Group 10 1980s grand finals: Shamrocks' heyday, Railway go back-to-back

SHAMROCKS 1980: Back row from left: Dave Doonan, Mick Vanderhaar, Paul Curran, Steve Casey, John Noon, Tim Kearney, Ron Burt, Ross Gigg and Arthur Dicker; Front: “Shorty” and Dayne Palmer, Dave Muldoon, Mark Partridge, captain-coach Ross Gibson, Ross McKinnon, Les Haynes and Jeff Madden.
SHAMROCKS 1980: Back row from left: Dave Doonan, Mick Vanderhaar, Paul Curran, Steve Casey, John Noon, Tim Kearney, Ron Burt, Ross Gigg and Arthur Dicker; Front: “Shorty” and Dayne Palmer, Dave Muldoon, Mark Partridge, captain-coach Ross Gibson, Ross McKinnon, Les Haynes and Jeff Madden.

The 1980s heralded a change in the value of a try, which increased from three points to four in 1983, while a turnover was introduced at the end of six tackles which saw the decline of the rugby league scrum.

Out in the Central West, the sport was thriving, with Lithgow Shamrocks and Mudgee Dragons winning their maiden premierships.

Bathurst Railway, Cowra Magpies, Orange CYMS and St Pat's all won premierships, but it was the Shamrocks who were the most successful team of the decade, winning three in the space of four seasons. The green and whites of Lithgow, who have since folded, played in five consecutive grand finals from 1981 to 1985 - the only deciders in which the team featured. 

1980: Bathurst Railway 14-6 Cowra Magpies

Securing the services of Newcastle Wests halfback Bob Adamson as captain-coach paid dividends for Railway, as the Bathurst side won their sixth premiership since 1950.

With the scores locked at 4-all at half-time at Bathurst Showground, the red and greens took control and wrapped the game up with some entertaining football in the second half.

Adamson directed the flow of the match, but he got plenty of support from the likes of fullback Brian Hope, centre Brian Godfrey and lock Gary Thorogood.

First points in the game came just a minute in when Railway were caught offside by Orange whistleblower Barry Priest and Magpies hooker Gary Carpenter steered the ball between the uprights, giving Cowra a 2-0 lead.

Railway's Geoff Thorne equalised midway through the half and both kickers added a further penalty for a 4-all score at the half-time break.  

Cowra could only add another penalty in the second half, while Railway crossed for two tries.

The first try came in the 63rd minute, when Hope broke the Cowra defence and reached over to touch down in a handy place for Thorne to convert.

The other try came four minutes from the end when winger Merv Newman broke away and sent his captain over in the corner. 

Best players for Railway was between Adamson, Hope, Godfrey and Thorogood, as well as second-rower Steve Haughton, prop Colin McRae and winger Thorne.

For Cowra, none tried harder than captain Billy Hilton, lock John Mossman, halfback Warwick Speece and second-rowers Paul Ryan and Phil Browne.

The crowd paid $7542 at the gate.

BATHURST RAILWAY 14 (Hope, Adamson tries; Thorne 4 goals) defeated COWRA MAGPIES 6 (Carpenter 3 goals)

1981: Bathurst Railway 19-16 Lithgow Shamrocks

Railway were led once again by captain-coach Bob Adamson and, like they did in 1980, they won the Group 10 premiership, this time downing Lithgow Shamrocks, who were in their first grand final.

Railway had all three grades in the grand final and the red and greens fell only four points short of winning the "grand slam": Railway won reserves 18-8 against Cowra but Orange CYMS got the better of Railway in the under 18s, 17-14.

The atmosphere during the big first grade game was electric and the match tension led to some scrappy play in the opening five minutes.

When the teams settled, the match developed into one of the most exciting grand finals ever held in Bathurst.

A photo from the 1983 reserve grand final between Charlestons and Cowra.

A photo from the 1983 reserve grand final between Charlestons and Cowra.

Shamrocks opened too strong for the locals and grafted their way to an 11-0 lead.

However, Railway staged a magnificent fightback to pull the game out of the fire. The scores were locked on two occasions in the second half and there was less than two minutes remaining in the match when Railway scored the winning try.

Brian Godfrey wrested his way free of three Shamrocks defenders to score the match-winning try.

Back row forwards Mick Wallace and Gary Thorogood had outstanding games for the victors.

All the Railway forwards worked hard to contain the Shamrocks pack and Godfrey and John Maguire proved dangerous in attack.

Derek Robe, Ron Burt, Ross Gibson and Steve Casey were the best of the Shamrocks players.

BATHURST RAILWAY 19 (Wallace 2, Maguire, Godfrey, Hope tries; Thorne 2 goals) defeated LITHGOW SHAMROCKS 16 (McKenna, Burt tries; McKenna 5 goals) 

1982: Lithgow Shamrocks 16-15 Bathurst St Pat's

The Lithgow Mercury from September 13, 1982 described the end of this match as "one of the most exciting finishes to a grand final in Group 10 history".

Shamrocks scraped home by the barest possible margin, a field goal kicked in the last 30 minutes delivering the Lithgow club their first premiership.

Shamrocks looked beaten with five minutes to go when St Pat's snatched the lead after trailling for most of the match.

A late penalty to Shamrocks levelled the score at 15-all and, with 10 minutes extra time appearing certain, up stepped the Lithgow five-eight Glen Holton, who potted the field goal from out wide that delivered Shamrocks the premiership.

It was a memorable match that deserved the Group 10 record grand final gate of more than $10,000. The crowd was one of the biggest ever seen on the Lithgow Sportsground (now the Tony Luchetti Sportsground) and was probably only matched by international fixtures, including the match against the Englishmen in 1936 and, in more recent years, against New Zealand and France. 

At one stage, the Lithgow side led 13-7 and it seemed Shamrocks had the match sewn up, but St Pat's were not going to give up without a fight.

A quick passing burst that started on the right wing saw the ball go across the field to Peter Dawson, who finished off one of the best movements of the match.

The kick from the sideline was just wide, but St Pat's winger Kerry Gallway brought his team right back into the picture with a fine try and the extras were added, giving St Pat's a 15-13 lead.

An indiscretion then cost St Pat's the match, as Shamrocks slotted home the penalty to lock the scores up at 15-all.

The timekeeper must have been reaching for the hooter button when Holton capped off a splendid season by kicking the field goal.

A desperate St Pat's defender appeared to get his fingertips to the ball, but it continued on through the posts as the Shamrocks supporters went wild.

Shamrocks and Cowra players got quite feisty in the 1983 Group 10 grand final.

Shamrocks and Cowra players got quite feisty in the 1983 Group 10 grand final.

1983: Cowra Magpies 31-8 Lithgow Shamrocks

If Cowra were ever going to unleash their full attacking potential, it was in their 1983 grand final against Shamrocks, a drama-charged match in which four players spent time in the sin bin. 

For the football purists, the opening 20 minutes produced a series of flare-ups and at one stage an all-in brawl erupted over the sideline.

Rival props Tim Kearney (Shamrocks) and Keith Hammond were the first to sage their own little private war in the fifth minute.

Referee Peter Kidd had a masive job keeping the lid on the play and he was forced to award several penalties in the opening 10 minutes.

Cowra had the early territorial advantage and with it a plan to hit the line hard and then spin the ball along the line on the fifth and sixth tackles.

Bulldozing winger Wilfred Williams made some characteristic bursts early on and centre partner John Bischof showed all the reasons why he is was one of the best centres running around in football rugby league at the time.

COWRA MAGPIES 31 (Hobbs, Mosman, Bischof, Adamson, Gavenlock tries; Spence 4, Mcdonald goals; Spence field goal) defeated LITHGOW SHAMROCKS 8 (McKenna try; McKenna 2 goals)

A match-day card from the 1984 Group 10 grand final.

A match-day card from the 1984 Group 10 grand final.

1984: Lithgow Shamrocks 19-12 Mudgee Dragons

A big crowd that contributed to a gate of $13,190 saw Shamrocks, or Shammies as they were nicknamed, storm home to overcome a determined Mudgee outfit at the Lithgow Sportsground. 

It was Shamrocks' fourth successive grand final appearance and their second premiership.

And it marked a highlight for captain-coach Steve Olsen, who announced his retirement.

Despite a heavy, overcast sky, the rain held off to provide mild, ideal playing conditions.

The Shamrocks club added to the occasion with a razzmatazz presentation of coloured smoke bombs, balloons, cheer squads and dancing girls loaned by Penrith Leagues Club, the Penrith Pantherettes.

Despite all the tension of the grand final, it was a remarkably clean encounter, with the police called to clear more disturbances in the grandstands than what occurred on the field.

The tight defensive nature of the encounter was reflected in the fact that at half-time the score was only 1-0 in favour of Shamrocks, the result of a sole field goal by Glen Holton 21 minutes into the game. 

Throughout much of the first half, it appeared that Mudgee were getting the better of the attack, keeping play almost constantly in the Shamrocks' half and bustling the local side into repeated handling errors.  

The second half had hardly begun before Shamrocks' Peter Bresac landed a penalty and, just three minutes later, halfback Sean Devlyn snapped up a pass and darted through to score. Bresac's conversion had the hosts up 9-0. 

Only a minute or so later, Peter Hickman scored for Mudgee and the conversion was good, the Dragons trailing 9-6.

With 20 minutes to go, Shamrocks hooker Steve Champion burst through the defence and kicked the ball, which was picked up by winger Darren King for a try.

The try wasn't converted by Holton and Olsen kicked successive field goals for Shamrocks to be up 15-6.

The sealer came eight minutes from the end when Mitchell Luka scored to make it 19-6, a consolation try for Mudgee reducing the final score to 19-12.

1985: Lithgow Shamrocks 47-8 Mudgee Dragons

Shamrocks rewrote the records with their crushing 47-8 win over Mudgee in the 1985 grand final, the biggest winning margin in a decider.

The Lithgow side completely outclassed the Dragons in every department, the win so easy that the post-game celebrations were something of an anti-climax.

Shamrocks captain-coach Gerry Hamilton was still in something of a state of shock when he was presented with the premiership trophy after the game.

By most standards, Hamilton, at 23, is still only learning his trade, but he had quite a deal of talent to work with when he took over the reins from Steve Olsen earlier in the year.

Injuries during the year meant that league fans did not see the best of Hamilton until the closing stages of the season, but he turned on quite a performance in the last three games.

Post-game celebrations went on through the night and throughout the following day.

1986: Mudgee Dragons 16-14 Blayney Bears

The 1986 decider was a red letter day for Mudgee, when the Dragons won both the first and reserve grade grand finals at Jubilee Oval.

Following a thrilling and nail-biting 14-8 win by Mudgee over Orange CYMS in reserve grade, the first grade Dragons looked every bit the professional outfit which had convincingly won the 1986 point score and club championship.

Mudgee went quickly into the attack and pressed hard on Blayney's scoreline for most of the first 15 minutes of the match, sound defence smothering any counter-moves by the Bears.

Lithgow Workmen's Club winger Greg Morley and centre John Boyd wrap up his St Pat's player in a Group 10 1980s fixture.

Lithgow Workmen's Club winger Greg Morley and centre John Boyd wrap up his St Pat's player in a Group 10 1980s fixture.

With tries by Errol Flack and Bruce Honeysett, Mudgee went to an early 10-0 lead.

And while the Dragons looked as if they would pile on more points, the Bears had other ideas.

Thanks to the brilliant veteran Joe Bugg, evasive runs by five-eight Mooney and speedy backs, Blayney proved no pushover and closed the gap to a 12-10 lead to Mudgee at half-time.

Honeysett scored another try in the second half following a gem of a movement that had the crowd roaring as the ball progressed from forwards through the backline.

Several moves resulted in near-missed tries by both sides and the suspense was not lifted until the final hooter sounded as Mudgee ran out 16-14 winners.

1987: Orange CYMS 18-9 Mudgee Dragons

Orange CYMS ended their 28-year wait for a premiership as they downed Mudgee Dragons 18-9 at Wade Park.

Much pre-match discussion within the ranks of CYMS supporters centred on the great teams of the past, but there was no doubt at the time that the team of 1987 would be ranked alongside those great teams of the 1950s.

Before a crowd estimated at 5000, which paid $19,039 at the gate, CYMS responded to the roars of the partisan Orange crowd by turning on an inspired display of team football to win the club's first premiership since 1959.

While CYMS five-eight Rob Clarke was judged man of the match, Central Western Daily journalist Pat Allen disagreed.

"For mine, fullback Steve Muldoon would have been another worthy recipient of the award, pulling off several try-saving tackles and instilling sting into the CYMS backline when in attack," he wrote.

The Central Western Daily provided the minute-by-minute scoring progress:

  • 7' - CYMS: Clarke penalty goal - CYMS 2-0
  • 10' - CYMS: Iffland try, Clark's conversion successful - CYMS 8-0
  • 18' - MUDGEE: Pascoe penalty goal - CYMS 8-2
  • 24' - MUDGEE: Melni try, Pascoe's conversion successful - TIED 8-8
  • 33' - MUDGEE: McWhirter field goal - Mudgee 9-8
  • 54' - CYMS - Clarke penalty goal - CYMS 10-9
  • 65' - CYMS - Clarke penalty goal - CYMS 12-9
  • 74' - CYMS - Nagle forces his way over for try, conversion successful - CYMS 18-9. 

ORANGE CYMS 18 (Nagle, Iffland try; Clarke 5 goals) defeated MUDGEE DRAGONS 9 (Melni try; Pascoe 2 goals, McWhirter field goal)

1988: Orange CYMS 20-19 Lithgow Workmen's Club

Orange CYMS' victory over Lithgow Workmen's Club featured one of the most controversial finishes in Group 10 grand final history. 

Lua Soakimi touched down with six minutes from full-time to give CYMS, captain-coached by former Canterbury and Cronulla player Glen Mortimer, the grand final at Lithgow.

The Orange club had trailled for most of the game.

Workmen's Club led 16-10 at half-time and broke away to a 19-16 lead before a quick piece of thinking from five-eight Wayne Rosser brought about the match-winning try.

Sensing a chance out wide, Rosser delicately chipped over the defence inside Workmen's Club's quarter for centre Rob Clark to latch onto the bouncing ball and send Soakimi over.

Lithgow Workmen's Club second row Mal Fitzpatrick takes the legs from under the legs of St Pat's captain-coach Glen Boatswain during a match in the 1980s.

Lithgow Workmen's Club second row Mal Fitzpatrick takes the legs from under the legs of St Pat's captain-coach Glen Boatswain during a match in the 1980s.

Sensationally, Workmen's Club had the chance to steal the game soon after when awarded a penalty inside the CYMS quarter.

But the big controversial moment came when skipper Mal Fitzgerald's attempt at goal was ruled wide by referee Peter Ryan after the touch judges disagreed on the outcome of the kick.

Ironically, goal kicking could have played a major part in CYMS' downfall, with CYMS kickers Rob Clark and Brett McClure both having off days with the boot, together landing only two goals from eight attempts. 

1989: Bathurst St Pat's 31-14 Cowra Magpies

An emotional St Pat's captain-coach Mick Siejka, with tears in his eyes, was chaired off the field by teammates following his side's 31-14 premiership victory over Cowra at Bathurst.

The pick of the St Pat's side was second-rower Gerard Toole, who made several strong runs and also got through a power of defence in the game. Glen Boatswain was another forward who made a number of surging runs.

In the backs, centre Rod Simpson proved elusive every time he touched the ball, centre partner Richie Farrar handed in another top performance and Chris Storrier had a solid game at five-eight.

In a similar start to the major semi-final two weeks previously, St Pat's wasted no time in putting points on the board when, in the opening minutes of the match, five-eight Chris Storrier held up a pass for John Douglas, who scored untouched next to the posts.

It proved a pattern for the match, St Pat's going on to cruise to a strong 31-14 win.

The 1980s grand final results in summary:

  • 1980: Bathurst Railway 14, Cowra Magpies 6
  • 1981: Bathurst Railway 19, Lithgow Shamrocks 16
  • 1982: Lithgow Shamrocks 16, Bathurst St Pat's 15
  • 1983: Cowra Magpies 31, Lithgow Shamrocks 6
  • 1984: Lithgow Shamrocks 19, Mudgee Dragons 12
  • 1985: Lithgow Shamrocks 47, Mudgee Dragons 8
  • 1986: Mudgee Dragons 16, Blayney Bears 14
  • 1987: Orange CYMS 18, Mudgee Dragons 9
  • 1988: Orange CYMS 20, Lithgow Workmen's Club 19
  • 1989: Bathurst St Pat's 31, Cowra Magpies 14

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

Next week is the 1990s, when the Bears of Blayney dominated, winning four grand finals and featuring in another two.