Northern Suburbs Rugby Football Club Limited, is a rugby union club in Sydney, Australia, that was formed in 1900 from the merger of the Pirates and Wallaroos clubs. The club competes in the Shute Shield competition run by the New South Wales Rugby Union. The club has produced 42 Wallaby representatives. The club's home ground is the historic North Sydney Oval on the North Shore of Sydney. The ground has been a venue for both codes of rugby and for cricket over more than a century.
The Club has won seven 1st XV Premiership Flags in First Division (1933, 1935, 1960, 1963, 1964, 1975, 2016).
PRE WORLD WAR I
Rugby on the lower North Shore is over 130 years old. Council minutes reveal that the North Shore Football Club played on a paddock adjoining Holterman's Tower, the present location of Shore School.
The club later transferred to St Leonard's Park and became known as the Pirates, a team which won the First Grade Premiership in 1898 and the R.A.S. Trophy in 1897/8/9, defeating the neighbouring Wallaroos 10-nil in the third final.
The Pirates and Wallaroos combined in 1900 to form North Sydney. It was the first district club to affiliate with the metropolitan Rugby Union in the initial eight-club district competition. The date was 5 April, ahead of Wests on 11 April and Easts on 12 April. Jim Henderson, commemorated in the present premiership trophies for third and fourth grades, was North's first secretary, and the club's first cap was winger Charlie White, who played in the first-ever test-match in 1899 against the British Isles and then in the first Australia v New Zealand test in 1903.
The club did not win any premierships prior to the 1914–18 war, but before competitions were suspended, its name was changed to Northern Suburbs. However, for reasons today unknown, the new name was not implemented until the 1928 season. Under the guidance of one-eyed (lost in action in France) Fred Aarons, Norths played a leading role in the resurgence of rugby in Sydney during the 1920s. The reserve grade won the club's first premiership in 1925 and, in 1929, Norths won the initial Club Championship.
The year 1928 saw a young recruit arrive, one Gavin John Andrews, who is now enshrined as the club's greatest treasure, Bon Andrews, after whom North Sydney No. 2 Oval is named.
The first of North's two 'golden eras' occurred in the early 1930s. The club's initial first-grade premiership was in 1933, beating Manly 8-6, and again beating Manly in 1935 by 22-5. A member of the 1933 team, Jim Young, recently attended the club's tribute to our World Cup representatives, and was presented with a photo of his old team.
The inaugural fourth-grade competition in 1932, back-to-back Club Championships in 1934 and 1935 and seven other minor grade premierships, highlighted the first half of the decade.
Australian caps in the 1930s were ‘Big’ Tom Perrin, Waratah Sid King, ex-Kiwi Bill Hemingway, dual international Wal Mackney (stroke of the rowing eight at the Berlin Olympic Games, half Mike Gibbons and Eric Hutchinson who, with brother Frank, was killed while serving in World War II.
POST WORLD WAR I
The Red and Blacks took some time to get back on top after the war, winning only the Third Grade Premiership in 1947, the Fourths a year later and nothing in the fifties. In 1947 Roger Cornforth played the first of his two Tests against the All Blacks. Controversially omitted from the 1947–48 Wallabies to the British Isles, this then allowed him to represent Australia at the 1948 Olympics in London at water polo. He also played against the 1950 British Lions.
Peter Rothwell, Jim Cross and John Carroll added their names to North's honour roll in the 1950s and by 1960 John Thornett and Rod Phelps had joined Norths to improve its fortunes when once again defeating Manly, 21-3, Norths won its third First Grade Premiership and fourth Club Championship and its second Golden Era was ushered in.
Three years later, the Red and Blacks beat Sydney University back-to-back for the 1963 and ‘64 First Grade Premierships, together with the Club Championship for those years.
In 1964 Norths won three out of the four grade premierships, a rare feat until Randwick's run in the 1980s. In all, eight premierships were won in the 1960s and three Club Championships. From the Thornett and Phelps days, Roy Prosser (for several years Australia's most capped prop), Les Austin, Andy Town, John ‘Sparrow’ Dowse, Hugh Rose, Reg Smith, Garrick Fay, Peter Carson and Andy Stewart kept Norths alive in the test arena. Others, including Peter Johnston, Keith Henry, playwright and actor Warwick Moss, Peter Medway, Dennis Turnbull, Graeme Ewens, five-eight Jim Allen, Wallaby David Codey who played his Colts Rugby at Norths and ex- Rugby Club president, Russ Tulloch, played for the State. Russ also toured to Great Britain with the Wallabies. There was also the Westralian-Kiwi Bob Thompson.
The club won eight premierships during the 1970s including First Grade in 1975. Norths also toured Singapore and Malaysia in 1970 (7 games), England and Wales in 1973 (7 games), USA West Coast in 1976 (6 games) and England, the Netherlands, Belgium and France in 1977 (8 games). By 1981 when, unhappily relegated to Second Division, Norths stood fourth on the list of premierships won in all senior grades in the First Division.
There was no doubt that Norths were unlucky to be relegated in 1981. Even though the club went down, it still won the Fourth Grade Premiership. The criterion then was based on the First Grade team and Norths had a disastrous year, scoring only four wins and a draw.
Norths were relegated with Hornsby, despite being just one point behind Sydney University and, in the club championship, was actually ahead of Warringah, Sydney Uni, St George and Hornsby. Norths went on to win the Sydney Rugby Union (second Division) Club Championship in 1986, 1987 and 1988. Finally, after winning it again in 1989, Norths won promotion back into First Division. However, also during this period the Club undertook two overseas tours. In 1984 there were 6 games against teams in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The club returned to Europe at the end of the 1988, with fixtures in England, France, Belgium and Italy. Some described it as an arduous four-week tour.
In the eight years out of Sydney's top division through the 1980s, Norths won 12 premierships including three in first grade as well as four club championships.
In addition to those grade rugby successes, a tremendous effort was made to develop the Colts and 12 premierships were won in various grades, which formed a sound basis for the return to First Division.
In its first year back, 1990, Norths finished eighth out of 11. In 1991 North's fourth-grade players were semi-finalists and its second-grade Colts were premiers —a first-ever senior Colts win.
The season also saw North's first addition to its Australian honours list since 1979—Richard Tombs was selected in the victorious Wallaby World Cup squad. But he had to wait until 1992 to play his first two tests, against Scotland, at home.
The 1993 season saw seven teams reach the semis, with Reserve Grade and Colts Seconds and Thirds winning premierships. There was also an overseas tour to the USA, playing games in Los Angeles, New Orleans and New York.
1994 saw the merger of North's two clubs (licensed and rugby). The Alfred Street properties were disposed of. The club purchased and moved to Christie Street, St Leonards location. Third and Fourth Grade won premierships that year, as did the Second Grade Colts. Richard Tombs won the inaugural Sydney Morning Herald 'Rugby Player of the Year Award' in 1995, with Nick Harvey being the youngest winner of the AAMI Medal. Fifth Grade won a premiership, and the club toured France, Belgium, Germany and UK at the end of the season.
1996 saw the beginning of professional rugby. Sixth Grade won the Premiership which was the final year that grade was run in the premier competition.
In 1997 the Club lost its Patron and Honorary Life Member, George Marshall. The same year, members voted to change the Club's accounting year to close on 30 June annually.
1997 also saw the arrival of Dennis Brown of New Zealand as head coach attracting such players as the 'bushwackers' dean et al. Plus a contingent of northern hemisphere players such as Fintan 'clinton napkin' Godkin, Linus 'why was I invited to the 1st grade trail' Mortlock the party even included Welsh legends Barry John and Carwyn James. Due to the high standard of these players and the reputation of Norths hospitality more followed in Scotsman David McComisky and Andrew 'Action' Jackson. The boys all left with fond memories of Norths and the 5th grade kit was a little lighter that year after they left! But was easily replaced due to the extraordinary bar profits established that year. The 1998 season proved to be the best since 1975 with a string of notable statistics. These included all five grade teams in the Grand Final, winning Second and Fifth Grade premierships. Norths won The Herald Club of the Year Award, and Michael Sykes the Club Player of the Year.
Keith Gleeson won the Ken Catchpole Medal (Best & Fairest) in 1999, and at season's end a Club team toured Spain and Portugal. The 90's saw quite a number of players achieving representative honours. Jim Allen, Dominic Vaughan, Mick Kearins, Rod (Rambo) Clark, Sam Domoni, Richard Tombs, Mark Bell, Nick Harvey, Darren Junee, Keith Gleeson and Graeme Bond all played for the N.S.W Waratahs with Bond also playing at the ACT Brumbies in 1999 with Troy Jacques and former 1991 N.S.W Waratah Craig Wells. The representative careers of Ben Darwin and Al Baxter also began to emerge.
The year 2000 saw Northern Suburbs celebrate 100 years with the Norths Centenary Dinner, a black-tie affair at the Wentworth Hotel with over 300 people in attendance.
The 2001 rugby highlight was obviously the success of the first-grade team securing the minor premiership for the first time since 1960. The season also saw the Wallaby debuts of Ben Darwin and Graeme Bond, with Al Baxter and Francis Cullimore gaining Super 12 contracts.
During the year the Bon Andrews Bequest was established with the $25,000 he left to the club. This money is used to provide educational assistance to talented young players. During the year Vince Arena created a little more history for the club by playing his 300th match for Norths, and on retirement is second only to Bon Andrews in club games.
Fifth Grade won the John Thornett Cup in 2002, and First Grade Colts made it to the grand final for the first time since 1977. Milton Thaiday and Lachlan McKay were offered Super 12 contracts, and First Grade finished second in the Shute Shield, and sixth in the inaugural Tooheys New Cup.
In 2003 the season kicked off for some with a tour to Japan. First Grade finished fourth in the Tooheys New Cup, and captain Mark Challender achieved the SMH's ˜Club Player of the Year' award. Kevin Horan was voted ˜Club Coach of the Year'. All four Colts teams qualified for the semis, with First and Fourths losing narrowly in both grand finals. In the Rugby World Cup, Ben Darwin and Al Baxter played for the Wallabies (Al having made his debut earlier in the season against the All Blacks), and Tonga Lea'aetoa and Sai Latu represented Tonga. And Keith Gleeson played for Ireland.
Early 2005 saw Northern Suburbs' club house undergo extensive renovations to reopen in June as Cabana Bar and Lounge. Cabana Bar has since cemented itself as a central venue to Sydney's north shore night life and a strong financial building block for the club.
2008 was a year of mixed emotions for the club. The colts teams had a disappointing year with some upheaval in the coaching staff and a reduction in player numbers compared to the year before. In hand with the reduction in young blood entering the club, Northern Suburbs were sad to see the passing away of one of their greatest treasures from the 1960s and 70s in Vale Roy Prosser. Roy still holds the club record for the highest number of First Grade games at 220. The Grand Final for 2008 saw Second Grade come from fifth on the table to claim the Premiership after being Runners Up the year before. The Second Grade Coaches Tony Horan and Grahame O'Donnell received a further reward in being promoted to coaching First Grade for the 2009 season.
2010 saw Norths, Waratahs and Wallabies front rower Al Baxter become the most capped New South Wales front rower when he received his 100th cap in the Super 14. An end of season tour to the United States of America was a success, playing New York Athletic Club, Gentleman of Aspen Rugby Club and Las Vegas Blackjacks.
In 2012 Norths 4th grade team secured the Henderson Cup in beating Manly at Concord Oval 21-0. All grade teams featured in the finals.
2014 saw the sale of Norths licensed premises, Cabana Bar & Lounge and relocate itself to its new clubhouse at The Union Hotel, North Sydney and also the departure of Scott Fava as Head Coach.
In 2016 Norths had one of its best years in history. Six out of seven teams contest semi-finals, 4th grade were Minor Premiers, 1st Colts grand finalist and the 1st grade side overcame Sydney University to become Shute Shield Premiers breaking a 41 year drought. The team achieved this feat with 13 straight wins and played out in from of 12,500 spectators at North Sydney Oval, the first time the Grand Final had been held at the venue.
Click here to find out more about the history of the Shute Shield and Sydney Premier Rugby including promotion and relegations, history of of premiership winners, Catchpole medalist and more.