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Origins of Rugby League in Manly Warringah

It was 17 June 1946. The Final of the Presidents Cup (the major junior district representative trophy) was being played out before a crowd of 64,527 at the Sydney Cricket Ground as the curtain raiser to the First Test against the British Lions. In the final were North Sydney a foundation club of the NSW Rugby League and a team of wannabees without senior status representing the Manly and Warringah Junior Rugby Football League.

At stake was not just a football match, not just a trophy, but the very inclusion of Manly Warringah in the big league. A win in the President's Cup was crucial to Manly's bid to secure the long sought after "district status" and inclusion in the senior grades of the NSWRL.

As full time approached, Manly led their more illustrious rivals 12 points to 8, but Norths were hot on attack. A Norths attacker broke clear with a team mate in support with only Manly fullback Ron Beaumont near his own try line to beat. Beaumont recalls:

"I had to take the man with the ball, swallow no dummies, and hope that something would happen to stop Norths from scoring. Fortunately the Norths player held on to the ball too long and I crashed him to the ground to save the try, which would have won Norths the game." [Smith 1991, page 21.]

To this day that tackle was the most important ever made for Manly. The Manly team was triumphant and raised the President's Cup - a victory that is regarded as the single most important factor in Manly being granted district status.

1946 President's Cup winning side. Ron Beaumont is second from left in the front row. Roy Bull is fourth from the left in the third row. [source: Smith 1991, page 19.]

But, the crowd that day was not the biggest crowd a Manly President's Cup team had played before. That honour goes to the very first game played by a Manly President's Cup team in 1932.

While Rugby Union had been played in the Manly district since the 1870s, competitive Rugby League did not commence in the Manly Warringah District until the dark days of the Great Depression in 1932. The Manly and Warringah Junior Rugby Football League was founded at a meeting in Harry Bones Barber Shop in Pittwater Road on 11 February 1932. Bones was elected President, Stan De Meur Secretary, Tom Ryan Treasurer and Jack Munro Assistant Secretary. The original A Grade clubs were Brookvale, Manly Juniors, Harbord, Narrabeen, North Curl Curl and DeeWhy. North Curl Curl were first to win the A Grade title beating Brookvale in the 1932 final.

Harry Bones (right) outside his barber shop. [Photo provided by Harry Bones' grandson Neil Boness.]

The formation of the Junior League gave Manly the right to field a team in the President's Cup. Manly's first President's Cup match in 1932 was against North Sydney in a curtain raiser to the First Test against the British Lions at the Sydney Cricket Ground before a Test record crowd of 70,204. Manly, a man down through injury, held their North side rivals to 6-8 at half time but succumbed in the second half to lose 32-6.

The 1934 Presidents Cup Team - Harry Bones is in the bowler hat 3rd from right back row.
[Photo provided by Harry Bones' grandson Neil Boness.]

In 1937 and 1944 Manly unsuccessfully applied to the NSW Rugby Football League for permission to enter teams in the District grade competitions. But after the end of the Second World War pressure was mounting for the inclusion of Manly and Parramatta in the senior district competitions. It became evident by 1946 that a win in the President's Cup would be the catalyst to gain entry to the big league. A semi-final win over Eastern Suburbs in 1946 saw Manly through to the Final against Norths and the Ron Beaumont tackle that gave Manly the President's Cup and an unrefutable case for District status.

Freshwater C Grade 1946, including Ken Arthurson (back row 4th from left), Neville Pierce (middle row second from left),and Roy Bull (centre). [Source: Smith 1991, page 21.]

With the support of North Sydney and Western Suburbs, the motion before the NSWRL on 4 November 1946 to admit Manly and Parramatta as district clubs in the 1947 competition was carried unaminously. A public meeting was held at the Luana Hall, Dee Why (site of the present RSL Club) on 20 November 1946 for the purpose of forming the Manly-Warringah District Rugby League Football Club [contemporary newspaper article]. The maroon and white colours and the sea eagle emblem were adopted and Brookvale Oval secured as Manly's home ground. Former South Sydney halfback Harold Johnson was appointed first grade coach and the scene was set for Manly's first ever District grade matches against Western Suburbs at Brookvale Oval on 12 April 1947. [See story on 1947 Season.]

The first point scorer for the new district club in Third Grade on that historic day was none other than fullback Ron Beaumont who had played such an important role in the crucial President's Cup win the previous season. Beaumont went on to play 10 first grade games in that inaugral year and was voted most improved player in the end of season awards.

Manly's first ever 3rd grade side Brookvale Oval 12 April 1947, including future 1st graders Jack Hubbard (back row 3rd from left), Ron Beaumont (middle row far left), Brian Horne (middle row 2nd left), Jim Campbell (middle row 2nd from right), Alf Barrett (front row centre) and Len Johnson (front row right). [Source: Smith 1991, page 26.]

Main source: Smith 1991.