Mr HAWKE ( Mitchell) ( )—This year Rugby League celebrates its 100th anniversary in Australia after commencing in the north of England in 1895. Indeed, the origins of the great game of Rugby League go back to England’s north, which broke away from the Rugby Football Union after it refused to allow working-class players to be compensated for playing the game and for any injuries received while on the field. While I am not one of those in this House who are from the great cause of organised labour, I do want to record my admiration of this achievement of the working classes of that era.
While having the foresight to commence a semiprofessional competition at the time, ahead of the Rugby Union, they also chose to create a more free-flowing and entertaining spectacle that set the game aside from the intricacies and complexities of rugby union. Teams were reduced from 15 to 13 players and play-the-balls were introduced to lessen the need for scrums and replace the scrappy rucks and mauls. The changes made the game more popular with the players and spectators, and the increased gate money allowed the clubs to pay benefits to the players. By 1907 in Australia, successful rugby union players such as Dally Messenger had realised their value. Messenger agreed to join the professional competition for ~50 and a place on the upcoming tour of England.
In 1909 the first ever British Lions Rugby League team visited New South Wales, Queensland and New Zealand. They attracted huge crowds wherever they played and the new rugby league authorities were able to secure a solid financial base. Rugby league became the preferred code in Sydney, Brisbane and Newcastle and established a hold in Auckland and Wellington in New Zealand. Since 1910, rugby league has held its place as the premier winter sport in New South Wales and Queensland. In the late 1980s the New South Wales Rugby League competition evolved into a national competition and became the National Rugby League in 1998.
The game of Rugby League is of particular importance to the psyche of Sydney. Growing up in Sydney I can record that, like so many other young people, I spent much of my time chasing my team across Sydney. The Sydney teams have very strong links to the areas they represent and ‘tribalism’ is a word often used to describe the strong local following the Sydney teams have in their area. The annual State of Origin competition between New South Wales and Queensland is the game’s greatest drawcard. I understand that the first game of this year’s State of Origin in Sydney is currently the most watched program in 2008—a sure sign of the game’s success and continuing popularity.
At the local and the grassroots levels of the game, I can proudly point to the significant contribution to the game of Rugby League made by my electorate of Mitchell. Our local team is the greatest rugby league team ever to grace the paddock—the Parramatta Eels. It is widely accepted—and I know the member for Cook would accept this—that the greatest moments in Australian Rugby League history came in 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1986, with the four greatest premierships and the most talented football teams ever to be fielded. My electorate of Mitchell contains four clubs that participate in the Parramatta District Rugby League competition: the Hills District Bulls, the Kellyville Bushrangers, the Rouse Hill Rhinos and the Winston Hills Tigers. Mitchell also has the Northwest Polecats participating in the tertiary students competition and the St Michael’s Baulkham Hills Brumbies in the Catholic schools competition.
The Hills District Bulls are the largest club in the Parramatta District Rugby League, with 40 teams from under-six to A-grade, and play their home games at Crestwood Reserve Baulkham Hills. One of the newest clubs in the Parramatta district competition is the Rouse Hill Rhinos. The Rhinos are in their formative years as a club; however, they already boast 20 teams across all age divisions from under-six to A-grade.
All of Mitchell’s local rugby league clubs are busy and active clubs that are generously supported by many of the area’s local businesses. Our local clubs are great examples of active, community focused and community minded clubs. They perfectly prove just how enmeshed in the community the game of Rugby League is, particularly in its stronghold of greater western Sydney.
I want to thank the players, the coaches, the staff, the volunteers, the parents, the kids and the families in my electorate who make a great contribution to the game and to our great local clubs: thank you for everything you do. On the occasion of the centenary of the game in Australia, I also want to particularly thank, congratulate and remember those brave pioneers of the game of Rugby League, true champions of the working class, for their foresight and vision in establishing a semiprofessional league and breaking away from Rugby Union. It is a superb achievement that Australia should be proud of.
In conclusion, I would like to quote the late, great Jack Gibson, who coached the mighty Parramatta Eels to premiership victories in 1981, 1982 and 1983. Gibson, after completing his successful coaching stint, was widely regarded as having revolutionised the game and was famous for quoting a player’s performance as ‘played strong; done good’. To praise 100 years of Rugby League in Australia, there is no better person to refer to and no better quote about the game than what Jack Gibson said: ‘The day that God invented Rugby League he didn’t do anything else but sit around and feel good.’