Mackay Rugby League - History from 1919

A meeting in Wills' Hotel on Tuesday April 15, 1919, changed the course of Mackay's sporting history.

On that night, Mackay footballers and supporters met, like they had in past years, to decide whether they could conduct a premiership competition in the coming season.

However, in 1919 there was a vital difference.  This time there were two important decisions to be made.

The first was whether they would play football again and the second was if so, what code would be played - rugby union or the new rugby league game?

There was a good roll up for the meeting, more than 70 enthusiasts, and they fully expected that they would be there well into the night deciding on what code to play.

However in the end it did not take them very long at all.

The meeting was called to order by Mr. E.W. Brookes and in less than an hour the big decisions had been made.

It was evident that the players were raring to go and although there was a bit of discussion about which code would be played, it was all on the same side of the debate.

The call on all sides was "We want rugby league".

So it was agreed to form the Mackay Rugby League and the meeting then got busy on arranging the season.

Tom Leonard, the former president of the Mackay Rugby Union, was elected as the foundation president of the Mackay Rugby League, with E.W. Brookes as secretary and J.P. Hubner as assistant secretary.

Because the rugby union clubs had not reformed it was decided that players would be invited to register with the league and a committee was appointed to arrange them in four teams.

On that night 50 players paid the two shillings and sixpence (25 cents) registration fee which had been set, but the committee finally had to find players for only two teams.

A Railways club was formed and the North Side boys formed their own team in that now historic meeting at Glenella, when the chatter of those present inspired the club name of Magpies.

The other two teams formed were Rangers and All Blacks, Railways had the honour of winning the inaugural premiership and the first Mackay Rugby League trophy - a cup donated by Mr. W.L. McCracken.

The competition was run on the first past the post system and Railways headed the table with 11 points, with All Blacks and Rangers on eight points each and Magpies scoring only one point - coming from a draw with Railways.

It is probable that the decision to play rugby league was influenced by the fact that Townsville had adopted the new code in 1914.

The local footballers soon adapted to the new game and by the end of the season, the league was confident enough to invite Townsville down for two matches.

So a great sporting tradition came into being at Alexandra Park (now the showgrounds) on Wednesday, June 17, 1919 when Mackay and Townsville met in a rugby league match for the first time.

The Mackay team was : fullback J. Brooks, three-quarters W. Deveney, W. Meng, E. Brookes, B. Joseph; five-eighth D. McEachran; halfback L. Fudge; forwards P. Kynaston, C. Brighton, C. Milton, A. Birse, J, English, S. Saunders. The referee was R. Bradbury.

Townsville won the game 16-13 and the Mackay side was unchanged for the second encounter on Sunday, September 21.

Already Mackay league had won the support of the public and a crowd of 2500 turned up to see Townsville win again 17-14.

A special excursion train ran from Finch Hatton, bringing hundreds of country enthusiasts in to see the match.

They were not disappointed with what they saw and although Townsville may have had more experienced players, some of the best football in the game came from the home team.

Mackay winger B. Joseph scored a fine individual try, swooping on a loose ball and outpacing the Townsville backs and then side-stepping the fullback to score under the posts.

Then, in a brilliant passing movement, the ball went from Hec Birse to Bill Meng to Eddie Brookes, back to Meng again and finally on to Joseph.

The early officials on the league did their job well and some of them had a far reaching influence on the game.

Pride of place goes to Jack O'Brien one of the great personalities of rugby league.

He was chairman of the league's management committee for more than 30 years and president of Carltons for even longer and was a life member of the Queensland Rugby League.

Jim Brooks was a first class fullback and later became one of Mackay's best referees. Cecil Milton played in the first Carlton premiership team and represented Mackay for many years.

Apart from being a pioneer referee Bob Bradbury, also managed the early representative teams.

Bill Pearson was a keen player and worker for the game and a great club man for Carltons, helping to recruit many players for the strong Carltons years.

One of the Magpie delegates was Les Shew and the Shew name is still well to the fore in rugby league through the services of Mick Shew as an official and Mackay selector.

For many years it seemed that that meeting in April 1919 had sounded the death knell of rugby  union in Mackay, but good sports can not be beaten and in the years since 1976 rugby union has returned to Mackay full of life and vigour.


The Daily Mercury, Tuesday, November 23, 1999.


Glen Hall 2001-2017.
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13 April 2008.
last updated 19 July 2017 .
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