Joe Jorgensen, Eric Weissel and so many others that it would be nearly impossible to list them all. 

The match, which will double as a centenary anniversary celebration for both clubs, and triple as a Group 9 round one fixture, was the brainchild of both the Tumut and Gundagai Old Boy committees.

Tumut Blues Old Boys President and former Maher Cup player, Barry Madigan, said there was only one way he could describe the overall feeling leading into Saturday’s Maher Cup match. 

“I’m excited. The only word I can think of is excitement,” Madigan laughed. 

“There seems to be excitement and enthusiasm in both towns, I have been talking to Gundagai personnel, as well as our own, and they are all equally looking forward to Saturday.”

Madigan said the honour of winning the Maher Cup was somewhat lost on the current generation, but he hoped that a hyped build-up had both teams wanting to take home the trophy. 

“It’s got to get these boys excited. The younger generation don’t know what this trophy is about, but we were fortunate enough to know what the trophy means and I hope that rubs off on the players of today,” Madigan said. 

“To a lot of these kids, I hope it will be like a grand final”

Madigan reminisced on his playing days that saw him line up alongside the late great Ray Beavan and John ‘Bronc’ Jones. 

“It is special, I know it is said a lot, but I get that feeling of nostalgia,” Madigan said. 

“It brings back so many memories, and for me, it brings back that memory of playing football with such great players and wearing the long sleeves and all those little things.”

In a subtle nod to the history of the competition, players will step out in front of what’s sure to be a huge crowd wearing long sleeves and a uniform similar to that of the first one worn in 1921, and Madigan suggested that supporters should get to the ground early.  

“It’s hard to say if it will be a record, but I don’t really think there will be much space around the perimeter of the ground,” Madigan said.

The Old Boys president did thank Group 9 for allowing the game to be played within the constraints of their competition. 

“We asked Group 9 early in the piece for this game to be played,” Madigan said.

“We wanted that first game to be in Tumut too, just like the first-ever game, and they accommodated us and it is very much appreciated.”

There has been talk that this Maher Cup fixture could open up to the rest of the competition, with clubs potentially given the opportunity to challenge for the silverware, but Madigan isn’t sure if that is feasible. 

“We have heard that Group 9 is asking the question whether we should or could allow Maher Cup challenges from next year, but I think the issue attached to that idea is that the Maher Cup is a challenge, and it wouldn’t work with the current competition.”

In what will be a huge day for both clubs, the Tumut Blues Old Boys have spared no expense, with the Maher Cup being helicoptered into Twickenham just before 2pm on Saturday, before both first-grade teams then create a guard of honours as the trophy is delivered. 

NSWRL Chief Executive, David Trodden, will also be in attendance, while the match will be livestreamed and also broadcast to local radio stations.