Gundagai’s Mark Elphick is the perfect example of what makes a bush footy club tick.
As a player, he has excelled on the field, winning multiple Group 9 premierships, but it is his additional work as a coach and clubman that has earned him the admiration and respect of the local Gundagai community and footballers from all over the Riverina.
The on-field success of a country sporting club stems from the hard work that is put in behind the scenes: gameday set-up, canteen duty, fundraising, as well as managing and coaching, all play their part in the quest to lift a trophy.
Having played rugby league for his beloved Tigers since he was four years old, the popular local has done all of these things, with his inspiration coming from those who have volunteered their time in the past.
Elphick described the importance of sporting clubs to a rural community as: “Everything! Without sport you lose that social get-together, especially in smaller towns.”
The successful player and coach, and winner of four Hawthorne Shields for best and fairest in all Tigers grades, spoke to Region about the pride of putting back into an organisation that has given him so much.
“I have lived and breathed it (rugby league) from a very young age, and probably feel a little bit driven to keep the Tigers and their culture going,” Elphick said.
Like any sporting club with a distinguished history, the list of men and women who have contributed to its success is long, but Elphick looked back on some of those people who have had a big impact on his career.
“Macca [Peter McDonald] has always been an inspiration to me, on and off the field,” Elphick said.
“I have received a lot of help from Paul Eccleston and Paul Crane, but I also have a lot of respect for what the Roses have done. Matt and Chris gave the club unbelievable service, as well as Steve in admin.”
Peter McDonald is ranked among the best players to have ever donned the black and gold. He has led the Tigers in good times and bad, and had nothing but praise for Elphick.
“Mark has been a very strong player, great leader and clubman for many years,” McDonald said.
“All clubs have people with some of these characteristics, but to have all of these characteristics for such a long time and so consistently, is rare, and that is what makes Mark Elphick so special to the Tigers and bush footy.”
The tough hooker/front-rower, who started as a five-eighth, goes into every campaign with the determination to add to his impressive list of grand final wins, but the 2024 season poses as a big year for reasons on and off the field.
Elphick is just one game away from reaching the significant milestone of 200 first-grade games for the Tigers, while his recent engagement to his partner, Jade, has added a whole new dimension to his life in the small rural town of Gundagai, and the expectations for the coming season.
“I’ve had some proud moments to look back on,” Elphick said.
“On the field, it would have to be the 2015 Group 9 grand final; it was such a relief. That game was closely followed by winning in 2019 as captain-coach of reserve grade. Off the field, it is where I’ve ended up in life in general, with a new house and engaged to Jade.
“As far as the new season goes, it’s probably a little unknown at this point, and it’s a question I get asked a lot. Until you have played a few teams and seen some results it’s hard to gauge.”
Elphick lifted the Group 9 first-grade trophy in 2015 and 2018 and was part of the squad that triumphed in 2020 and 2022. He won a reserve grade title in 2016 in his first game back from injury and then followed up with reserve grade trophies in 2019 and 2020. The highly sought-after Hawthorne Shields were won in 2007, 2018, 2022 and 2023.
With so many accolades as a rugby league player, Elphick described what it means for him to be a Gundagai Tiger.
“My old man (Dennis) still talks about when I near won the best and fairest in the Sullivan Cup at Temora one night. They interviewed us all, and the others talked about how they wanted to play in the NRL … all I said was, ‘To play first grade for the Tigers’. So, I guess that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”