The ‘Wagga Effect’

A recent nostalgic trip back to Wagga Wagga to visit my parents has got me thinking. Can any other town rival Wagga Wagga as the premier producer of sporting talent (per capita) in Australia?

With the Ashes about to start tonight, it is a timely reminder of when Michael Slater and Mark Taylor put the Poms to the sword in 1993. The Council afforded the dynamic duo a tickertape parade through Baylis street upon their return. The 1996 AFL grand final saw Paul Kelly and Wayne Carey face off as opposing captains. In the 198os the battle for the Australian halfback spot in Rugby league was fought between Peter Sterling and Steve Mortimer. All this for a town with a little over 50,000 people. Is there something in the water?

The Australian Institute of Sport in 2005 undertook a study to try and find out what was going on. The research came up with a theory called the ‘Wagga Effect’. If the researchers had shouted me a $3 middy at the Tolland Hotel I’m pretty sure I could have saved a lot of tax payer dollars, and explained the reasons why we have punched above our weight over the years.

Access to Sporting Facilities

The fist thing I noticed when winding the Camry back into Wagga the other day was Jubilee Park. The area features multiple touch footy fields, an athletics track, two hockey pitches and a Rugby Union Ground out back. Green grass as far as the eye can see. If you live in one of the main suburbs in Wagga you are never more than 10 minutes walk from a decent sporting oval. I used to take it for granted that you could just pop on the Dunlop volleys and take a short stroll to a sports oval of your liking. I have grazed knees on about 20 different ovals I’d say. All of the mainstream sports were covered so you were spoilt for choice. Also most houses had a good old backyard with turf. No excuses not to be active.

Unique Geographic Location

Situated pretty much smack bang between Melbourne and Sydney we had the best of both worlds. Back in the 80s I’d say Wagga was 65% league and 35% AFL in terms of support as the main code. Most youngsters tried their hand at both codes to some degree. The ferocious tackling of Paul Kelly certainly had a background in the lessons he learnt playing Rugby League. As a youngster, former Wallaby stalwart Nathan Sharpe used me as a stepladder quite a few times in junior Aussie Rules. I swear he was about 6 foot as an 11 year old. You had the options to try out all the codes and follow what fitted best.

I still reminisce (and tell anyone who cares) about the day I tore apart Cameron Mooney in the under 12s. Our careers then took different paths. I even shared the half back line in the Wagga under 1os team with a Wiggle! (the yellow Wiggle Sam Moran).

Population Size

50 odd thousand was the perfect size to create a good standard of sporting competition, yet still offer opportunities for youngsters to test their mettle in senior grades, as the talent pool had its limits. If you were a good 16 year old invariably you would be playing first grade against experienced old pros. The perfect opportunity to be tested and to learn your craft. No easy runs or kicks to be found. The opportunity to compete in good standard senior competitions held you in good stead when you headed for the big smoke. You learnt to play hard and much advice was given over a post match beer in the sheds.

Role Models

You didn’t have to look far to be inspired. As a Kid Michael Slater used to play at my club. The mighty Lake Albert Cricket Club. He was a talented 17 year old who had been playing first grade since he was 14. For every time Michael got out in the nets he would run a lap of Rawlings Park in his pads. If I applied that rule to myself I would have covered more kms than Cliffy Young. There is no doubt having positive role models helped drive many youngsters. Most also used to put back in, do school visits etc etc

Parents also provided invaluable support. When I think of all my mates at school, invariably all our fathers knew one another either by playing with or against one another at sport. At 5.10pm (no peak hour traffic in Wagga) there would be kids sitting on the front step of every house waiting for their old man to come home and kick the footy. The sporting culture was passed on through the generations.

There are probably many more intangible reasons, however, the above stand out.

My recollection is from the 198os as a youngster. Have things changed? The numbers would suggest so. Wagga has not produced a top class cricketer for some time. We still do pretty well in AFL (Suckling from the Hawks and Cunningham from the Swans) and Rugby League (Jamie Soward from the Panthers), however, the numbers have dropped from the golden days. There are good regional academies in place, however, it seems harder to break through unless you are under the nose of the decision makers in the city.

Below is a list of the top shelf of sporting talent to come out of Wagga in mainstream sports (apologies for those I have missed out). My criteria is pretty simple. The below names have either been born in Wagga or spent a decent amount of their formative years cutting their teeth in sporting competition in Wagga.  Mark Taylor is a case in point, he was born in Leeton, however played his junior cricket in Wagga and spent his formative years in the town. I figure the fact we have named an oval after him qualifies him for the list!

So here goes.. Wagga’s sporting elite in mainstream sports. The Challenge has been set to all other Australian towns. Who wants a shot at the title?


Mark Taylor, Geoff Lawson, Michael Slater


Paul Kelly, Wayne Carey, Jason Wild, Brad Seymour, Matt Suckling, Harry Cunningham, Paul Hawke, Jason Mooney, Cameron Mooney, Brett Scott, David Murphy, John Pitura, Neville Miller, Harry Lampe, Bill Mohr, Geoff Kingston, Colin Hounsell, Matthew Lloyd, James Byrne, Michael Phyland, Bryce Campbell, Mark Fraser, Stephen Eather

Rugby League

Steve Mortimer, Chris Mortimer, Peter Mortimer, Peter Sterling, Greg Brentnall, Jamie Soward, Joe Williams, Steve Martin, David Barnhill, Arthur Summons, Eric Weissel, Marc Glanville, Nigel Plum (apologies as my memory on league is not as good and am sure I have missed many off the list)

Golf – Steve Elkington

Triathlon – Brad Kahlefeldt

Rugby Union – Nathan Sharp, Nick Henderson, Ken McMullen, James Lenehan, John Langford, Beresford Ellwood, Arthur Tonkin

Jockey– Scobie Breasley

Hockey – Melanie Twitt

Basketball – Greg Hubbard




About craig dodson

Born in the sporting mecca that is Wagga Wagga and now reside in Melbourne with my lovelly wife Sophie and son's Jack and Harry. Passionate Swans supporter and formally played cricket at a decent level and Aussie Rules at a not so decent level! Spend my days now perfecting my slice on the golf course and the owner of the worlds worst second serve on the tennis course.


  1. No other town comes close to Wagga, and not just because I’m biased. I remember when I was in Yr 7 at Wagga High the Principal tried to convince us that official Wagga High caps were all the rage in England because Slats was dominating the Ashes, in a feeble attempt at having us be SunSmart while still wearing school uniform.

    Also, Sally Shipard played for the Matildas for 10 years, including two World Cups. I’d also like to campaign for Quentin Hull to be inducted into The Wagga Sporting Hall of Fame for his commentary.

  2. craig dodson says

    Good pick up Josh, I forgot Sally. Yep Hully has had a fantastic career for the ABC, he played his junior cricket with my brother.

  3. Good onya Craig, Wagga is certainly a proud sporting hub. Two Questions though ; Mark Taylor, I always consider him being from Leeton. What time did he spend in Wagga ? Was Danny Beasley, and for that matter his brother, from Wagga ? I know he had links to Jerilderie, I also feel he was associated with Wagga. When my grandfather used to work on track in Corowa, Danny was his favourite hoop. Can you please confirm/clarify his Wagga links?


  4. My brother too! His old man used to call him “hot dog.”

  5. I’m pretty sure Mark Taylor lived in Wagga during his high school years. I know he went to Kooringal High.

  6. Oh, speaking of “Hot Dog” Hull, I believe Jason Wild also played on that cricket team before going on to play for Collingwood.

  7. craig dodson says

    Glen, spot on about Danny coming from Wagga. As for Tubby, according to what I have read he moved to Wagga at 8 years of age and left for Sydney in late teens.

    You are right Josh, Jason was a handy fast bowler back in the day. Hully was more of the ‘military medium pace’

  8. My brother described Hull as bowling “nude balls.” I remember Wild being a decent batsman as well. I saw him retire at 50 twice in the same match.
    Not surprisingly he and Brad Seymour used to totally dominate my brother’s age group in footy.

    I also remember playing against Cameron Mooney. I hated him and his whole team. Could play, though.

  9. Jason Mooney
    Brad Seymour
    David Murphy
    Michael Slater
    Daniel McPherson

  10. Where’s “big” Trevor Sutherland ? He trains winners at TAB , non-TAB, and picnic meetings. He drives winners at the trots. Is there nothing he can’t do ?


  11. Terry Towelling says

    I know that David Barnhill is a publican in Wagga now, but I am pretty sure he was brought up on the family farm at Wamoon outside Leeton, and played all his junior footy for the Yanco under-age teams and then Yanco-Wamoon. The Barnhill family is Yanco-Wamoon royalty.

  12. Kirsti Miller says

    Great post Craig, I am very proud of being a Wagga Wagga born and bred local athlete.

    I was inducted as an inaugural inductee back in the early 1990,s for three sports the only athlete to be inducted for multiple sports being swimming, modern pentathlon and aquathon.

    I was originally inducted as Warren Miller but now I live my life as a female called Kirsti Miller. My new name and gender have proudly been updated with the Sporting Hall of Fame

Leave a Comment