Group 10 1970s grand finals: Dynasty ends, new premiers crowned

FLASHBACKS: From left to right: Grahame Spurway (Railway), Greg Fryer (Oberon), Greg Hay (Ex-Services), David Kent (Ex-Services).
FLASHBACKS: From left to right: Grahame Spurway (Railway), Greg Fryer (Oberon), Greg Hay (Ex-Services), David Kent (Ex-Services).

After a decade of dominance, Oberon Tigers won three of the first six premierships of the decade, but it would prove the end of the team's mighty dynasty. 

Bathurst Railway would win three titles in the 1970s as well, St Pat's claimed a second Group 10 crown, while Blayney, Cowra and Charlestons all broke through for their first premierships. 

The 1970s also featured a couple of significant rule changes: the value of a field goal dropped from two to one point in 1971 and the four tackle limit, introduced in 1967 which abolished the unlimited tackle rule, was increased to six in 1972.

Portland Colts and Kandos Waratahs had brief stints in the competition, though they proved unsuccessful, while Mudgee joined the Group 10 crowd in 1978.

Mudgee, who played in black and gold, changed their colours to red and white to avoid a clash with Oberon's strip. They also adopted the Dragons as their nickname, abandoning their old Tigers moniker. 

1970: Oberon Tigers 7-6 Cowra Magpies

Mistakes robbed Cowra of their first premiership and presented Oberon with their ninth premiership in just 10 years.

The Magpies were in control at halftime, holding a 4-2 lead after goals from Len Ryan and Bob Camden, with Garry Fisher kicking the only goal for the Tigers right on halftime.

Len Ryan made and broke Cowra on the day: his two field goals were glorious shots. His first put Cowra in front 2-0 and the second closed the gap on Oberon 7-6 late in the game.

But Ryan was responsible for a loose pass dropped by lock Barry McColl, which made a gift of five points to Oberon early in the second half. Eager young Oberon centre Doug Ballinger snapped up the ball and raced over under the Cowra posts without a hand being placed upon him.

It was a great triumph for 17-year-old Ballinger, who had scored two brilliant tries when Oberon defeated Cowra 11−8 in the major semi-final two weeks previously. 

More than 6000 people were on hand at the Bathurst Sportsground to witness the match, the crowd paying $2239 at the gate. 

1971: Oberon Tigers 12-5 Cowra Magpies

A sensational intercept try by Oberon winger Gordon Rawlings in the dying stages gave the Tigers a 12-5 victory at the Bathurst Sportsground.

The intercept proved crucial for Oberon. If Rawlings had missed the intercept, it looked odds-on that Cowra lock Barry McColl would have scored a winning try in the corner.

Oberon were clinging to a 7-5 lead and battling to withstand sustained Cowra attacks when Rawlings showed clever anticipation to intercept the pass.

Catching the Cowra defence on the wrong foot, he ran the length of the field to score under the posts.

The crowd of over 7000 - described by the Western Advocate edition of August 30, 1971 as a record attendance - was drenched by heavy rain in the middle of the afternoon. 

OBERON TIGERS 12 (Rawlings try; Fisher 4 goals, Schrader field goal) defeated COWRA MAGPIES 5 (Butcher try, Ryan goal)

The team list from the 1972 Group 10 grand final between Lithgow Workmen's Club and Bathurst Railway

The team list from the 1972 Group 10 grand final between Lithgow Workmen's Club and Bathurst Railway

1972: Bathurst Railway 14-5 Lithgow Workmen's Club

The Western Advocate match report from September 11, 1972 described Bathurst Railway's performance as "scintillating", with "open football, sound defensive tactics and rugged tackling". 

Railway overcame grand final hosts Workmen's Club at the Lithgow Recreation Ground to win their first premiership since 1957 (which had also come against the Lithgow-based team).

Railway captain-coach Greg Hay was carried from the field by his jubilant teammates following the decider.

Hay said at the presentation that he had participated in eight previous grand finals without any success.

"They are the best bunch of boys I have ever run on to the field with," he said.

Beaten captain Barry Rushworth conceded that the better team had won on the day.

St Pat's booted four goals and score a try in the 1973 grand final win against Orange Ex-Services.

St Pat's booted four goals and score a try in the 1973 grand final win against Orange Ex-Services.

1973: Bathurst St Pat's 20-14 Ex-Services

What the Western Advocate described as "their finest honour", St Pat's won their second premiership in six years when they showed great determination to win the grand final after claiming the minor premiership.

St Pat's had gone to an early 5-0 lead and looked particularly impressive before star hooker Wayne "Jock" Colley was carried from the field with a serious leg injury. 

Graham Tohey, who had already played 100 minutes of hard football, was called upon to play hooker, but was well beaten for the ball 9-3.

St Pat's were called upon to unearth their customary rock-like defence for the first half, which they did to lead 7-5 at half-time.

However, they then produced a tactical move which paid enormous dividends, brining Steve Bryant on as hooker.

Bryant out hooked his opponent Max Low 7-4 in the second half and it was this valuable possession that turned the tide.

Nothing could be taken away from Ex-Services; they matched St Pat's well and produced some dangerous attacks but they try statistics - three to one - was the telling factor. 

When in possession, the St Pat's backline looked sharper, throwing the ball around well and their defence moving up quickly on the attacking Ex-Services line.

The Western Advocate report from September 17, 1973, gave a special mention to St Pat's five-eighth Bruce Ayshford, who starred with his determined tackling and his initiation to set up some great line-breaks. 

BATHURST ST PAT's 20 (Ian Toohey, Roger Toohey, Peter Sikora tries; Ian Toohey 4 goals, Paul Dowling goal, field goal) defeated ORANGE EX-SERVICES 14 (Keither Waters try; Noel Hurford 5 goals, Rod Keevil field goal) 

1974: Bathurst Railway 12-11 Orange Ex-Services 

The Western Challenge Cup would be heading to Bathurst for the third consecutive year - and be won by Railway for the second time in three years.

Down 11-7 with only five minutes remaining, Railway scored a late converted try to overcome their Orange Ex-Services rivals at the Bathurst Sportsground.

Although Railway led 7-2 at the break, Ex-Services clapped on three tries in the second half to lead 11-7 and looked to have the match in their keeping when Railway launched their last desperate play.

Pinning Ex-Services down and throwing the ball around as though their lives depended on it, the red and green of Railway gained the vital break they were looking for when fullback Frank McGuiness dived over about 14 metres in from the sideline to reduce Ex-Services' lead to 11-10.

McGuiness then lined up coolly for what no doubt was the most vital kick of his career.

The hushed crowd broke into an uproar as the ball went high and straight clear through the uprights to give Railway their second premiership in three years.

The crowd paid $3313 at the gate. 

The Orange Ex-Services team ahead of the 1975 Group 10 grand final.

The Orange Ex-Services team ahead of the 1975 Group 10 grand final.

1975: Oberon Tigers 17-4 Orange Ex-Services

The crowd at the Bathurst Sportsground witnessed Oberon Tigers' 11th premiership in 16 seasons - but their last to date.

Rain kept hundreds of people at home, however, cars were double parked outside the Sportsground from 8.30am on match day, an hour before the gates opened. 

When the gates opened at 9.30am, cars and spectators streamed into the ground almost non-stop up until just after the start of the first grade match.

Rugby league started at 10am with a social match which was followed by a junior league game.

Grand final day kicked-off at 12.05pm in the 18s match between Cowra and St Pat's, the Magpies coming behind at half-time to win 12-4.

Reserve grade was won by Oberon 18-8 against St Pat's, giving the Tigers a grand final double. 

The crowd paid $2700 at the gate. 

The teams for the 1976 Group 10 grand final.

The teams for the 1976 Group 10 grand final.

1976: Bathurst Railway 21-14 Lithgow Workmen's Club

Bathurst Railway won their third premiership in the space of five seasons in 1976, the club's fifth Group 10 premiership since 1950.

Railway, brilliantly captained by hooker Billy Rose, scored three tries to two and defended superbly against the tremendous Workmen's Club.

Although beaten, Workmen's Club deserved credit for their non-stop display and they tried hard right up until the final minutes, according to the Western Advocate report from September 13, 1976.

Railway led 12-4 at halftime and continually plugged away for their well-earned victory.

Railway ran on with their team intact after prop John Shepherd passed a fitness test on the Friday night before the decider.

Shepherd left the field in the 71st minute and was replaced by Fred Peard. Shepherd was clapped from the field by a section of the crowd (which was estimated at 4500).

The Western Advocate named four players who stood out for the premiers:

  • Billy Rose - He led his side in great fashion with some solid tackling and two fine breaks, one of which resulted in a try.
  • Bill Naughton - He got through a ton of copybook tackling around the ankles.
  • Peter Frew - Another strong game from Frew in the second row and he scored another try, taking his tally to five in the last three major premiership matches.
  • Nev Marra - Marra had another good kicking performance, especially in the tactical kicks.

1977: Blayney Bears 7-6 Cowra Magpies

The Bears from Blayney won their maiden premiership after holding on against the Magpies of Cowra at the West Cowra Oval.

Blayney captain-coach John Davis couldn't bear to watch as winger Toohey lined up the goal attempt after Cowra were penalised for a scrum infringement about 45 metres out from their posts. With only one minute remaining, Cowra were leading 6-5.

But as Davis stood with his back turned, Toohey's kick sent the ball sailing between the uprights. 

Toohey posted the only try of the match and booted an earlier goal, making him Blayney's sole point scorer.

But while the Blayney fans cheered, Cowra's supporters were wondering if they would ever get to see a Magpies captain holding aloft the premiership cup.

Blayney had taken four years to win their first Group 10 premiership, while Cowra had gone without honours for 23 years at the time. 

After going into the game definite underdogs, Blayney fought and bustled their way to a well-deserved win after being down 6-2 at the break. Blayney dominated the second half scrums and scored the only try of the match to put them one point behind Cowra.

Toohey's match-winning goal ended what was rated as one of the closest and toughest grand finals in Group 10 history at the time.

1978: Cowra Magpies 12-9 Lithgow Workmen's Club

After suffering a heartbreaking defeat in 1977, Cowra returned to the decider in 1978 against Workmen's Club and this time finally claimed their long-awaited maiden title.

The victory for Cowra, who finished third on the regular season ladder, was a massive effort.

Spurred on by a fine display of kicking and penetrating attack by centre Greg Cook, the Magpies moved into the match with confidence.

How the regular season finished in 1975.

How the regular season finished in 1975.

Workmen's Club initially attacked, but the tenacious Cowra defence held fast.

A thrashing in the scrums by 25 to nine made Cowra's task more difficult, but by taking advantage of the loose ball, they kept their hopes alive.

Workmen's Club played patchy football, losing vital possession and being ragged in their tackles.

Five-eight Peter May, halfback Robert Fitzgerald and Chris Warren were three players who tried hard for Lithgow.

COWRA MAGPIES 12 (Watmore, Kelly tries, Kingsland 3 goals) defeated LITHGOW WORKMEN'S CLUB 9 (May try, Fitzgerald 3 goals)

1979: Bathurst Charlestons 11-9 Cowra Magpies

Informally known as the Million Dollar Club by some rival clubs, Charlestons heavily recruited, bringing in the likes of Sydney talents Keith Cook and Mike Fish, and it paid dividends.

A bumper crowd witnessed Bathurst Charlestons win their first Group 10 premiership since they'd formed as a sports club back in 1926.

Both Cowra and Charlestons looked dangerous in attack on a number of occasions during the first half, but rock solid defence was featured in true grand final football - close and tight. The trend of the game was truly indicated by the halftime score of 2-2.

There was plenty of fire among the forwards, with Charlestons captain-coach Keith Cook and Cowra's Greg Fearnley clashing vigorously on several occasions.

First points of the game went to the Magpies after Charlestons were caught at fault by referee Barry Priest, Cowra's captain-coach Bill Hilton maintaining his brilliant kicking form by slotting home the goal.

Hilton kicked another early in the second half, giving the Magpies a 4-2 lead.

However, the next 12 minutes saw Charlestons kicker Geoff Thorne turn three penalties into two points to give Charlestons the lead for the first time, 8-4.

With Kerry Morrison coming on for the injured Merv Cain, Charlestons began to stretch the already overworked Cowra defence.

Big match player Paul Sams showed his worth when he scored the match-winning try for his side. 

The 1970s grand final results in summary:

  • 1970: Oberon Tigers 7-6 Cowra Magpies
  • 1971: Oberon Tigers 12-5 Cowra Magpies
  • 1972: Bathurst Railway 14-5 Lithgow Workmen's Club
  • 1973: Bathurst St Pat's 20-14 Orange Ex-Services
  • 1974: Bathurst Railway 12-11 Orange Ex-Services
  • 1975: Oberon Tigers 17-4 Orange Ex-Services
  • 1976: Bathurst Railway 21-14 Lithgow Workmen's Club
  • 1977: Blayney Bears 7-6 Cowra Magpies
  • 1978: Cowra Magpies 12-9 Lithgow Workmen's Club
  • 1979: Bathurst Charlestons 11-9 Cowra Magpies

In the lead-up to the first full round of 2019 Group 10 Rugby League action on April 14, we will be looking back at the classic and iconic rugby league grand finals in the region.

Next week is the 1980s, when Mudgee and Lithgow Shamrocks would win their maiden premierships. 

This team photo of the 1956 Bathurst Railway under 18s side was submitted by a reader.

This team photo of the 1956 Bathurst Railway under 18s side was submitted by a reader.