Almanac Book Review: ‘Taking it to the Streets – the Second Life of the Newtown RLFC’ by Glen Dwyer

 

 

 

Reviewed by Dave Hadfield.

 

The other morning I heard a groaning sound, followed by a thud on the mat. Taking It To The Streets: The Second Life of the Newtown RLFC isn’t light reading.

 

There has been a steady flow of Aussie club histories recently. This Glen ‘Bumper’ Dwyer labour of love is right up there with the best, all the more remarkable when you consider it is devoted to a club that has the distinction of being the oldest in Australia, but which went bust just two years after playing in the 1981 Grand Final.

 

Of course, that wasn’t the end. In affairs of the heart, it rarely is. Only this month, the club won the NRL State Championship, beating Burleigh Bears, 20-16, at the ANZ Stadium.

 

In 1983, the Jets were shown the door out of the Winfield Cup and into obscurity, history and loyalty of support counting for nothing. Yet without them the league’s story in Australia would have gaping holes in it. The Bluebags, as the Jets were originally known, were home to legendary broadcaster Frank Hyde in his playing days. They were Johnny Raper’s first side and Tommy Raudonikis’s last. The real heroes however are the players of later generations who kept the Newtown legacy alive long after the men in suits had pronounced it dead. In one sense, that battle began in 1981.

 

Newtown back then was a working class suburb with a slightly edgy feel to it. It had an increasingly transient population, barely adequate ground and few inhabitants. In short, everything the men who ran the game didn’t want to know about. Supporting the Jets was already a gesture of social defiance, matched by a quality team that amazed the pundits by reaching the Grand Final against the emerging superstars of Parramatta: Kenny, Sterling, Ella et al.

 

Okay, they lost, but it did little to dilute the achievement. Maybe that’s epitomised by a player recalled fondly in Wigan too. John Ferguson joined Newtown for that amazing 1981 season, but “…only after bone-headed (and probably racist) city talent scouts had overlooked him,” Dwyer writes. Along with opposite wingman, Ray Blacklock, Ferguson strengthened the reputation of Newtown as a club that would give a bloke a go.

 

That still applied when they returned to competitive rugby league in 1991, after what Bumper calls ‘The Wilderness Years’.

 

If you had asked Newtown’s remaining fans in the mid-80s what they hoped for in future, they’d likely have still yearned for a place at the top table. The hand fate dealt them is different. They play at Henson Park, under their historic name, having reinvented themselves as a feeder club for, variously, Auckland, Cronulla and the Roosters. From a distance, it looks like the widely disliked joint-registration scheme in Britain.

 

In the Rugby League World Cup of 2013, some 31 ex-Newtown players took to the field … Boyd Cordner … Aidan Guerra … Roger Tuivasa-Sheck … Daniel Tupou etc. Your career isn’t really complete until you have had a stint with the Jets.

 

Nor is a lifetime of watching. I enjoyed Henson Park enough in the old days; I’m told to expect something different now it is established as the Hipster club of Sydney. It embraces craft beers, bushwhacker beards and girls with moustaches in club colours.

 

Dave Hadfield is a journalist, author and broadcaster and is one of the best-regarded commentators in English rugby league circles. He was the rugby league correspondent for The Independent newspaper and was also a columnist with Rugby League Week and League Weekly (UK). Dave currently writes a column in the Forty20 (UK) rugby league magazine, in which this review was published. His review appears here with permission.

 

Ed’s note: An interesting ‘extra’ in Glen’s book is his selection of a World Rugby League XIII which appears on pp 225-232.

 

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Comments

  1. Have a soft spot for the old Bluebaggers.
    Was there at the ’81 Grand Final, cheering them on. (A Manly supporter could hardly go for Parra). Alas, it wasn’t to be…
    Newtown’s rebirth is similar in many ways to that of former VFL / AFL club, Fitzroy, who now field a side in the VAFA.

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