In the early 1920s rugby league put down strong roots in the towns of the North Coast, now known as the Sunshine Coast. Rugby league had become popular in the working class farming districts. These areas are still the heartland of the modern game of rugby league in Queensland providing some champion players.
In Queensland between 1914 and 1918, some major rugby union clubs switched to rugby league. A meeting was held on March 8, 1920 at the Club Hotel in Nambour. At this meeting, which was organized by North Coast Rugby Union, it was decided that they would adopt a new game for the next season.
That game was Rugby League and all 10 clubs in the district decided to change over. An official was nominated to assist with the changes required under the different rules of the new code.
Local teams included Woombye, Buderim, Nambour, Cooran, Eumundi, Palmwoods, Yandina, Cooroy, Pomona and Mooloolah. Nambour was the winning team during 1921 when they won the Charity Cup and the McKenna Cup.
The Schools Rugby League Association based in Brisbane formed the first Queensland school boys’ team.
On June 3, 1921 Brisbane travelled with a combined team to Nambour where they played a trial match against Nambour Rural School boys at the Nambour showground.
Two of Nambour’s Rural School boys, Don McCowan and Hector Scott, were selected to play for Queensland and travelled by train to Sydney in August, 1921.
Don McCowan loved the game and trained by running up and down the hill to his family’s farm as well as running along railway sleepers to stretch his stride. Hector was the son of the Secretary of the Nambour Sugar Mill.
A sendoff was held in Williams’ Café in Nambour on August 1, 1921 where each boy was presented with a travel rug and suitcase. A subscription list was arranged for the boys with the town wishing them both success with pocket money. Football boots were provided as Don McCowan had none previously and had relied on borrowing ill-fitting boots for games due to hardship.
Throughout World War Two the North Coast Rugby League clubs struggled. During the war years many men had enlisted and gone to war far from Australian shores.
The lack of players made competitive team sport impossible. Petrol rationing was another problem as travelling to play opposition teams without petrol became difficult. North Coast Rugby League was like many sports of the time that relied on local people to fill the teams. The men had gone from the district and the teams could not be formed.
After the war years Nambour won the premiership in 1946, 1947 and 1948. A report of May 1946 in the Nambour Chronicle describes Nambour beating Buderim 33 to 10.
In 1947 Buderim had an A grade team with prominent players being the Eggmolesse brothers and C ‘Coddo’ Chilly. Buderim later combined with the Maroochydore club to field teams.
During the 1950s league changed from town names and three new clubs were formed including the All Whites (Nambour) Souths (Woombye) and Rangers (Mapleton and Montville district).
The All Whites club in Nambour were the team to watch during the 1960s when they won seven of the nine premierships contested. Their dominance faltered in 1965 when Souths won and Kenilworth took the honours in 1967.
There was further growth in the local game when Kilcoy, Caboolture, Caloundra, Maroochydore and Palmwoods clubs were also admitted to the competition. The organisation changed its name during 1969 from North Coast Rugby League to Sunshine Coast Rugby League.
The 1970s saw new clubs such as Noosa Pirates becoming a force by winning their inaugural premiership in 1977.
There was change in the 1970s but Nambour was still a force to be reckoned with, as All Whites won in 1972, 1973 and 1976. Woombye’s champion team Souths won in 1971, 1974 and 1975.
The Nambour Rugby League club known as the Crushers was formed in 1985 with the amalgamation of two Nambour-based league sides, the Souths Magpies and the All Whites.
The love of the game continues on the Sunshine Coast and each weekend children play for clubs such as Caloundra Sharks, Kilcoy Yowies, Coolum Colts and Beerwah Bulldogs. Their devoted league followers watch and cheer them on. The sport is played at many of the schools on the Coast. The adult teams line up on weekends too, one of which is the mighty Sunshine Coast Falcons. From those very early days the sport of rugby league continues to grow and Sunshine Coast towns still compete against each other.
Thanks to Sunshine Coast Council’s Heritage Library Officers for the words and Picture Sunshine Coast for the images.