17 February 2023

League legends in Harden to acknowledge the Group 9 centenary

| Glenn Pallister
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NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler and Blues veteran Nathan Hindmarsh. Photo: Glenn Pallister.

Earlier this week rugby league royalty gathered in Harden to acknowledge the upcoming 100-year anniversary of Group 9.

NSW Blues and NSW Sky Blues coaches Brad Fittler and Kylie Hilder were there along with former Blues players Nathan Hindmarsh and Steve Menzies, and 70’s powerhouse winger and former NRL salary cap auditor Ian Schubert.

The veterans put around 150 kids through a coaching clinic before joining some of the group’s northern pocket family for a dinner and open chat at the Harden Country Club, with three of the foundation clubs, Harden Murumburah, Binalong and Cootamundra, all having a presence on the night.

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Group 9 Rugby League was formed at the Grand Hotel, Harden, on 26 April 1923 following a four-hour meeting which finished at 12:20 am.

Competition in the early years of Group 9 consisted of various challenge-type matches, and it was not until 1933 that regular inter-club competition commenced.

Speaking on the night, Fittler complimented the kids involved in the afternoon clinic on their enthusiasm and manners, and congratulated Harden and the entire Group 9 on wonderful leadership and qualities shown over the 100 years of competition.

“The kids were so into it, smiling, having fun and really having a go … that’s all you can ask for,” said the Blues coach.

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The events tied into the annual Hogs for Homeless ride that Fittler, Hindmarsh and Schubert started 11 years ago.

Countless trips later, their focus remains firmly on regional NSW areas, spreading the Blues’ gospel and encouraging the next generation of young players.

Kylie Hilder’s presence acknowledged the rapid development of the women’s game and she put the call out to all young girls in the Riverina.

“What better time for young girls to get out and give footy a go,” she said.

“We may just discover the next Blues superstar right here.”

man presenting plaque

NSWRL chief executive Dave Trodden presents Hilltops councillor Patrick Fitzgerald with a commemorative plaque. Photo: Glenn Pallister.

NSWRL chief executive Dave Trodden was also on hand with local NSWRL official Dave Skinner and Group 9 chairman Andrew Hinchcliffe to present Hilltops councillor Patrick Fitzgerald with a plaque acknowledging Group 9’s centenary that will be placed at Harden’s McLean Oval.

“It was a great night, and terrific to connect back with those foundation clubs that played such a significant role in the formation of Group 9,” Hinchcliffe said.

“Whilst Binalong, Harden, Murumburrah and Cootamundra are no longer in the Group 9 competition, it’s great to see footy alive and well in those communities.”

The evening also provided an opportunity to launch the feature centenary event scheduled for 28 April in Wagga.

It promises to be a festival of footy across the weekend, with the NRL showcase game with the Raiders taking on newcomers, the Dolphins, in Wagga the following day.

Hinchcliffe also pointed to a great initiative for those communities that played within the group.

“Where attendance numbers support it, buses will be provided within the ticket price thanks to the NSWRL,” he said.

“We will have a treasure trove of memorabilia that will hopefully spark lots of memories, conversations and stories, maybe even inspiring future generations of football players in the region.”

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