22 June 2023

Time to reflect on teamwork on and off the field as Cooma Rugby Club turns 60

| Gail Eastaway
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Cooma Rugby Union Club will celebrate its 60th anniversary on 24 June. Photo: Gail Eastaway.

Cooma’s Rugby Union Football Club will celebrate its 60th anniversary this Saturday (24 June).

The Red Devils’ celebrations will include the annual Old Boys’ Day at Rotary Oval, followed by an anniversary dinner at the Cooma Multi-Function Centre that night.

There will be three junior games, plus the seniors’ match against the Jindabyne Bush Pigs, starting at 1 pm on Saturday.

The junior games will be played during the morning.

Sadly, there is no Golden Oldies match this year.

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The Red Devils have seen many highs and lows over the past 60 years.

The club enjoyed three consecutive first-grade premierships from 2000 after success in 1974, and won the 1975 Eibe Cup.

For the past three years, Cooma has played in the Monaro/South Coast division as it has proven difficult to field a first-grade and reserve-grade team each season.

Last year, the club sponsored two Fijian footballers to come to Cooma to work and play football and has continued that support this year.

It continues a club tradition of including players from other countries, which started with the Perry brothers from New Zealand.

The club had humble beginnings with a group of players without a dedicated home ground, playing with Easts in Canberra initially and later forming their own club.

In 1961/62, Jock and Patrick Litchfield, Peter Martin-Smith, Ian and Michael Litchfield and Jock Mitchell were playing for the Eastern Suburbs in the ACT Rugby competition.

At that time, the ACT was regarded as a NSW country region that participated in Country Week held in Sydney every year, playing against all other country regions. In 1961, Jock Litchfield was selected to captain the NSW Country rugby team to tour NZ.

The rugby officials could see that there was a wealth of rugby talent on the Monaro, so Jock was approached concerning the possibility of forming a rugby club to represent the district in the ACT competition. This proposed 10-team competition covered a good-sized area of southern NSW. A meeting was held in Cooma where it was decided to form a club to start playing in the 1963 season. Bruce McDonald, a Snowy employee, was elected president.

In 1963, the club re-formed as the Harlequins Rugby Association, later to be called the Cooma Rugby Club. In its first season, only a first-grade side entered the original three-grade Canberra competition.

The man to whom rugby owes its existence in Cooma in the early days is the original secretary, John Sharman. It is almost certain that the club would not have officially started without him. Other members who gave enormous support to the secretary included Jock, Patrick and Ian Litchfield, Peter Martin-Smith and Jock Mitchell.

Another long-serving player and administrator of the club during the 1960s and ’70s was Bill Priest, who, as player, coach, secretary and president, has done much for the Red Devils’ development. During the same period, members such as Bruce McDonald, Bob Dorman, Dave Lambert and the late Brian Kaufline were closely involved in the running of the club.

In 1969, the late Peter Payten was selected to play for Australia against Fiji in a Test match.

The mid-’60s to 1972 saw the club in a four-grade Canberra competition, Cooma fielding first and third grade, while Yass had second and fourth-grade teams.

In 1970, a big year for Cooma rugby, the first-grade side reached the semi-finals of the ACT competition for the first time in its history but ended up losing by two points to Norths.

This was played on the Cooma Showground and was the first time any finals were held outside the ACT. This was also the year that the juniors were formed.

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Michael Fitzgerald was selected to play for Australia in the 1975/76 Wallabies team touring England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

In 1975, Cooma had success when the reserves won the premiership, the prestigious Eibe Cup in Canberra, coached by Graeme Bell.

The ’70s and ’80s saw Cooma’s men’s and ladies’ boat race teams undefeated. Cooma may not have won on the field but was unbeatable back in the pub.

These memories and more will be relived on Saturday. The club has seen a few stalwarts pass away in the past few years but no doubt the repartee will live on for the game they play in heaven.

For more information about the celebrations, visit https://www.trybookimg.com/CHSOH or email [email protected].

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