Sydney University Rugby League Club (SURLC) recently wrote another page in its long, rollercoaster history when they played a pre-season trial against Cronulla under 20’s.
With its centenary coming up next year, the match stamped the SURLC’s entry into the Sydney Shield competition for 2019 as part of a pathways program involving other inner-west clubs Glebe-Burwood and Newtown
SURLC President, Chris Kintis, the man behind the resurrection of the club in 2013, after a three-year hiatus, said gaining entry to the Sydney Shield was the culmination of plenty of hard work and the fulfilment of a five-year plan. “We have developed a strong connection with other inner-west clubs,” Kintis said. “As part of the new arrangement, we’ll be a feeder team to Glebe-Burwood’s Ron Massey Cup squad. They’re a feeder team for Newtown, who are a feeder team for Cronulla in the NRL.”
“It’s been our aim since reforming to field a team in the Sydney Shield. It’s a strong competition with teams from Asquith, St Marys, Guilford, Wentworthville, Hills District, Penrith, East Campbelltown, Moorebank, Belrose and Ryde-Eastwood.”
Kintis said the club has been in talks with NSWRL for some time and had to meet certain criteria to gain entry to the Sydney Shield. “We had to prepare an expression of interest which was considered by the NSWRL Management Committee and ultimately the NSWRL Board,” he said. “They approved our entry in early December, 2018.”
“Since gaining approval we’ve been recruiting on social media and through the broader community. We’ll be recruiting more on campus as students return to their studies. We’ll also still be competing in the NSW Tertiary Cup, where we’ve been playing since restarting in 2013 and which we won in 2018.”
A former prop forward with Sydney University Lions when he was studying law in the late 1980s and early ’90s, Kintis was looking for the scores in a Sunday paper in 2012 and discovered the club had folded. “I found it really disappointing and annoying that one of the foundation clubs of rugby league in Australia wasn’t functioning,” he said. So, with the help of some other dedicated individuals, he set about resurrecting SURLC, which joined the Tertiary competition in 2014 and had both teams through to grand finals in the club’s comeback year.
Having formed in 1920, SURLC was the 11th rugby league premiership team. The nine foundation teams of 1908 included Newtown Jets, Glebe Dirty Reds, South Sydney Rabbitohs, Balmain Tigers, Eastern Suburbs, Western Suburbs Magpies, North Sydney Bears, Newcastle Rebels and Cumberland. Annandale Dales joined the competition in 1910 and University and St George Dragons started in 1920.
SURLC played in the NSW premiership from 1920-37 and then in the NSWRL Second Division and Metropolitan League competitions until 1976 before becoming part of the NSW Tertiary Student Rugby League competition.
The club provided two Kangaroos and eight NSW representatives during its first decade-and-a-half. Jim Craig played for the University in 1921, when he represented NSW and Australia, while three-quarter Ray Morris played for the Students in 1933, when he represented NSW before departing on the 1933-34 Kangaroo tour to Britain.
Other NSW representatives in the golden period included SURLC foundation players Edmund “Feather” Hanrahan (1921) and Tom Linskey (1923). Harry “Butt” Finn and Frank O’Rourke, who played for University in their 11-5 grand final loss to South Sydney in 1926, also represented NSW, along with Clive Evatt, Jim McIntyre, A.S. “Georgie” Lane, Harleigh Hanrahan and Ross McKinnon.
“Back in the 1920s, all of our players were amateurs,” Kintis said. “Other clubs paid their players, but our players were students. Our Club was established after a split from the Rugby Union club. The idea of switching from union to league was highly controversial given the professional status of rugby league. In fact for many years we were forced to include the word “amateur” when describing our club.”
“It meant our earliest officials, guys like ‘Doc’ Evatt — a law student who went on to become both a High Court Judge and UN General Assembly president — had to rebel and battle against the sporting establishment status quo. And because of that, they became sporting outcasts.
“But this created a culture of toughness throughout our club, a toughness the club is built on, and we’re extremely proud of that.” It was that history, and his own playing days that inspired Kintis to get the club back on its feet with the aim of returning to NSWRL second division competitions as the centenary of the club approaches.
“It’s now history that the club put two strong teams on the field for the start of the 2014 season. As with the other successful clubs on campus, we want to provide the players with an environment where they can balance their sport and study and succeed at both.”
“While we’ll never get back to the main NRL competition, like our forebears did in 1920, our plans to progress to the Sydney Shield and the Ron Massey Cup have been fulfilled for our centenary year.”