League versus rugby

Sideline Sid
Sports correspondent & historian

A SunLive rugby league story over the weekend grabbed Sideline Sid's attention, whereby the Coastline District Rugby League is making a tough decision to merge three of its local clubs in order to keep the game alive in Tauranga.

The CDRL Chairman said they had struggled to keep their feet on the ground during the last two years.

"It's not just the Covid factor to blame for the dwindling numbers of senior players, but a longer history of rugby league being side-lined by rugby union."

Some earlier research by this writer revealed that the league verses union rivalry in the region dates back a century.

A Bay of Plenty Times piece, titled Public Opinion on April 11, 1922, stated: (To the Editor) “Sir - I notice with much regret that it is proposed to start Rugby League Football in Tauranga. The promoters give us no reason why they wish to cease playing rugby and the public generally view the matter in a different manner. I have not the slightest doubt that League football as well as Rugby will be played in Tauranga this season, and if this happens, football is going to have severe setback. _ _ _ Tauranga is too small to run League and Rugby together. It started with a 'blare of trumpets' in Rotorua and went great guns for one season. How much League was played in Rotorua last season - absolutely none. (Abridged) I am etc, etc, RJ Phelan”.

The other side of the fence reply was printed in the paper on April 13, 1922: “Sir - Permit me to occupy a little of your valuable space replying to Mr Phelan's letter in your issued dated April 11, 1922. Our correspondent first asks why league was started in Tauranga. The answer is the same as to why the league game was first commenced - that is dissatisfaction with rugby management. I would like to ask Mr Phelan why he resigned from the selection committee last season. Also to remind him, as he will well remember, that the Springboks v Bay game (last year) was nearly a fiasco but for his timely arrival. These points are few of the many to illustrate why League is growing stronger throughout Australia and New Zealand. (Abridged) Thanking you for the valued space, I am, etc, GL Iles, Tauranga”.

Rugby hit back with Bay of Plenty Times paid advertisement headed by the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union: “Statements have been circulating recently, particularly in connection with the proposed Australian tour, that any Rugby player playing the League game will be reinstated on his return. All players are hereby warned that anyone playing the League game after May 1st will not be reinstated as a Rugby player’. J A Buddy, Secretary, Bay of Plenty Rugby Union”.

The More Things Change – The More They Stay the Same.


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