Saturday, October 4, 2014

Rugby League Trophies

As you watch the captain of the winning Rugby League team hoist aloft the revered winner’s trophy at the end of Sunday’s grand final, take a closer look at the trophy in the light of the comments below . . .

From its beginnings:

The Royal Agricultural Society Challenge Shield was the first premiership shield of the New South Wales Rugby League, beginning from the inception of Rugby League in NSW in 1908. A black mahogany shield embossed with silver, it was won by South Sydney, Newtown and Eastern Suburbs. It was presented to star Easts captain Herbert 'Dally' Messenger in 1913, after his club won the trophy three years running.

The shield is now part of the National Museum of Australia's National Historical Collection. Its association with the genesis of rugby league in Australia, and its connection to the game's first great star, make it one of the most important rugby league treasures held in a public collection in Australia.

J J Giltinan Shield:

From 1951, following the death of Rugby League bigshot J J Giltinan in 1950, the winners of the year’s Rugby League Grand Final were awarded the J J Giltinan Shield.

Since 1997 it has been awarded to the season’s minor premiers, the points leader at the end of the rounds.

The 1963 Rugby League Grand Final:

The 1963 Grand Final between St George and Western Suburbs featured players that I was privileged to see play, back in the days when I used to attend matches every weekend . . . Johnny Raper, Reg Gasnier, Johnny King, Graeme Langlands, Eddie Lumsden, Norm Provan, Ian Walsh, Kevin Ryan, Peter Dimond, Noel Kelly, Arthur Summons, Jack Gibson . . . today just names and memories from the past. My attendance at RL games did not happen until some years later, so I didn’t see the 1963 grand final.

It was played in torrential rain and a sea of mud that so coated the players that their faces, guernseys and colours were unrecognisable.

St George won the match 8-3, their 8th consecutive grand final win, but it is a photo by John O’Gready that has kept the match in the public imagination a photo which became known as “The Gladiators”. According to Wikipedia “since it was first published (it) has been appreciated by rugby league fans as capturing an essence of the game wherein a little man can fairly compete against the bigger man, and where sporting respect and camaraderie follow epic struggle.”

From 1982 to 1995 the grand final Rugby League winners were awarded the Winfeld Cup, which was a trophy, not a cup.

(Between 1982 and 1994 the competition and governing authority was the New South Wales Rugby League, NSWRL; in 1995 it was renamed the Australian Rugby League, ARL. It is now the NRL.)

The Winfield Cup was a three dimensional bronze sculpture of The Gladiators photograph, the image being symbolic of the camaraderie and 'mateship' in rugby league.

Unfortunately for Winfield, a popular cigarette brand, the Australian Federal Government’s introduction of the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992 outlawed tobacco advertising in sports in Australia. Accordingly Winfield was out and so was the name of the trophy.

This was also the time of Super League.

In the mid-1990s a mammoth battle was fought over pay television rights to rugby league. The Australian Rugby League, backed by media giant Kerry Packer, owned the rights until 2000. In order to bypass this, Rupert Murdoch's rival media organisation, News Limited, signed individual coaches and players to compete in a rebel competition – the Super League.

The Australian Rugby League took Super League to the Federal Court and prevented the rebel league from kicking off in 1996. A later decision, however, allowed Super League to start in 1997.

A dismayed Australian Rugby League chairman Ken Arthurson said he was 'furious, hurt and bewildered'. That season, 22 teams competed in two separate competitions. Teams aligned with the Australian Rugby League competed for the Optus Cup, while the Super League aligned teams competed for the Super League Cup. 

The Super League Cup

Optus Cup

The Optus Cup was a redesign of the Winfield Cup but, whereas the Winfield Cup-but-not-a-cup had Provan and Summons realistically embracing on a piece of earth, the Optus Cup-not-a-cup had them suspended in the air, somewhat like Jesus descending from the clouds but, in this case, from a giant football behind them.

The Optus Cup-not-a-cup lasted 2 seasons.

With two separate competitions competing for sponsorship and crowds, many clubs faced financial ruin. Peace talks in late 1997 resulted in the formation of a single competition, the National Rugby League, jointly owned by the Australian Rugby League and News Limited. 

From 1998, after the ARL and Super League kissed, made up and joined forces, a new trophy was in order, the Telstra Premiership Grand Final Trophy . . .

Those who detect a resemblance to the angelic, floating Provan and Summons in the Optus Cup and before that to the Winfield Cup will not be remiss. It is a redesign of what has gone before.

In 2013, the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Grand Final, the trophy was officially renamed the Provan-Summons Trophy. The news was revealed when Provan and Summons visited the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2013 prior to that year’s grand final, neither knowing that such a decision had been made or that there was to be an official announcement by the NRL and Telstra of the proposed renaming.

Mr Provan and Mr Summons were surprised with the news as they went to mark the very spot where they had stood 50 years ago, not knowing of the tribute the NRL and naming rights partner Telstra had in store.

According to Provan:

“If I drop dead tomorrow I will always be happy with the life Rugby League has given me. I’ve played a lot of football and I'm sure there are a lot of other worthy recipients. I am immensely pleased with it and it will sink in later how much it means.”

Summons added: “I don't think you can put it in to words the emotions that you feel. It is probably the greatest honour old footballers can get to have the Premiership trophy named after you. I am extremely honoured and I’m sure Norm is as well. A lot of thanks should be going to the photographer. Unfortunately the great John O'Gready is not with us to share this moment with us. Without him we would have been forgotten 50 years ago.”

Telstra managing director Rick Ellis added “Norm Provan and Arthur Summons showed fans and players alike that there was something more enduring than the score-line and today their legacy reminds us that the business of sport is about great people and great champions.” 

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