18 September 2023

Riverina Rewind: Group 9 decider continues a great tradition of Blues and Roos clashes

| Michael Murphy
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two rugby league players with trophy

Zac Masters and Nathan Rose with the Group 9 trophy. Photo: Supplied.

The Group 9 Rugby League grand final between the Tumut Blues and Wagga Kangaroos at McDonalds Park last Sunday was another example of the great clashes the two famous clubs have fought out.

The Blues were victorious on this occasion, coming from behind in a courageous display to win 25-18, with strong performances from players such as Michael Fenn, Jacob Sturt and Lachlan Bristow.

While the Kangaroos may rue lost opportunities when reflecting on the game, they took the right attitude into the match, starting at a fast tempo, which caught Tumut on the back foot.

Overall, they will be proud of their effort.

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The Group 9 decider was an entertaining affair. Played in the vein of past champions, the grand final itself represents more than what has transpired in 2023.

The two teams have had some fantastic battles in premiership deciders, meeting four times throughout the 1970s, while also engaging in some epic regular-season matches.

Sunday’s triumph saw Tumut move closer to the Kangaroos’ record of 12 premiership wins, with the Blues now able to place a 10th grand final trophy in their cabinet.

A debate on Group 9 and Murrumbidgee Rugby League titles may need to wait for another time.

A look at the history between the two clubs tells us that rugby league followers should have expected nothing less than a close and enthralling contest on Sunday.

Former Group 9 player, journalist and rugby league commentator Peter McAlister described the epic Blues versus Roos contests of the ’70s and ’80s as “absolutely ferocious battles”.

“They really were the glamour teams of Group 9, with class players, but they were tough games,” he said.

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In 1970, Tumut were 7-4 winners over the Kangaroos in a Riverina Zone 3 nail-biter at Cootamundra. The Kangaroos licked their wounds and returned the following year to score an emphatic 26-8 Group 9 premiership victory against the Blues in Wagga.

The names of Sturt, Jeffrey and Cronin from that 1971 game would be familiar to contemporary followers of the two famous clubs, while the captain-coaches from that era, John Hobby (Tumut) and Graham Kennedy (Kangaroos), would become Group 9 legends.

Tumut felt the bitter taste of defeat once again in 1972, this time at the hands of Turvey Park, but they would return bigger and better in 1973, capping the season with a resounding 24-4 win against the Roos in the premiership decider.

This decade was a golden era for both clubs, but it would be the Roos who would continue their rise, closing out the ’70s with back-to-back premierships.

Wins against Tumut in 1978 and Harden-Murrumburrah in 1979 laid the foundations for dual premierships in the ’80s.

old rugby league team shot

The victorious Wagga Kangaroos in 1978. Photo: Supplied.

Wins by the Wagga Kangaroos in 1985 over cross-town rivals Wagga Magpies, and another title in 1987 when defeating Temora, heralded a new era, with Steve MacDonald becoming Roos royalty in the years to come.

Chas Mascini would win a John Hill Medal for best-on-ground in the 1994 decider against Gundagai before the Wagga side made Group 9 history with a grand final treble in seasons 1999-2001.

Mascini would take charge as coach for the 2001 victory, with such notable Roos players as Paul Heffernan and Baden Power at his disposal.

rugby league team

The Kangaroos’ 2001 premiership-winning side. Photo: Supplied.

The glory days of the Tumut Blues would return in 2003 when Brett Goldspink led his side to a 31-10 victory against the Tigers at Wagga.

This win would trigger premierships in 2007 and 2008 for Tumut, while two members of the victorious 2023 Blues side, Adam Pearce and Dean Bristow, would win their first top-grade grand final when the Clay Campbell-led side won the 2010 decider.

After a tough year in 2008, the Kangaroos would make a stunning form reversal in 2009 with a resounding 42-4 grand final win against Gundagai under captain-coach Grant Wooden.

After last Sunday, it remains the Wagga Kangaroos’ last premiership win.

In 2019, Lachlan Bristow would carry the famous Tumut rugby league name to another premiership title with a three-try performance and a John Hill Medal nod.

As was the case in 2019, Bristow had the privilege of playing alongside his brother Dean in Sunday’s decider, with Zac Masters, Adam Pearce, Jordan Anderson and Brayden Draber being other players who backed up for another Group 9 title win.

Two other famous Group 9 clubs, Temora and Young, both have nine premiership titles.

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