The Maher Cup’s re-emergence in 2021, albeit as brief as it was with only two games played between Tumut and Gundagai, was easily the highlight of the Group 9 season.
Unfortunately, the Group 9 competition came to an early end due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and with Tumut winning then retaining the Maher Cup, following back-to-back wins over Gundagai, it means the Blues won the only significant silverware that was available to be won in the Riverina competition this year.
Both Tumut and Gundagai were both celebrating their 100 years of existence this season and the Blues and Tigers bought into what the Maher Cup once meant to towns, clubs and supporters, during what one can only imagine was an emphatic 50-year period for Riverina rugby league between 1921, until the Maher Cup was last played for in 1971.
Supporters and rugby league fans from far and wide joined in the excitement, and watched on as two teams battled like gladiators on the paddock for the right to call the ‘Old Tin Pot’ their own.
Now, it seems as though Tumut will forever hold the Maher Cup, with a chance for the time-honoured trophy to be played for on a regular basis, as part of the Group 9 competition, declined by the Tumut Blues Rugby League Old Boys and Supporters Club.
As a result, Group 9 will introduce their own Challenge Cup as part of the 2022 competition and beyond, after the competition organisers approached the Old Boys regarding the possibility of the Maher Cup being played for, before the offer was eventually turned down.
In a letter to the Group 9 board, the Old Boys and their committee supported the Challenge Cup concept, but did not support the notion that teams would play for the Maher Cup.
“The concept put forward by the (Group 9) board to introduce a “Challenge Trophy” to the Group 9 competition, where it is optional for clubs to challenge, we feel has merit,” the letter stated.
“However, in the same breath we are of the opinion the Maher Cup enjoyed fifty years of clubs from as far afield as Cowra to Wamoon challenging on a Saturday and lining up again in their respective competitions on a Sunday.
“Ultimately the concept took its toll, with lifestyles changing, the advent of the Murrumbidgee Rugby League, all bought about by economics and administrators realising the survival of Rugby League in Southern New South Wales revolved around the importance of a strong competition.
“The passion the Cup instilled in the players and the community was also dying and we feel is not evident today to warrant the return of the beloved trophy to Group 9, hence the introduction of a “new” format if the Clubs feel it will prosper our game.”
The Old Boys were hopeful that the new Challenge Cup concept would be a success within the Riverina rugby league community.
“We would be fully supportive of the Group introducing a “Rugby League Challenge Trophy” with a completely new concept and a name, which is synonymous with the current Group 9 and the Riverina (e.g., only. The Arthur Summons Challenge Trophy or ask for nominations from supporters),” the letter stated.
With the new Challenge Cup system set to kick off in 2022, the Temora Dragons will be the inaugural holders, and only time will tell how successful the competition proves to be for a new generation of Group 9 rugby league clubs, teams, players and supporters.