In 1906 in Sydney, crowd numbers for rugby matches began to increase significantly following the emergence of special player, Dally Messenger, whose individual skill was considered a pleasure to watch. It was around this time that the discontent of players with their rugby clubs for continually failing to shift away from the amateur culture of the Rugby Football Union was starting to show. Even though bigger crowds had brought increased revenue to the game, players ended up failing to see any of the increased revenue going back to them. But in the latter half of 1907 and unknown to the general public, Dally Messenger secretly agreed to sign on to play in a professional rugby competition that would start the following year, run by the New South Wales Rugby Football League. It would turn out to be Messenger's popularity that would ensure the success of the new competition.
On 8 August 1907 a group of leading rugby union players and supporters met at Bateman's Hotel, George Street, Sydney, to discuss the creation of the New South Wales Rugby Football League. Early in 1908, a number of Rugby Football Union clubs held meetings across Sydney and Newcastle to decide whether or not breakaway clubs should be formed in preparation for the new Rugby Football League's premiership that was to start in the following months. The popularity amongst players in support of the new competition was overwhelming, with only some players deciding to continue playing in the traditional amateur Rugby Football Union competition. The Rugby Football League clubs that were formed were essentially breakaway clubs, and in most instances, teams continued the use of their team colours into the new competition. A key aspect of the new code was that players would be paid for playing the game. Adopting the playing rules of the rebel Northern Union of England, the new competition began in earnest in Australia on Easter Monday, 20 April 1908.
The jerseys of the 9 teams for the 1908 season are shown below.
|North Sydney||South Sydney||Western Suburbs|
The season was a financial disaster for the New South Wales Rugby Football League. The competition had a distinct lack of star players, was hurt by a number of refereeing problems and suffered from a lack of exposure from the conservative press. Many players who had switched over from rugby union were sacked from their weekday jobs and were no longer allowed to enter the Sydney Cricket Ground, home of the New South Wales Rugby Union. The five captains that had moved from rugby union were also publicly ostracised.
The season's highest crowd came in the second round when South Sydney beat Cumberland in front of 20,000 people. Due to Cumberland having just been admitted into the premiership, this match was played 2 weeks after the other 3 games of round 2 had been completed. South Sydney consequently played their second match of the "round" because of this.
At the end of the season, Eastern Suburbs' Horrie Millier was the competition's top points scorer and top try scorer.
|South Sydney||Position||Eastern Suburbs|
|Webby Neil||FB||Bill King|
|Frank Storie||WG||W. Smith|
|F. Jarman||CE||Percy McNamara|
|Ed Fry||CE||Dave Brown|
|Leo Senior||WG||Horrie Miller|
|Arthur Conlin (c)||FE||Harold Kelley|
|Jack Levison||HB||Lou D'Alpuget|
|Tom Golden||PR||Percy White|
|Jack Coxon||HK||Herb Brackenreg|
|Dick Green||PR||Mick Frawley|
|A. McCallum||SR||Jersey Flegg (c)|
|J. Cochrane||SR||Ted Briscoe|
|Harry Butler||LK||Bob Mable|
"The final match to determine the premiership in the first grade of the Rugby League was played on the Agricultural Society's Ground on Saturday in perfect weather. The match was shorn of much interest on account of prominent members of both teams being absent, on their way to England. In accordance with the League rules, one-third of the profits of the match will be devoted to charity. The game, which was brilliant, and at times rather rough, resulted in a victory for South Sydney by 14 points to 12. The winners deserved their victory.
South Sydney lost the toss, and kicked off from the southern end, an easterly wind blowing across the ground, and the sun shining strongly against them. Play hummed from the beginning. South Sydney having the better of matters, the forwards putting in splendid work. Getting the ball from the scrum repeatedly, South Sydney's backs executed several brilliant bursts, but the tackling of their opponents was very safe. However, they broke through once, Conlin making a beautiful feinting run, and then passing to Senior, on the wing, the latter scoring a pretty try.
Immediately afterwards Herb Brackenrigg kicked a penalty goal for Eastern Suburbs. South Sydney now attacked strongly, and appeared likely to score, but Horrie Miller, intercepting a yard or so from his own line, raced the whole length of the ground and scored a beautiful try behind the posts. Brackenrigg converted, making the scores 7 points to 6 in favour of Eastern Suburbs.
On resuming South Sydney obtained the upper hand, forwards and backs playing brilliantly. They made repeated dashes, but could not break through for a long time. Once Storie got across, but was tackled. Then the three-quarters made fine dashes on either wing. From the last of these, which ended on the line, Golden scored a try, which Green failed to convert. Just before half time, Edward Fry marked at Eastern Suburb’s 25, and Conlin kicked a fine goal, South Sydney leading by 8 points to 7.
The second half proved exciting from start to finish, Eastern Suburbs at first attacked and South Sydney got out of the difficulty by forcing. South Sydney now became aggressive, the three-quarters combining very neatly. They repeatedly penetrated the defence, but could not put the finishing touch to the movements for some time. At length Levison obtained a scrum and passed to Conlin, on the wing. The latter dashed for the line, and scored. The kick at goal failed. South Sydney 11 points to 7.
Eastern Suburbs put in fine work. Dan Frawley and Brackenrigg dribbling almost to the line. Then McNamara dropped a field goal from centre, which reduced South Sydney's lead to 2 points. McNamara almost repeated the performance a few minutes later, South Sydney rallied, and Levison getting from a scrum at the 25 passed in to Butler, who scored. The kick at goal failed.
Play now became very rough, several players being knocked out temporarily, and the referee had to administer cautions. Near time, Eastern Suburbs came with a rush, and Miller scored a good try, which Brackenrigg failed to convert.
There was no further scoring, South Sydney winning by 14 points to 12."
South Sydney 14 (Tries: Leo Senior, Tom Golden, Arthur Conlin, Harry Butler. Goal: Arthur Conlin.)
Eastern Suburbs 12 (Tries: Horrie Miller 2. Goals: Herb Brackenreg 2. Field Goal: Percy McNamara.)
|1||Horrie Miller||Eastern Suburbs||15||1||0||47|
|2||Herb Brackenreg||Eastern Suburbs||2||17||0||40|
|3||Arthur Butler||South Sydney||6||11||0||40|
|6||Dick Green||South Sydney||6||8||0||34|
|7||Harry Glanville||North Sydney||2||14||0||34|
|1||Horrie Miller||Eastern Suburbs||15|
|3||Daniel Frawley||Eastern Suburbs||8|
|4||Dick Green||South Sydney||6|
|4||Harry Butler||South Sydney||6|
|4||Arthur Butler||South Sydney||6|
|4||Frank Storie||South Sydney||6|
|4||Tommy Anderson||South Sydney||6|
|4||Billy Cann||South Sydney||6|