HISTORY OF RUGBY LEAGUE ON THE GOLD COAST: A STORY OF RESILIENCE AND ACHIEVEMENT

Just as there was life ‘Before the Broncos’ in Brisbane, there was a proud history of rugby league on the Gold Coast and Northern Rivers before the Titans and its predecessors.

This is not to diminish the impact of the birth of elite teams, in areas where there were once thriving club competitions.
Had the Broncos not come on the scene, other codes may have taken over from league as the number one code in Brisbane, at a time when national competitions were emerging.
The same can be said for the entry of the Gold Coast Tweed Giants, into the then New South Wales Rugby League competition in 1988, the same year as the Broncos and Newcastle Knights.
But rugby league in the Tweed Heads/Coolangatta area goes back to 1914, just seven years after the formation of the New South Wales Rugby League in Sydney, and six years after the birth of the Queensland Rugby League in Brisbane.
It is important for people, of all ages, to have an appreciation of the history that has made us who we are. Without the pioneers of rugby league in the Gold Coast/Northern Rivers area, there would not have been a platform for the Titans to be part of the NRL, and, therefore, for the current players and support staff to have the jobs they now enjoy.
THE TWEED/BYRON CONNECTION
Tweed/Byron’s first league international was Albert Broomham from Mullumbimby, who played for Australia against the Maori in 1909 and then toured Britain with the Kangaroos in 1911-12. Broomham had played rugby union for Mullumbimby, but switched to league with North Sydney.
One hundred years later, Anthony Laffranchi, who grew up at Burringbar, and played for Murwillumbah Mustangs, was chosen for Australia from the Gold Coast Titans.
Before the Mustangs, there were three strong clubs at Murwillumbah – Souths, Old Boys and Brothers. When Brothers’ formed in 1958, their first captain-coach was Paul Broughton, who would become the founding chairman of the Titans.
But the name on everyone’s lips, when Tweed League is mentioned, is the powerful SEAGULLS Club, which was formed in 1909, as a rugby union club, and has had an uninterrupted history, making it one of Australia’s oldest provincial ‘rugby’ clubs.
Tweed Heads was a long established sea port in 1909, with produce from the Tweed Valley leaving the wharves, which were located where the Twin Towns Services Club now stands. Coolangatta, just across the border, started to flourish when the railroad arrived from Brisbane in 1903. (The railroad actually went across the border).
The Clayton’s Cup is an annual award for the highest achieving club in New South Wales Country, and Seagulls have won it three times – in 1963 (when there were over 400 clubs in Country NSW), 1983 and 1989, the last two times with former NSW forward, John Harvey as captain-coach.
Seagulls have produced internationals of the calibre of halfback, Barry Muir (25 Tests); hooker, Elwyn Walters (20 Tests); five eighth, Pat Devery, (3 Tests); winger, Lionel Morgan (3 Tests), as well as Queensland representative forward, Ray McCarron. 
Muir left the Tweed, for Toowoomba, in 1957, because he was unable to unseat Cudgen’s Barry McConnell as the representative halfback. Muir moved from Toowoomba to Brisbane in 1958, signing with Wests Panthers. From there he played 26 matches for Queensland and 25 Tests for Australia, including one as captain – against the Kiwis in New Zealand in 1961. In his final season as a player – 1971 – he was captain-coach of Tweed Seagulls, his career coming full circle.
Ron McAuliffe, the father of State of Origin football, was a Seagulls’ official in the mid 1960s, before returning to Brisbane, where he ultimately became a Senator in the Federal Parliament, and chairman of the Queensland Rugby League. For a time he was publican of the Kirrabelle Hotel, Coolangatta, which is now the Coolangatta Sands.
Early in 1914, the Tweed’s rugby union clubs voted to switch codes. The motion was put forward by a young official, Frank Burke, the secretary of Murwillumbah Pirates’ rugby union club. Burke later became president of the Queensland Rugby League, and the main grandstand at the old Lang Park was named in his honor.
The first representative league match on the Tweed was played in the 1920s, between a local selection and South Sydney, at Knox Park, Murwillumbah. In 1932, Tweed product, Jack Morrison captained South Sydney, and became the first Tweed boy to captain NSW.
Tweed football was so strong in the 1920s, that the local rep. side played Queensland and New South Wales at Knox Park.
In 1923, Tweed played Combined Brisbane in a curtain raiser to an inter-state match in Brisbane. Tweed won, and top Sydney sports writer, W F Corbett said a number of Tweed players should have been in the NSW side that day.
Fullback, Danny O’Connor played for Queensland from Brisbane Valleys in 1939, after starting his career at Seagulls. He still holds the goal kicking record, booting home 12 for Queensland against New South Wales, in 1940.
Brothers, Peter and Mick Ryan were proud Seagulls’ juniors, who followed in their father, Peter Snr’s footsteps by playing first grade in Sydney. (Peter Snr. played for Newtown and Parramatta in the 1950s). Peter Jnr. played for Cronulla, North Sydney, Newtown and Illawarra and featured in Cronulla’s 1978 grand final replay loss to Manly. Mick played for Canterbury-Bankstown, Newtown and the Roosters, and played in the 1981 grand final, for Newtown against Parramatta. He finished his career on the Tweed, with a premiership as captain-coach of his beloved Seagulls.
The Cudgen club produced the likes of Geoff Hawkey, who played centre for Balmain in the 1956 Sydney grand final, in front of a crowd of 61,987. This was the first of St George’s world record, 11 straight premiership wins.
Hawkey represented NSW the following year, against Queensland, and in 1958 again featured in the inter-state series, as well as playing against the touring British side, which won the Ashes. After a season at Wagga Wagga, Hawkey returned to the Tweed as player-coach of Seagulls.
Another Cudgen product, Graham Roberts, was a goal kicking centre for Balmain in 1975 and ’76, and played for Brothers in their 1974 Brisbane grand final loss to Valleys. Coach of Brothers that year was Paul Broughton, and the fullback was future super coach, Wayne Bennett.
Roberts’ father, Ron is best known as the winger who scored the match winning try for Australia in the Ashes deciding Third Test against Great Britain on a muddy SCG, in 1950.
Bob Bugden, who played in six grand final triumphs for St George in that 11 year run, came from the South Murwillumbah club. Bugden toured Britain and France with the 1959 Kangaroos, alongside Barry Muir, and also played in the 1960 World Cup in the UK.
Sydney Easts (Roosters) signed two players from the 1961 and ’62 Murwillumbah Brothers’ premiership winning sides – centre, Ron Saddler and fullback, Cliff Boyd. Saddler, an indigenous man, went on to captain New South Wales in 1967, and at the end of that season toured Britain and France with the Kangaroos.
Hooker, John Dowling, whose grandson, Jamie played with the Titans, was another Brothers’ product, and in 1982 represented Queensland in all three State of Origin matches, from the St George club in Sydney.
Another Brothers’ product, Gary Dobrich, played fullback for Queensland in 1972, from the Brisbane Souths’ club. Winger, Athol Gear and hooker, Allan Nunan are former Brothers’ players, who represented Brisbane.
Second rower, Vic Armbruster started his career at MULLUMBIMBY, before moving to Queensland, where he played 43 matches for his adopted state, between 1924 and 1931. He also played eight Tests for Australia and toured Britain with the Kangaroos in 1929-30.
In 2007, Cronulla winger, Luke Covell was chosen for New Zealand. Covell is a product of the Murwillumbah Mustangs club, which is an amalgamation of Brothers and Old Boys, with Souths having relocated to Cabarita, where they were re-branded Tweed Coast Raiders. Under the coaching of former Test forward, Brent Kite, the Raiders won the 2018 Northern Rivers premiership.
Ray Corcoran, a winger in Cronulla’s 1973 grand final side, was an ex-South Murwillumbah player. Bob Batty, fullback for Manly in the 1968 and 1970 Sydney grand finals, was an Old Boys’ product.
Ross Conlon, a goal kicking winger who played for Australia against Great Britain in 1984, is an Old Boys’ product. His father, Ted, played in the front row for Brothers in their premiership winning 1961 and ’62 sides. Ross grew up plating soccer, but switched to league to be with his mates.
GOLD COAST CLUBS
An historic match between the touring French side and a Gold Coast selection in 1964, built the platform for the return of club football to the Coast, after it had been in recess for many years.
The match was played just over the border, at Tweed Heads Recreation Ground, the home of the Seagulls club.
France won 16-0 in a fiery affair, against a side chosen primarily from the Tweed/Byron region.
In 1965 Gold Coast Tigers (later to become Southport Tigers) entered the then Tweed League, at the invitation of Tweed administrators, following a meeting at Murwillumbah. The Tigers failed to win a game in their inaugural season, but by 1968 had won their first premiership, with former Brisbane Valleys’ forward, Norm McFadden as captain-coach.
The first Tigers’ ‘superstar’ was former state five eighth, Bobby Cook, who was part of that premiership side, along with another former State rep, hooker, Lloyd Little.
In 1969, the Tigers had so many players turn up for training, they indicated they would field a second reserve grade side in the Brisbane Public Service League. The Tigers were paying $8 a win in first grade.
Burleigh Bears, which were initially founded in 1934, before going into recess, entered the competition in 1968, and like the Tigers, did not win a match in their inaugural season.
Burleigh’s first home ground was Rudd Park, just across from the main beach at Burleigh.
In those early years, hessian bag fences were erected around the playing area, so the club could charge admission. Players changed and prepared for the game in the public toilets. When a football was kicked into touch, it was sometimes left to the generosity of the caravan park residents as to whether or not it came back.
In 1972, Gold Coast Tigers, with 17-year-old Steve Rogers in the centres, defeated Seagulls in the Group 18 Gold Coast grand final. Rogers played for a South Queensland representative side that year, and under the Origin rules of today, would be eligible for Queensland. But he joined Cronulla in 1973, and when the first Origin game was played in 1980, Steve was chosen for New South Wales. In that ’73 season he played in Cronulla’s 10-7 grand final loss to Manly, and toured Britain and France with the Kangaroos. By the end of his career, Steve had represented Australia in 24 Tests. His son Mat, was a dual rugby international, who went to The Southport School, and played for the Titans from 2007-2011.
Surfers Paradise Pirates followed Burleigh Bears into the Group 18 – Gold Coast competition, and one of their young stars was fullback, Allan Power, who would succeed Wayne Bennett as fullback at Brothers in the Brisbane competition in 1976. Power played for Queensland in 1977 and 1980. In 1983 Surfers’ captain-coach was Allan Smith, five eighth for Queensland in the inaugural Origin match.
As time went by, Gold Coast administrators yearned for their own, stand alone competition, and in the coming years the cross border situation became confusing. At one stage there were 16 clubs, from Qld and NSW, playing in the one competition.
The 2004 season illustrates those confusing times. That year Beaudesert defeated Burleigh in the Gold Coast grand final, while in the Group 18 decider, Tugun defeated Tweed Seagulls.
These situations led to anomalies, such as Tugun prop, Craig Wallace (father of Jarrod) representing New South Wales Residents against Queensland Residents, from the Tugun club!
In 1978, the big spending Nerang Roosters lured Test forward, David Wright and Queensland reps., Bob Cock and Ian Dauth to the Coast from Brisbane Brothers, where they were legends. For goal kicking winger, Dauth, it was a case of going home, because he was a Beaudesert boy, and the Kingfishers, as Beaudesert are known, had turned their back on the Ipswich League to affiliate with the Coast.
Mick Veivers, who played six Tests in the forwards for Australia between 1962 and ’66, comes from Beechmont, and would have played for a Coast club, if there was one at the time. Instead he joined Souths in Brisbane. Veivers went on to be State Minister for Sport.
In 1990 Beaudesert, with Kevin Langer as captain-coach, defeated Bilambil-Terranora Lakes 20-18 in the grand final. Langer is the older brother of Broncos’ legend, Allan Langer. Bilambil were coached by former Test fullback, Graham ‘Wombat’ Eadie.
Beaudesert won again the following year, in an all Gold Coast decider – against Runaway Bay.
Beenleigh, which had played in sub-district football on Brisbane’s southern outskirts, reached the Coast grand final in 1988, only to be beaten 22-18 by Southport. At one stage, the Brisbane Broncos were sending their colts to Beenleigh, to play against men in the Coast competition, rather than play under-age football in Brisbane.
In 1999, Burleigh Bears played Great Britain, who were touring ‘down under’, as part of a Tri-series with Australia and New Zealand. The British were lucky to get away with a 10-6 win against the Rick Stone coached Bears. Burleigh hooker, Jamie O’Connor and prop, Shane ‘Flash’ Flanagan are the sons of Murwillumbah Old Boys’ legends, Neville ‘Knocker’ O’Connor and the late Peter ‘Flash’ Flanagan. The result dented morale in the British squad, which included players of the calibre of dual rugby internationals, Jason Robinson and Iestyn Harris, and fiery forwards, Adrian Morley and Andy Farrell. A few days later Australia belted Britain 42-6 at Lang Park.
Today, the Gold Coast competition truly reflects the demographics and geographical spread of the region.
RICHMOND RUGBY LEAGUE
The Tweed, Byron (Brunswick) and Richmond Leagues are now part of what is known as Northern Rivers Rugby League (which also incorporates one club from the Clarence, Lower Clarence Magpies). But previously the Tweed, Byron and Richmond Leagues had separate competitions, and played each other in representative games for the Anthony Shield, which was donated by the famous farming, business and political family of that name. Doug Anthony, played rugby league for Old Boys at Murwillumbah, but went on to represent Queensland in rugby union. He was deputy Prime Minister of Australia in 1971-72.
Rugby League in the region was so strong, Kyogle had its own club competition, including a club from Nimbin. (Former Titans, Will Matthews and Shannon Walker are Kyogle products).
Richmond’s first league international was Ernest Anelzak from Lismore, who represented Queensland in 1908, as a ‘New South Wales visitor’. Twenty eight years later, another Lismore footballer, Jack Reardon represented Queensland from the Brisbane Norths club, and then later from Brisbane Brothers.
Reardon played 21 times for Queensland, between 1936 and 1941, and would have played many more games except for World War II. He was vice-captain of the 1937-38 Kangaroo touring side in Britain and France. When he retired he became a long serving rugby league writer for ‘The Courier-Mail’.
Another Lismore product was Graeme Atherton, who played five eighth for Queensland in 1970. He played for Souths in Brisbane and succeeded Wayne Bennett as coach of the club in 1986.
South Lismore forward, Brian Battese won a Brisbane premiership with Wynnum-Manly in 1982 and in Sydney won two premierships with Canterbury-Bankstown – in 1984 and ’85.
Paul Bartier, who played for Queensland in 1983 from Brisbane Norths, is a product of the Casino Cougars, who also produced Melbourne Storm Test centre, Matt King, and his brothers, Chris and Andrew. Chris played 96 first grade matches for Parramatta between 1991-97, while Andrew played 49 games for Gold Coast between 1995 and ’98; 64 games for Manly and Northern Eagles (1999-2001) and 20 games for South Sydney (2002). Former Canberra Raiders and Newcastle Knights’ international, Ben Kennedy is another Casino boy.
Lismore Marist Brothers’ products, Tony Durheim and Terry Dardengo played for Gold Coast. Today, Marist Brothers are part of what is now the Northern Rivers competition, which extends from Cudgen in the north, to Yamba and Maclean in the south. They won the Clayton’s Cup in 1987, under the coaching of former Manly-Warringah and Sydney Wests’ prop, Dennis Meaney.
David Mead, a former Titans player, now contracted to Catalans Dragons in France, is a Marist Brothers’ product.
Grafton have previously been part of Northern Rivers, but their two clubs, Ghosts and South Grafton, have been playing in the Group 2 competition, which includes Coffs Harbour. Ghosts won the Clayton’s Cup in 2010 and 2011, and again in 2017. Titans’ winger, Anthony Don is a former Ghosts’ player.
Brothers, Terry and Kevin ‘Stumpy’ Stevens were South Grafton products, with both men playing first grade for Easts in Sydney. In 1973, terry ousted former Wallaby, John Ballesty from the first grade five eighth spot. ‘Stumpy’ won premierships with Easts in 1975 and with Parramatta in 1981.
ABORIGINAL AND ISLANDER HERITAGE.
Tweed product, Lionel Morgan was the first indigenous man to represent Australia in either rugby code, when he played for the Kangaroos against France in 1960. Morgan played in two of the three Tests in a drawn series, and later that year represented Australia in the World Cup in England, where he played another Test against France. He represented Queensland 16 times.
One of Morgan’s proudest achievements was representing Gold Coast against the French touring side of 1964.
Morgan, who started his ‘senior’ career with Tweed Seagulls’ under-18s, was a member of the All Blacks’ side which won the Tweed premiership in 1958, defeating Murwillumbah Brothers in the grand final.
The following year, Morgan, and his brother, Paddy signed with Wynnum-Manly in Brisbane.
Bill McDermott, a teammate of Morgan’s in the 1958 All Blacks’ side, also joined Wynnum, representing Brisbane in the inter-city Bulimba Cup competition against Ipswich and Toowoomba, and in 1963 represented Qld against NSW. In 1956, McDermott had played for a Combined Tweed Heads/Gold Coast Schools side against New South Wales Schoolboys at Tweed Heads, impressing so much, he was added to the Blues’ squad, and played against Qld.
The All Blacks club started in 1930, with Walter Slockee and Charlie Morgan co-founders. Slockee, Morgan and Jack Currie were the first indigenous or South Sea Islander men to play rugby league on the Tweed. (Many South Sea Islanders had been brought to the Tweed late in the 19th century, to work in the sugar cane, after their ‘contracts’ had finished in Queensland).
Slockee had a stint with St George in Sydney, in 1925 and 10 years later organised exhibition games between the All Blacks and St George. The All Blacks made such an impression on the Sydney indigenous community, that the Redfern All Blacks were formed.
Another star All Black, was Stokel Currie, the grandfather of former Test centre, Tony Currie.
Stokel Currie’s speed and anticipation was the stuff of legend, and it was reported that he represented NSW Country, bare footed.
Former Test centre, Jack Reardon, who played against Stokel Currie, described him as one of the best attacking players he had ever seen.
“All I grabbed was daylight”, said Reardon of his attempts to tackle Currie, in one particular game.
Walter Mussing played for St George in Sydney from 1945-47, and then returned to the Tweed. A 1948 poster advertised a match between the Fingal All Blacks and Brisbane Souths at the Brisbane Exhibition Grounds. Fingal, a beach and riverside village near the mouth of the Tweed River, were to be captained by Mussing, the poster proclaimed. 
Alan Lena was another fine indigenous footballer who represented the Tweed, with his son, Graham, going on to represent Queensland from the Brisbane Brothers’ club in 1971.
Tweed Heads’ product, Larry Corowa toured Britain and France with the 1978 Kangaroos and played two Tests at home, against Great Britain in 1979. Known as the ‘Black Flash’, Corowa played 98 first grade matches for Balmain, between 1978 and ’83, before returning to the Tweed. In 1987 Corowa captained South Tweed to a shock 20-10 win over hot favorites, Cudgen in the Group 18 grand final at Cunningham Field, West Tweed Heads. South Tweed Seniors were only formed the year before. In 1991, Corowa made a comeback to the big time, and played two first grade matches with Gold Coast Seagulls.
Given the proud history of indigenous and islander football in the region, it was fitting that the first two players signed by the Titans were indigenous stars, Preston Campbell and Scott Prince.
QUEENSLAND CUP
The new Queensland Cup competition was launched in 1996, and just four years later, Burleigh defeated Redcliffe 12-10 in a classic grand final at Suncorp Stadium. Burleigh reached the grand final again in 2003, but this time Redcliffe got the bragging rights, at their home ground, Dolphin Oval, winning 31-18.
The following year Burleigh regained their title, defeating Easts 22-18 in an extra time grand final classic, in which former Test centre, Steve Renouf turned out for the Tigers.
Burleigh were there again in 2005, but went down 36-6 to a North Queensland Young Guns side, full of future NRL stars.
In the year of the Titans inaugural season – 2007 – Tweed Heads Seagulls claimed the Queensland Cup title, defeating Redcliffe 28-18 in the grand final at Suncorp Stadium.
In 2011, Tweed Seagulls reached the grand final again, this time playing the other Seagulls, Wynnum-Manly, who finished up with bragging rights, courtesy of a 16-10 win at Suncorp Stadium.
Burleigh were back in the winner’s circle in 2016, accounting for their bitter rivals, Redcliffe 26-16 at Suncorp Stadium.
SURF CLUBS
‘Bluey’ Gray was a foundation member of Tweed Seagulls club and also of the Greenmount Surf Club.
It was the start of a long association between rugby league clubs and surf clubs, with footballers, of all codes, it has to be said, instrumental in the founding and/or consolidation of a number of surf clubs.
Surf clubs would conduct march pasts at big league matches in Brisbane, and afterwards the collection bucket would be passed around for donations to the volunteer movement.
Former television commentator and Brothers’ first grade rugby league star, George Doniger is a member of North Kirra, which, along with Coolangatta, was a Brothers’ stronghold. Pacific Surf Club was known as an unofficial Brisbane Valleys HQ, while the Ipswich boys made their way to Currumbin.
“Half of the members of surf clubs on the Coast would have been Brisbane rugby league players, and many of them were first graders,” said Doniger, who went to Coolangatta-Tweed Primary School with future internationals, Barry Muir and Lionel Morgan.
Doniger is steeped in Gold Coast/Tweed league history. His grandfather, Jack Johnson played for the first Seagulls’ team in 1909.
Sydney rugby league clubs often took their end-of-season trips to the Gold Coast, with Coolangatta’s guest houses – such as Beach House, Stella Maris and Greenmount – some of the favored places in the 1940s, ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s.
The players would often throw out challenges to local surf clubs for games of beach football, and they were invariably torrid affairs.
“I played in a few of them, and it wasn’t fun,” Doniger said.
Sometimes the Sydney clubs would play a formal game, which was the case in 1972 when St George played a combined Seagulls/Cudgen side at the Tweed Heads Recreation Ground.
British, Kiwi and French touring teams would often have training camps on the Gold Coast, with Coolangatta the favorite spot.
SCHOOLS
Palm Beach-Currumbin, Keebra Park and Coombabah High Schools are strongly associated with rugby league excellence.
But before ‘specialty’ Rugby League Schools were even imagined, Miami High was producing fine football teams, particularly during the time former Queensland representative, Bill Callinan was principal. Callinan played under the legendary Duncan Thompson in Toowoomba, and Thompson would conduct coaching clinics at Miami High. Some of super coach, Wayne Bennett’s coaching philosophies are based on Thompson’s concepts.
In 1978, Queensland centre, Brad Kennedy and New South Wales’ forward, Steve Hage played against each other in an inter-state match at Lang Park, Brisbane. They had gone to school together at Miami. In 1978 Kennedy was playing in Gympie and Hage with Canterbury-Bankstown.
Aquinas College from Southport, was also a great league nursery, with Test lock, Bob Lindner, and Test fullback, Paul Hauff their most famous products. Lindner played for Gold Coast Tweed Giants in 1989.
Beaudesert High produced many fine footballers, with former Broncos’ international prop, Andrew Gee chosen for the Australian Schoolboys from a school which punched above its weight.
In Northern New South Wales, the name Woodlawn College is mentioned with reverence, largely because of their league achievements. Former Melbourne Storm Test centre, Matt King attended Woodlawn, on a Parramatta scholarship.
But long before that, Woodlawn played such an attractive style of football, they were regularly invited to play curtain raisers to internationals and inter-state matches at Lang Park. Their philosophy was to let the wingers score the tries, and, with that in mind, the back-line always stood deep in attack, even from scrums, which were contested in those days.
Stylish fullback, Darrel Chapman was a Woodlawn student, who went on to play rugby league for Australia, in 1959, and became a trend setter in rugby league coaching, when he worked for the education department.
JUNIOR CLUBS
Junior League on the Tweed began in the 1960s, with John Conaghan from Murwillumbah one of the driving forces. The first junior rugby league season on the Gold Coast was 1977 and today the League boasts clubs from Jimboomba and Beaudesert to Bilambil and Currumbin.
When junior league first started, teams played in weight divisions, before converting to age requirements.
GOLD COAST VIKINGS
When the Queensland Rugby League introduced the ground breaking State League in 1982, the Gold Coast Vikings competed against the eight Brisbane clubs, as well as Ipswich, Toowoomba, Wide Bay, Central Queensland and North Queensland.
The Vikings played out of Owen Park, Southport, and regularly drew capacity crowds.
One of their greatest victories came on March 28, 1982 when they downed Brisbane premiers, Souths at Owen Park, scoring four tries to two in a 22-8 result. Gold Coast led 22-3 with three minutes left, and it was only a try by Souths’ centre, Mal Meninga which made the final score more respectable.
The Vikings’ heroes, on that day, included indigenous five eighth, Bradley Garrett; rangy prop, Peter Winton and fullback, Garry Dowling, who had played for Australia just three years earlier, from Parramatta. Tweed product, Garrett had represented Queensland Country the previous year.
The Vikings were so highly regarded, they were awarded a match against the 1982 New Zealand touring side – at Pizzey Park, Miami – with the Kiwis winning 39-10. New Zealand lost 11-8 to Australia a week later, with a late try to John Muggleton rescuing the home side.
The Vikings continued to be competitive against Brisbane clubs, with the state league continuing, in a variety of formats, until the Queensland Cup took over in 1996.
GOLD COAST TWEED GIANTS
The Giants dodged the wooden spoon in their first season, and had the honor of beating neighbors, the Brisbane Broncos 25-22 in a memorable match at Cunningham Field, Tweed Heads West. They also beat fellow competition newcomers, Newcastle Knights.
Under coach, Bob McCarthy, the Giants always gave 100 percent, with a playing roster cobbled together after the club was the last to be granted a licence to play in the 1988 NSWRL competition.
Captain Billy Johnstone and centre, Ben Gonzales played all 21 games, while prop, Peter Smith; halfback, Geoff Bagnall and lock, Robert Simpkins played 19 each.
Seagulls Leagues Club took over the privately owned Giants in February, 1989, giving the club off-field stability, which saw a solid improvement in performance.
GOLD COAST SEAGULLS
Inevitably the Giants became the Seagulls in 1990, and the following year brought off a coup with the signing of  ‘The King’, Wally Lewis. By now, the club was coached by former Canterbury-Bankstown stalwart, Mal Clift.
Crowds lifted, even though the club won only two games.
On August 29, 1992, Wally Lewis played his last game of rugby league, leading the Seagulls to a shock 12-8 win over 1991 premiers, Penrith at Seagulls Stadium. Penrith’s captain was John Cartwright, who, like Lewis, was effectively captain-coach, because the Panthers’ full-time, non-playing coach, Phil ‘Gus’ Gould, was stranded in Sydney by a middle ear infection.
Lewis stayed on at Seagulls, as non-playing coach in 1993, when he also coached the Queensland State of Origin side.
John Harvey coached Seagulls in 1994 and ’95.
In ’95, former Palm Beach-Currumbin High student, Ben Ikin was selected directly from the Gold Coast to play State of Origin for Queensland. He was 18 years 83 days old, and remains the youngest Origin player from either state.
GOLD COAST CHARGERS
The Seagulls were re-branded the Chargers in 1996, after Seagulls’ licensed club withdrew its support.
In 1997 the Chargers made the finals of the ARL’s Optus Cup competition, beating Illawarra in the first elimination final, before going down to the Roosters. Coach, Phil Economidis was named ARL coach of the Year.
The Chargers participated in the first NRL competition in 1998, but the doors closed on the club in December of that year, and many people believed it would be for the final time.
The Chargers’ 1998 playing roster included Preston Campbell, Graham Mackay, Scott Sattler, Craig Teevan and Jamie Goddard, with Goddard playing hooker for Queensland in their 19-4 win over NSW in the Origin decider in Sydney. Goddard was raised in Mt Isa, but had strong family connections with Murwillumbah.
GOLD COAST TITANS.
Gold Coast Titans were awarded their licence in 2004, after a lengthy bid process, where the odds were stacked against those pushing for the return of elite level football to the region. Michael Searle, a former Gold Coast first grader, was the inaugural chief executive and former Test forward and Penrith stalwart, John Cartwright the first coach, with Paul Broughton the chairman. In 2005, a 25,000 capacity stadium at Robina got the thumbs up from Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie.
The Titans played their debut season in 2007 and by 2009 had made the finals. The rest, as they say, is history, PART OF 120 YEARS OF RUGBY LEAGUE HISTORY IN THE REGION.
THE GREAT KEN IRVINE
Ken Irvine, arguably Australia’s greatest rugby league winger, was chief league writer for the Gold Coast Bulletin in the late 1980s. His death, from leukemia, on December 12, 1990, stunned the league world. Irvine, who played 33 Tests between 1959 and 1967, scored 212 tries for North Sydney and Manly, a record which still stands. In 2008 he was named in the Australian Team of the Century, with Brian Bevan, Reg Gasnier and Mal Meninga the other members of the three quarter line.
The information provided here is not intended to cover every part – or personality – from the history of league on the Gold Coast/Northern Rivers. But it is hoped the articles help illustrate the great heritage of the code in the region.
THE CROSS BORDER SITUATION.
1988: Gold Coast has its own competition.
2005: Group 18 and Group 1 combine to form Northern Rivers Rugby League.
But there were times, before 2005, when Group 18 and Gold Coast ran just one big competition. e.g. The year Jarrod Wallace’s dad played for NSW Residents. Terry Cook played for NSW Country from Beaudesert, because the Gold Coast League was effectively ‘run’ by NSW Country. This is when QRL Managing director, Ross Livermore stepped in and insisted there should be separate competitions on each side of the border, with no cross-over of clubs. This has never been 100 percent enforced. For instance, Bilambil have nearly always played in the Coast competition. And Tugun Juniors still play in the Tweed Junior League. VERY CONFUSING
In the 1950s, 60s, 70s, a player resident in Coolangatta, could not play for Tweed Heads Seagulls.
1 Rugby League at the Murwillumbah Oval. Old Boys (white) v Brothers in 1973
2 Tweed All Blacks 1935
3 The Stevens brothers, Terry and Kevin
4 Steve Hage scores for Group 18 against Group 3 at Seagulls Ground, West Tweed Heads in 1974.

2 responses to “HISTORY OF RUGBY LEAGUE ON THE GOLD COAST: A STORY OF RESILIENCE AND ACHIEVEMENT

  1. Great article on the history Steve, perception in the wider community outside of the Nthn Rivers and Gold Coast is that there is not much interest or history . As you’ve pointed out that can’t be any further from the truth . The Nrrrl Competition is an excellent comp with a few sides needing some assistance and support but overall it is a very even and tough comp . The junior Group 18 comp that includes Tugun to Byron/Mullum is again a very strong comp. Last year the majority of the successful Titans U16 and Nsw Country came from Group 18. League is still very popular in the Northern Rivers .

  2. Trad McLean, a former South Tweed player, has pointed out that Craig Wallace played for Runaway Bay, not Tugun. Trad and Craig had many ding dong battles on the football field.
    Roger Little reminded me that Casino produced a number of fine indigenous players, including Bruce Olive (who played for New South Wales) and Ray Laurie, who played for Balmain.

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