Saturday 24th Aug
History of the Newtown Rugby League Football Club
Newtown Rugby League Football Club was formed on January 8, 1908, at an overflow public meeting in the Newtown Town Hall. The meeting had been convened by the prominent Sydney sportsman James J. Giltinan (after whom the NSW Rugby League Premiership shield is named), Labor MP Henry Hoyle, and Harry Hammill (who was to be the fledgling club's first captain).
From the very beginning, Newtown became noted for its gritty, never-say-die spirit, and the ability to make the best of limited financial resources. Located in a rock-solid working class district, Newtown was seen as the definitive battlers' team, and one associated with the best fighting qualities inherent in the Australian character.
Newtown's first Premiership in the NSW Rugby League was in 1910, with a team that included seven players who were to tour with the all-conquering Kangaroos of 1911/12. The Bluebags, as they were known from 1908-1972, were runners-up in 1913, 1914 and 1929, before winning a second Premiership title in 1933.
The Premiership-winning team of 1943 was captained by the famous Frank "Bumper" Farrell, arguably the club's most outstanding identity in its colourful history. Newtown were runners-up in 1944, and twice in successive years in 1954/55, following titanic struggles with the champion South Sydney side of the early 1950s.
The Bluebags were minor semi-finalists in 1959, and made a strong showing in the 1962 season, finishing as preliminary finalists. They were unluckily beaten in the elimination semi-final in 1966, and staged a memorable finals surge in 1973, before bowing out in the preliminary final.
The 1970s represented a crisis period for the financially beleaguered Newtown club. Soaring playing and administrative costs, along with unfavourable social and demographic changes in the club's confined inner-western catchment area, combined to make Newtown's survival all the more tenuous.
A concerted recruitment campaign in the late 1970s saw the Jets (their nick-name from 1973 onwards) improve their playing fortunes. The thrilling 1981 season saw an inspired charge into the Grand Final, sadly ending in a narrow defeat by Parramatta.
Ongoing financial difficulties led Newtown to pursue new pastures at Campbelltown in south-western Sydney, only for this move to be thwarted at the eleventh hour. The Jets were suspended from the NSW Rugby League Premiership in late 1983, but continued in junior representative fixtures and junior club competitions from 1984 to 1990 inclusive.
Newtown entered the NSWRL Metropolitan Cup competition in 1991, fielding first and reserve grade sides. This competition, formed in 1990, was seen as a second tier senior competition to the then Winfield Cup. Despite operating on a shoestring budget, Newtown was the dominant club in the 1990s, winning first grade Premiership titles in 1992, 1995, 1996 and 1997.
In 2000 Newtown sought and was granted admission to the NSWRL First Division competition, whereby the Jets acted as the feeder team to the NRL's Auckland Warriors.
The Jets achieved a creditable 8th place premiership finish in this first season, despite having been granted entry to the NSWRL’s flagship competition at the eleventh hour. 14 Auckland Warriors registered players appeared with Newtown that season, including 6 players who went on to be members of the New Zealand Warriors 2002 NRL Grand Final team.
The partnership with the Auckland Warriors ended at the end of the 2000 season when the Auckland-based consortium went into liquidation.
From 2001 to 2004 the Newtown Jets competed in the First Division competition (renamed the VB Premier League in 2003) as a stand-alone entity, playing against NRL reserve grade squads with 10-12 times Newtown’s limited budget. These were tough seasons but after running last in 2001 the Jets rose up the premiership ladder in each subsequent year, narrowly missing the finals in 2003 and 2004.
Return to our home ground - Henson Park
What was most notable about this 2001-2004 period was the return to Henson Park for the club’s home games plus the growth of Saturday afternoon home game crowds at the historic venue. Sydney’s media started to take an interest in Newtown again and Jets clothing and merchandise became a somewhat hip and popular item on inner-western streets.
In 2005 the Jets formed a short-lived but successful partnership with the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks, with the Jets acting as Cronulla’s entry in the VB Premier League. Newtown lost only one game at Henson Park all season and stormed into the finals series, narrowly losing to Parramatta in the Preliminary Final at Telstra Stadium. Newtown’s fullback Nathan Merritt set a new club points-scoring record with 40 points (5 tries and 10 goals) in a competition match against the Penrith-St Marys Cougars.
The Jets formed a new partnership in 2006 with the Sydney Roosters, with the two 1908 foundation clubs clicking together immediately. Newtown finished second on the premiership table, and ultimately lost a thrilling VB Premier League Grand Final to Parramatta 20-19 in golden point extra time. This match was played at Telstra Stadium and was televised live across eastern Australia and watched by hundreds of thousands of viewers.
Newtown celebrated its 99th birthday on the 8th January 2007 and is poised for another big season in partnership with the Sydney Roosters, prior to the landmark centenary year of 2008.
Full listing of Club achievements in NSW Rugby League since 1908.