Written by G. Bowen
In 1963 a group of parents of boys attending the Marist Brothers High School at Hamilton formed a junior Rugby League Club to allow students from the school to compete in the local competition.
At the end of 1965, the Newcastle Junior Rugby League decided that each junior club was to be affiliated with a senior club. By its very nature, the Hamilton club was unable to comply with this requirement and the committee made up of parents and teachers from the school looked elsewhere to provide competitive sport for the pupils.
As a result of the above decisions, the Hamilton Juniors where formed. Those involved in those early days included Andy Minotti, Des Bush, Des Warren & Kevin Ryan among many others. Also involved were teachers from the school including Brothers Francis, Oliver, Canisius (now David), Patrick and Gordon.
In 1966 the club entered teams in the Under 12, Under 14 and Under 16 age groups. In 1967 an under 18 team was also entered in the competition and the basis of what was to become Hamilton Rugby Club was in place.
Senior Rugby - The Early Years
By 1968 some members of the previous year’s under 18 side, along with other ex-students of the school decided to enter a side in the Senior competition. They were joined by players from the local YCW organization and also ex-students of St. Josephs College. Among the players from that team are names which remain synonymous with the club, people such as John McCarthy, Garry Johnson, Peter McGorey, Michael Hill and Gerard Bowen (on loan from the U/18’s). The team was accepted into the 4th grade competition in 1968 and was thus the first team to represent the Hamilton Rugby Club.
The coach was Dr Keith Walker and the captain was Michael Hill. The side performed extremely well and suffered only two defeats during the year. Unfortunately one of those defeats was in the Grand Final, going down 6-3 to The Greens of Merewether Carlton. Perhaps this was where the rivalry between our clubs started.
In 1969 as more players from the U/18’s joined the Senior ranks, along with others who joined by word of mouth, the club attempted to enter two teams into the Senior competition. One team into the 2nd Grade competition and the other into 3rd Grade. In its wisdom the NRU did not accept the application, stating that teams would only be accepted for 1st Grade or the Presidents’ Cup, a forerunner to the 2nd Division competition.
At the same time, the same response was given to other clubs namely – Veterans, Newcastle Teachers College and RAAF. All of these teams wished to enter the competition, but none considered themselves strong enough for 1st Grade. Hamilton had several excellent junior representative players like Joe Palmer, Bryan Stephens, Chris Gribble and Paul Fitzpatrick who obviously had the talent to handle 1st Grade, but the club lacked the experienced players to handle a transition to a higher level of competition.
Several experienced players from the RAAF Club decided to join the Hamilton Club, and a decision was made to enter teams into the 1st and 3rd Grade competitions. Hamilton Rugby Club as we know it today came into being. This was also to be the first year of association with the club for Roy Wholohan who became our first President and Garry Johnson became our first Treasurer.
The club performed credibly on the field during the first year, winning several games and running some of the more formidable teams to close results. They finished eighth in the competition of eleven teams. The 3rd Grade side also won several games and finished in the middle of the competition.
From that year, the club continued to expand, gaining both experience and experienced players through the early 1970’s as people such as Jack Paton and Dr Brian Piper coached the club. The excellence of talent flowing from the school and the juniors also became more evident.
The period 1971 to 1973, saw the club beginning to appear in the lower grade final series – 4th Grade finalists in 1971, 2nd Grade Semi-Finalists in 1972, and 3rd Grade Grand-Finalists in 1973. At this stage the club had developed many excellent and experienced grade players, some who gained representative status – Les Paton, Bryan Stephens, Paul Fitzpatrick, Bob Tyson and Tim Payling among them.
Coming of Age - 1974
The year 1974 was the year that Hamilton earned it’s place as a legitimate contender in the competition. Jeff Turnbull joined as captain-coach and John Dawson arrived in town and along with the existing talent and the emergence of people such as Chris Paton, the club was able to win those close matches that had previously been lost.
In the end 1st Grade made the Semi-Finals for the first time and the club was on it’s way.
In 1975 both 1st and 2nd Grade (coached by Jeff Turnbull and Ken Beckett respectively) were grand-finalists and the club won the club championships for the first time.
In 1976 Hamilton won their first lower grade competition, 3rd Grade minor and major premiers. In 1977 4th Grade after being grand finalists the previous year won the Major Premier title.
The year 1978 was the biggest for the club yet. 1st Grade was coached by Tim Payling and had an amazing array of talent which was able to win the club it’s first 1st Grade premiership. As well 4th Grade were grand-finalists, 2nd Grade were finalists and the club was again Club Champions. The way that the club played the game those days was exemplified by the fact that in 1978 the centres and wingers – Chris Paton, John Delore, Gerry O’Neill and Mark Crosbie, between them scored over 80 tries in the season.
Since then the club has continued to lead the way in Newcastle Rugby-achieving more milestones, suffering more setbacks, winning and losing grand finals. However through all those years the spirit with which the club was formed 25 years ago still remains. This itself has made the club one of which we are all proud members. We are lucky! We know what it is like to be part of the Best Rugby Club!
(Reproduced from the Hawks 25th Anniversary magazine)
Hamilton Rugby Unioin Football Club 1992 - 2009
by D. Palmer
The last 15 years in the life of the Hamilton Rugby Club have reflected much of what has happened to the game itself on a national and international level, with the club having to adapt to the many changes to Rugby on and off the field. The underlying trend is that when Administration, Coaches and Players work towards the improvement of the game, results will follow. This has been self evident at a club level with Hamilton experiencing many highs over the last 15 years as well as some lean times.
In 1994 the Hawks were very competitive with the depth of the Club rewarded in the form of a Second Grade Major Premiership. The team was coached by Jamie Barnes who went on to coach 1st Grade. This team included Paul Gleeson, Steve Nelson and also Paul Collins who still plays for Hamilton in 2007.
The inception of the Newcastle Wildfires in 1995 took its toll on the playing ranks of Hamilton with many experienced 1st Grade players leaving the club. A rebuilding phase had to be under taken which took the Club 2 to 3 years to recover to its normal 1st Grade standard. One notable exception was the 4th Grade team of 1997 Coached by Phil Duncan and Dennis Whitmore who were Minor and Major Premiers. In the same year 3rd Grade were beaten in the Grand Final. This was an early indication that the Hawks were on the improve. The efforts of players and officials in this period are to be well remembered as success in the following years can be attributed to the experience gained by several players during this time.
In the late 1990’s players such as Trent Slatter, Sean Wilson, Derek McArthur and Ross Cooper had joined “old hands” David Pitfield, Nathan Beckett, James Creasey and Luke Crouch in 1st Grade. Under coach Tama Wakiri, who demanded improvements in Discipline, Training and Dress Codes, the upsets started coming against competition heavy weights such as Singleton and Maitland.
In 1998 the Hunter Women’s Rugby Competition was established and once again the Hawks were one of the first clubs to provide a team. Initially under the tutelage of Nathan Beckett and then Chris Paton, they proved to be the dominant team in the competition over the next 5 years winning the initial Major Premiership in 1998 and the Minor & Major Premiership in 1999 and undefeated Minor Premiership in 2000.
2000 saw Hamilton just miss the Semi-Finals in 1st Grade. Then Wildfires Players such as Mick Curry, Andy Kilgour and Dan Hunt returned to Hamilton along with Doug North, Travis Soulsby and Scott Coleman joining up.
In 2001 after beating Nelson Bay in the Minor Semi-Final, 1st Grade was beaten in the Preliminary Final by Wanderers. Our women’s team now known as the “Hamilton Harps” became the first team in the Women’s competition to be Undefeated Minor & Major Premiers.
2002 can only be described as a “Golden Year” for Hamilton. The top three Grades made the Semi-Finals with 2nd Grade bowing out in the Minor Semi and 3rd Grade beaten in the Final. 1st Grade included new boys Dan Schaefer, Mark O’Brien and Tala Filipo as well as a new coach in John Jenkins. As the most dominant side in the competition, it won them the Hawthorne Cup as well as the Minor Premiership. In the Grand Final Hamilton accounted for Wanderers to crown the most successful season for the Club in many years.
The Harps went through the 2002 season once again as Undefeated Minor & Major Premiers which meant that in 3 season they had only lost 1 game. A remarkable achievement for any team in any sport!
Since 2002 the Hamilton Hawks have consistently been a force in the Newcastle Rugby throughout the Grades, filling many Semi Final positions as well as winning the newly formed C Grade competition in 2005 under coach, John Ragan.
In 2006 the Hawks were unlucky to be beaten by University in the Minor Semi-Final in 1st Grade. 2nd Grade was beaten on the same day and the Colts lost the Qualifying Final.
In closing it is interesting that whilst the Hawks were having lean times on “the paddock” as always the social side of the Club was vibrant. In particular the 30th Anniversary Ball, Bowls Galas, days at the Races, Fancy Dress events and the time honoured sport of “Mouse Racing”. We have also witnessed both male and female streakers on Grand Final Days and a Gorilla performing BMX stunts on a Dragster Bike.
It would be remiss not to mention the ladies and blokes who have volunteered their time and effort over the last 15 years, to name everyone would take the next 15 years, but special mention must be made of Peter and Anne McGorey who should be singled out for the fact that they washed and repaired all Hamilton Jumpers from the time the Club started 40 years ago to 2008. In the words of our first Club President, the late Roy Wholohan, “Hamilton Never Forgets!”
2007 saw the Club celebrate 40 its anniversary and while the celebrations off the field were memorable, the Hawks gained even more momentum on the filed. Scott “Bubba” Coleman was in charge of the 1st XV and was able to call upon a strong line up for his squad, including talented former Junior Hawks such as Paul Dan, Daniel Palmer and Paul Crosier along with new Hawks recruits such as Va Talaileva. Va is a high impact loose forward who continues to be a great asset to the club. Va’s putstanding and consistent performance throughout the season was recognized by the N.H.R.U referees, who voted him the 2007 Anderson Medal winner, the first Hamilton player in the history oc the Club to be honoured with the NHRU’s most prestigious individual player award.
The Annual award to commemorate the life and efforts of former Hawk and Newcastle Referee, Col King, was awarded to former Hamilton stalwart Mark Eades, judged Newcastle’s Best Referee. Mark went on to win this award for the next three years – a fitting tribute to Mark which also highlighted the number of Hawks players and officials who have become Referees in the last 20 years.
Although unlucky to be beaten Grand Finalists in First Grade and Finalists in Seconds, Fourths and Harps, 2007 was to lay the foundation for better years ahead.
The resilience and dedication of “being a Hawk” was also highlighted off the field when, on the weekend of the gala 40th Anniversary Dinner, Newcastle was struck by the fiercest storm in living memory, flooding much of the city, knocking power out for several days in a number of areas and temporarily wiping out most communications. Despite this, almost all of the 400 guests made their way to Wests Club on the Saturday night for the announcement of the 15 best players of the previous 15 years (The first 25 players had been announced at the 25th Dinner) and to celebrate the special bond of mateship forged over many training sessions and games.
2008 proved to be one of the best years in the Clubs history. A few more new faces, including Merriwa boy, Tom Sannon, arrived at the Hawks, bolstering an already impressive playing roster. The depth of talent in the Club was evident with Semi Final’s in lower grades, as well as seconds having a great year, unfortunately beaten in the Grand Final.
Meanwhile, 1st Grade became the benchmark for other Clubs to gauge their strength. The benchmark the Hawks set was indeed a high one, as 1st’s went into the Semi’s as Minor Premiers, winning their last competition game over Wanderers 107-7. The mood in the team on Grand Final Day was one of retribution for their 2007 Grand Final loss and by half time the Hawks had University’s measure, winning the major title 35-20. In addition to the Minor and Major Premierships, the Club also won the Kia Toah Shield for the most Anderson Medal Points in the season for any Club and the Hawthorne Cup. A red letter year indeed.
After losing a number of players in the off season, the Hawks soon had the prophets of doom rethinking their earlier predictions with a 50 point win over highly fancied Maitland in round 1. Grand Final hero Damien Wells took up where he left off in 2008, combining with the likes of Tim Walton and Shaimus Lautimi to make use of plenty of quality ball from the forwards to post some impressive wins. After a solid season dogged by injury to key players, the team appeared to be peaking at the right time when they turned in two outstanding performances in the final two competition rounds, beating Wanderers and Merewether Carlton to claim the Hawthorne Cup.
The Final series saw the Hawks with four teams in the running. B Grade mens and the Harps were beaten in the Semi’s. Second Grade was unlucky to go down in the latter stages of the Grand Final after leading with ten minutes to go, while First Grade, through injuries and sin binnings, let a commanding lead slip to finish in an 18 all draw with Minor Premier’s Wanderers. The draw was unfortunately, enough to end the Hawks 2009 campaign. Tom Shannon capped another outstanding personal year by becoming the Hawks second Anderson Medal Winner in three years.
At seasons end the Club members organized a trip to Samoa to visit Va’s home village to help promote Rugby. It proved to be an outstanding success and a perfect way to finish another successful year with the Hamilton Hawks.