Southern NSW Stars

26. That’s the number of players from southern NSW currently on AFL senior lists. Within this region, the GWS Giants Academy has centres at Broken Hill, Wentworth, Deniliquin, Griffith, Wagga,and Albury. That represents a significant investment in the game, which is good for all clubs in the AFL. A rising tide lifts all boats.
Of those 26, only seven are at the Giants and three at the Swans. That leaves the vast majority at other AFL clubs.
The stunning debut of Matthew Kennedy for the Giants against Essendon last Sunday, kicking three goals, showed how a local product can benefit from advanced coaching and training and go from his home club, Collingullie, into the big league. He didn’t have to leave home for the VFL or the SANFL.
Matthew is the son of a gun. His father, Frank was a champion player for the Collingullie in the Farrer league and a star player in their 1982 and 1984 premiership teams. I played against Frankie and he is a terrific fellow; always enjoyed a beer with him at the Crossroads hotel after a game at the Gullie.
The other great player from Collingullie was, of course, Colin “Blossom” Hounsell, a speedy wingman for the Swans in the mid-70’s/early 80s, who famously kicked the Swans first goal on the SCG in 1982.
The current crop from southern NSW probably rivals the quality of players from “Blossom’s” era. Luke Breust, Isaac Smith, Tom Hawkins, Matt Suckling, and Sam Lloyd are some of the stars of the game. And there’s more to come, not just at the Giants, but with the likes of Dougal Howard (Port Adelaide) and Jock Cornell (Geelong), whose mother is a Daniher.
The Riverina became South Melbourne’s country zone when zoning was introduced in 1968. It immediately yielded the Swans players such as Rick Quade, Jim Prentice, Terry Daniher, Terry O’Neill and John Pitura. While further west Geelong reaped the likes of Jack Hawkins and Mark Bos, and to the south, North Melbourne gained 1970s premiership stars Phil Baker, Peter Chisnall, and Ross Henshaw from the border region.
It’s uplifting to see so many players from southern NSW playing at the highest level. To think that ten years ago only two players were drafted (2006) namely, Ben McGlynn at 55 (by Hawthorn now at the Swans) and Sam Rowe at 62 (by the Swans now at Carlton), interestingly enough, both are still playing.
What is especially pleasing is to see three Temora players – Breust, Isaac Smith and Jake Barrett (nephew of Manly-Warringah rugby league coach Trent Barrett) – on AFL lists. Temora has traditionally been a rugby league stronghold but in recent years the Kangaroos have won three premierships breaking a fifty-two year drought, and their local lads are making an impact in the AFL.
It was the chalkies, coppers and bank johnnies transferred down to the southern part of the state from NSW (Newcastle/Sydney/Wollongong) in the after-math of World War I that bought the new game of rugby league (established in 1907) to the area.
It was in this way that rugby league was established in the major centres such as Wagga, Griffith and Leeton, and in the south-west slopes and plains in towns like Junee, Gundagi, Tumbarumba, Temora, Cootamundra and West Wyalong.
This usurped the dominance of Australian football that had first been played in Wagga, Narranderra and Hay in 1881 such that the two codes have ranked alongside each other ever since. However, rugby league never really captured support south of the Murrumbidgee River – the area where the Farrer, Hume, Murray, Picola, and Golden Rivers leagues have continued to thrive.
It is a myth to say that the so-called “Barrassi Line” starts at the Murray River. This is an insult to the 26 players currently on AFL lists – and scores before them – and the clubs in southern NSW that helped nurture their talent in the beginning. Now all clubs in the AFL are benefitting.


  1. Good onya Rocket, to me the Barassi line starts up near Temora.

    Mark Bos was from a place called Wandella? I can’t place it at all. Is it near Moulamein or somewhere out there? His last game for the blue and white hoops was the 1989 GF

    Now can you give me some guidance. I can’t think of anyone from Hay, or beyond; Booligal, Carathool, etc can you help me sharpen my knowledge re this.

    I’m going to pop into Grong soon. I found there are family members buried there. I’ve been to the pub once,meeting mine host Tad O, former Wagga Tigers gun full forward. I recall the two games he played for South Melbourne back in 1973. First up he copped as an opponent Geoff Southby, then the following week Harvey Merrigan. Tad’s two games were the sum total of his career, though two more than i ever played !


  2. Dr Rocket says:

    Hi Glen!

    Always good to spike your interest!

    Yes. Mark Bos from Wandella – the Geelong zone straddled the border and included the Murray league, the then Northern District league (from Gunbower to Barham, and the then Kerang and District league.

    Hay has produced a few VFL/AFL players, most notably, Jon and Peter Lilley, who both went from Assumption College to st Kilda in the early 70s. One of the social traditions of the Riverina has been for parents to send their kids to boarding schools in Victoria. Think Simon O’Donnell, Shane Crawford, Neale Daniher, Tim Fisher.

    Enjoy your trip to Grongy. I remember seeing Grong Grong Matong play at Grongy back in the day, then back to the pub. The only pub I know with an old beer mural featuring an Aussie Rules footballer…

    Qualifying the Barassi line is the same as trying to define the boundaries of the Riverina… its where you want it to be!

    A few years ago the Temora RLFC told the kids that they couldn’t play both codes – footy on the Saturday and League on the Sunday. so they stopped playing league!

  3. Earl O'Neill says:

    Bill O’Neill, my grandfather, lived in West Wyalong in the 1920s, played Australian Football in the Riverina and for East Sydney. The Danihers’ grandad smashed his nose. Greg Brentnall was courted by VFL clubs before he went to Sydney, won a premiership and played for Australia. 1996, AFL grand final captains and openers for Aust cricket team were Wagga Wagga boys. It’s a sporting nursery.

  4. Ta Dr Rocket.

    I have vague memories of the Liley brothers, more so Jon . Did Peter become the musician, Peter Liley who played with a range of Melbourne bands from the mid 70’s onwards?

    We had family friends from outside of corowa, who’d always send the boys to Assumption. It was par for the course in the Riverina

    Keep up the good work,


  5. Dr Rocket says:

    Hi again Glen!

    Jon, a solid back pocket player, while Peter was a bit more flamboyant on the half back flank. Neither played a significant number of games but like all players for the Sainters they were well-liked by the fans.

    Peter Lillie, was a rockabilly player; played guitar for the Autodrifters, also well-loved in Melbourne at the time. Regulars at the Station Hotel in Prahan.

    Yes, the social and cultural links between the Riverina and Melbourne was enhanced by kids going to boarding school in Victoria. As well as newspapers and TV – and people going shopping.

    I recall Jim Daniher telling me that he pulled Neale out of St Pats Goulburn (where Rick Quade also went to school) to send him to Assumption when he realised he could play football pretty well!

  6. Yes Dr Rocket,i had the wrong spelling of Peter’s surname. Peter also played with a mate of mine in Shonkytonk, one of Freddie Negro’s weird, warped and wonderful bands.

    Despite being in NSW the Riverina, or the parts i know, felt more like Victoria Carlton, not Reschs, the Sun not the Telegraph, footy not rugby. The primary difference, Berrigan and Deniliquin excepted, was the way the horses ran.


  7. Dr Rocket says:

    Yes Glen! I know what you mean.

    Narrandera – on the Murrumbidgee, the “real” border between Victoria and NSW

    As you say Glen!: –
    Carlton beer on tap/Melbourne newspapers the main sellers/parking front to kerb/and footy the major code.
    Alas, the horses run clock-wise – influence of NSW bureaucrats…

    After you drive north on the Newell Highway, and you pass through Grong Grong, the next town is West Wyalong – Tooheys/Sydney papers/rugby league/parking rear to kerb

  8. Keiran Croker says:

    Rocket, Swans had access to all NSW players a few years back. However we could not seem to get any talent. We managed to pass over Breust and Smith. Poor management or development?
    Do you think the Academies have made a substantial difference? No Heeney or Mills types coming out of Swans Academy this year, though lots from GWS.

  9. Dr Rocket says:

    Hi Kieran,

    Swans got some ripper players over the years from their zone back in the day.
    Leo Barry probably the last player of any note. Before that Paul Kelly and David Murphy.

    Yes, Academies making an enormous difference! Heeney from Cardiff and Mills from Mosman – proof that there is talent in NSW (Newcastle/Sydney/Wollongong).

    Naismith the young ruckman – who according to ruck coach Stephen Taubert is a potential mega- star – is from Gunnedah!

    But the Riverina is richer source of talent – and much to everybody’s chagrin is in the Giants’zone……….

  10. Keiran Croker says:

    Even though GWS will have a number of high draft picks, they need to get points as well to get all the players who are supposedly guns. hence I think we might have a chance of pinching some of their talented Academy kids!

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