In 2014 a comprehensive history of the Northern Riverina League was published in a 452 page book detailing most of the records previously held that had been misplaced or destroyed over the years with scores, ladders, details of finals as well as a small summary of each year’s play.
The spread of the game to this area is thought to have coincided with the settlement of farmland by land seeking Victorians and South Australians in the early 1890’s, along with the discovery of gold at West Wyalong in 1894.
It is believed the code was introduced to the area by the miners on the goldfields and probably played more as a form of social relaxation than a competition.
The code evidentially faded out but with renewed interest in the code, West Wyalong in 1913, formed a club consisting of two teams – the Rovers and the Globes who played each other in a competition.
The following year, in 1914, the districts of Blow Clear and Hiawatha (now Calleen) formed teams and along with a West Wyalong team played each other in a competition with Hiawatha the premiers.
During the World War 1 years, the West Wyalong club went into recess, however in 1915 Hiawatha and Blow Clear played each other socially.
During the latter part of the war, Ungarie who had formed a team around 1916 and Blow Clear played each other socially. At the war’s end West Wyalong, Blow Clear, Ungarie and Bolagamy (now Girral) formed an association in 1918.
Blow Clear won premierships in this competition in 1918, 1919 and 1920, defeating West Wyalong in 1918 and defeating Girral in 1919 and 1920. The premiers in 1921 are unknown however Girral-Blow Clear Rovers won the premiership in 1922 and Ungarie in 1923. Tullibigeal is believed to have formed a team in 1919 and later joined the above association.
As more farming country was settled in the northern and western areas of the district, the populations of the various centres grew to a point where several new football clubs emerged and two competitions in the district were contested in 1923 – the Lake Cargelligo & District Association and at the southern end of the district the Ungarie-Girral Association.
The Lake Cargelligo competition consisted of three teams, Lake Rovers, Burgooney and Tullibigeal. The Tullibigeal Club who had been part of the Ungarie-Girral Association decided, as they had enough players, to form two clubs. Considered the weaker competition the new team, the Tullibigeal Ramblers, joined the Lake competition and the original Tullibigeal club stayed with the Ungarie competition.
The Ungarie Association consisted of four teams, Girral, Ungarie, Blow Clear and Tullibigeal with Ungarie the 1923 premiers.
In April 1924, delegates from the Lake Association met to implement the formation of an association to be named the Northern Riverina Association, providing the teams from the Ungarie Association agreed with the submissions from the meeting.
It was moved that the competition be played in two divisions with the winners of each division to play off for the premiership. However, when Blow Clear and then West Wyalong couldn’t form teams to play in the Southern Division, the Northern Riverina Association was formed in May 1924 with five clubs, Lake Rovers, Ungarie, Girral, Tullibigeal and Burgooney the affiliated clubs. The executive of the association was president, Mr J Blair of Tullibigeal and Mr Arthur Stidwell of Ungarie, the secretary/treasurer.
Girral defeated Ungarie in the final to win the first premiership decided in the Northern Riverina Association. Girral was captained by Jim “Snowy” Redford who was considered by his peers to be the most outstanding player in the district in the post World War 1 years. Snowy stated that Jim Daniher Snr, who was Ungarie’s captain, was the best player he came up against in the Northern Riverina Association.
Blow Clear entered the Association in 1925 which boosted the number of clubs to six. Tullibigeal lost only one game for the season but Lake Rovers proved too strong in the finals and won the 1925 premiership defeating Tullibigeal.
Girral and Blow Clear combined in 1926 and proved to be too strong for the rest of the competition. Condobolin entered the association for only the one year before disbanding. An abrupt end to the semi finals occurred when Lake Rovers and Burgooney withdrew from the finals over an umpire dispute, which left Girral-Blow Clear to clash with Tullibigeal to win the premiership.
Following a split in the Tullibigeal club, the Four Corners club was formed in 1927 and immediately proved to be very competitive. “Skipper” Davis, who had led Lake to the 1925 premiership, captained Burgooney to their first Northern Riverina premiership in 1927, defeating Lake Rovers by seven points.
Four Corners in only their second season as a club won the 1928 premiership defeating Ungarie by 28 points. The 1929 season was played in two divisions as the association had expanded to eight clubs with Calleen, who had joined the competition the previous season and Weja entering the association. Four Corners and Girral, who were the two leading teams in their divisions, played off for the premiership with Four Corners coming out on top.
Lake Rovers withdrew in 1930 and the remaining seven teams reverted back to the one division. Led by Jack Mortenson, Four Corners won their third successive premiership in 1930 defeating minor premiers Ungarie easily in the grand final.
The Association did not form in 1931 possibly due to the economical depression at that time although a number of the clubs did form and played each other socially. Girral and Calleen withdrew in 1932, however Yelkin entered the competition. Minor premiers Ungarie lost out to Four Corners in the grand final. “Brownie” Vallance from Four Corners was elected the new president of the association, a position he held for a further eight years.
When the neighbouring Naradhan Association didn’t reform in 1933, the Naradhan club entered the association. Burgooney were minor premiers, but due to tragic circumstances within the club, they lost both their finals with Tullibigeal breaking through for their first Northern Riverina Association premiership, when they defeated arch rivals Four Corners in a thrilling game by eight points.
Burgooney, captained by the popular Son O’Leary, were back on the winners list in 1934 when they thrashed Tullibigeal. The Tigers were again flag favourites in 1935, however a snap goal with only fifteen seconds before full time by Ungarie’s Len Woolstencroft enabled Ungarie, who had come from third place, to win their first ever NRA premiership, by a single point.
Two new clubs headed the competition in 1936. West Milby, who had entered the previous year and Erigolia, played off for the premiership with West Milby, due to their intensive training program, winning the club’s only premiership. The Girral club disbanded and withdrew from the competition halfway through the season.
Arthur Stidwell stood down as secretary/treasurer in 1937, a position he had held since the association’s formation in 1924.
Lake Cargelligo, wearing blue colours, re-entered the competition after an absence of seven years in 1937. West Milby won their way through to the grand final from a fourth place play-off, only to lose out to Four Corners.
A popular innovation – the Knockout Carnival was introduced to many of the leagues and associations throughout the Riverina in the mid 1930’s and in 1937 the Northern Riverina Association staged their first carnival which was won by Burgooney. The carnivals extended invitations to outside clubs and played for substantial prize money.
When the Gibsonvale Tin Mines opened near Kikoira a team of that name entered the competition in 1938. Tullibigeal won their second Northern Riverina premiership coming from third place and only after drawing their first semi final against West Milby. Burgooney, who were minor premiers in 1938, had lost only one game prior to the grand final, but terrible kicking for goal cost them dearly.
Ungarie dropped out of the 1939 season, the only year in the Northern Riverina history that Ungarie hasn’t fielded a team. Burgooney and West Milby finished on equal points at the top of the ladder, with the two clubs playing off for the premiership which Burgooney won by just three points.
Kikoira proved to be the superior side in 1940 and although Burgooney defeated them in the second semi, Kikoira won the grand final by over forty points. It was Burgooney’s fifth grand final appearance in seven years. Due to a lack of players Four Corners, in 1941, was forced into recess with their few remaining players linking up with Kikoira who were again premiers.
Due to the Second World War the competition was abandoned after the 1941 season and didn’t recommence until 1946.
Football recommenced in the Northern Riverina in 1946 after the conclusion of World War II. Six clubs affiliated for the 1946 season – Ungarie, Tullibigeal, Burgooney, Forrest Vale, Four Corners and Lake Cargelligo. Forrest Vale was a reformation of the old West Milby club with a new name and wore the same black and red colours.
With a new generation of players which included the Imries, O’Callaghans, and Dwyers, Tullibigeal fielded a very competitive team, which under the captaincy of George Imrie won three successive premierships in 1946, 1947 and 1948.
Tullibigeal are believed to have been unbeaten in the 1946 and 1947 seasons. All three premiership wins were against old rivals Four Corners. In 1947 four players from the Northern Riverina, Jim Daniher (Ungarie), Tom Imrie (Tullibigeal), Jim Keys (Four Corners) and Ted O’Kane (Four Corners) represented in a Riverina team that defeated the touring Subiaco club from Western Australia by 14 points. Lake Cargelligo withdrew from the competition in 1948, but were replaced by Naradhan.
When Forrest Vale withdrew from the competition in 1949 several of their players joined Four Corners, considerably strengthening the Four Corners side which defeated Ungarie for the 1949 premiership, with Leo Ireland their skipper.
The competition was boosted to seven clubs in 1949 when West Wyalong and Rankins Springs joined. An aboriginal team from the Lake Cargelligo Mission Reserve was formed but the team weren’t admitted to the Association, with the Northern Riverina clubs playing social games against the aboriginal side on their bye dates.
The Evans family of West Wyalong donated a cup in 1949 which was known as the GP Evans Cup in memory of the late Griff Evans who had been an ex player and administrator at West Wyalong. The cup was presented to the Best & Fairest player in the competition and Jim Daniher of Ungarie was the inaugural winner, defeating John Delahunty of Burgooney by 1 vote.
Ungarie won their first premiership since 1935 when they defeated Tullibigeal for the 1950 premiership. Jim Dale, who had previously captained Forrest Vale, led Ungarie to their premiership. Lake Cargelligo re-entered the Associated in 1950.
The 1950’s were a most successful decade for Tullibigeal securing premierships in 1951, 1953, 1955, 1957 & 1958. Three of Tullibigeal’s stars Dave Imrie, Keith Imrie and Vince Dwyer all won the competition’s Best and Fairest award in this period.
Four Corners won premierships in 1952 and 1954 with Dud Ireland their leader. Dud captained Four Corners for an incredible 17 years before his retirement in 1966. By 1953 the competition consisted of eight clubs when West Milby and Naradhan re-entered, however three clubs – Tullibigeal, Four Corners and Ungarie, monopolised the leading places on the ladder with the other clubs merely a chopping block for the leaders. By 1956 the Association had been reduced to only five clubs when West Wyalong and Lake Cargelligo withdrew.
Following three successive grand final losses in 1952, 1953 & 1954 Ungarie broke through for another premiership in 1956 with their champion player, Jim Daniher their leader, when Ungarie controversially defeated Burgooney. In the 1956 grand final Burgooney had fought back to get within a goal of Ungarie in the last quarter and then in the final seconds of the game Burgooney’s Stan Booth was infringed and awarded a free kick. Booth played on and booted a goal however, the umpire had already blown his whistle to stop play and bring Booth back behind his mark where the infringement had taken place.
Meanwhile the final bell had sounded but Booth declined to take the second kick, claiming he had already kicked a goal and the game ended sensationally with spectators and players clustered around the Melbourne umpire.
Burgooney protested against the result and the Northern Riverina stated the grand final should be replayed. Ungarie protested to the South West District Council who controlled football in the Riverina. The Council granted the game to Ungarie with the season ending on a sour note.
Ungarie were runners-up in the following two seasons to Tullibigeal before they won three successive premierships in 1959, 1960 & 1961. Ungarie was led by Jim Daniher who won three Northern Riverina best & fairest awards in 1949, 1956 & 1959. On receiving his 1959 award it was reported “it couldn’t have happened to a nicer bloke”. Jim played for 28 years for Ungarie, from 1946 to 1973, chalking up around 400 games. With Four Corners’ Jack Husking who also played over the same period, both are recognised as possibly the league’s longest serving players.
In the 13 years from 1949 to 1961 Ungarie played in 11 grand finals winning 5 premierships and runners-up 6 times.
The Burgooney ‘Tigers’ club, although regular semi-finalists, couldn’t quite secure a premiership flag narrowly losing the 1955 & 1956 grand finals. It wasn’t until Burgooney club moved their headquarters to Lake Cargelligo in 1960 and becoming Lake-Burgooney, that success came their way. After losing the 1960 grand final to Ungarie, Lake-Burgooney won four premierships from 1962 to 1965. Led by John Booth the Tigers secured a record winning four successive premierships that hadn’t been achieved before. Oddly enough the club were never minor premiers in any of their wins which proved when the finals came around the club lifted its intensity.
The Milby club had steadily built up as a young side following their return to the Association in 1953 and by 1962 had played off in the grand final only to lose to the strong Lake-Burgooney. Keith Willis who had won the 1961 competition’s Best & Fairest was the club’s captain. When the club relocated to Condobolin in 1965 and became Condo-Milby, the new club found instant success participating in the finals. In 1966 ruckman Col Groch was appointed the club’s coach and premierships followed in the next two years. Groch, who came from Wagga, was an excellent coach and won the 1968 Evans Trophy for the league’s best player.
Condo-Milby were again minor premiers in 1968, however their form dropped away towards the end of the season and they lost both their finals. Tullibigeal, who were captained by Ron Tyack, trounced a depleted Four Corners in a one sided grand final to be premiers.
The Northern Riverina competition changed from being named an Association to a League in 1964, fitting in with the code definition as used throughout the Riverina. This brought the Northern Riverina League under National Rules control.