Cronulla fans are still revelling in the club’s maiden premiership triumph, but in his summer history series, Andrew Ferguson tells the story of the Sharks’ first piece of silverware – collecting the short-lived Endeavour Cup in 1971.
The 1970’s in Australia saw the introduction of many minor competitions. The Wills Cup was a preseason competition running from 1962 til 1981, the mid-week, mid-season competition which ran from 1974 until 1989 and even a mid-season Challenge Cup in 1978.
But none of those had a lasting impact on the game as the short lived Endeavour Cup.
For a number of seasons, there had been some concerns from players whose club didn’t make the finals, that they were being overlooked for end-of-season Test and Tour selections, in favour of players participating in the finals.
In 1970, the Cronulla-Sutherland club put forward a proposal to the NSWRL to host an end of season competition between the teams finishing fifth to eighth on the ladder. They had secured Toyota-Thiess to sponsor the event. The competition would be played over the first two Sunday’s during the NSWRL finals series, to allow players to remain match fit and in contention for selection in the World Cup squad at the end of the year.
On July 27, 1970, the NSWRL board held a meeting and agreed to let the competition go ahead. It was to be held entirely at Endeavour Field.
The competition was to have a total prize pool of $10,500. First place winning $5000, Second $3000, Third $1500 and fourth $1000.
With two rounds of the main competition remaining, Cronulla were sitting ninth on the ladder and looking like they may not qualify for their own competition. But they snuck in thanks to two convincing victories. A 23-2 win against Penrith in Round 21 and a 34-6 hiding of Parramatta.
On August 30, the Endeavour Cup began with a double header at the Sharks home ground. Hosts Cronulla took on Newtown in the first game at 1.30pm and then Balmain played Eastern Suburbs in the 3.30pm game. These games were the first played under the 6 tackle rule, purely as a trial, as opposed to the 4 tackle rule that was in place.
The first game was a sloppy affair and the full merits of the new rule were not seen. Cronulla’s captain-coach Tommy Bishop copped a stray elbow to the face which resulted in him losing two teeth. With 12 minutes remaining in the game, Bishop was sent off for tripping. Newtown won the game 13-11.
The second game was much better and provided everyone with the full benefits of the 6 tackle rule. Most notably was the reduction in scrums. The first game had 38 scrums which was on par for most games played during the year, however there were only 16 scrums in the second game. There was also the extra involvement of ball playing forwards, most notably Arthur Beetson, who was getting involved 2 or 3 times per set.
Balmain defeated a bits and pieces Easts side 34-12 which saw them advance to the final against Newtown on the following Sunday, while Easts and Cronulla will play off for 3rd.
After the match all coaches were in agreeance that the new rule looked to improve the game.
Harry Bath (Newtown and Australian Test coach): “I like it. The six tackles give a team that little extra to work with and provide more continuity to the play. The element of panic is not as prevalent and there aren’t as many dropped passes. The players have more time to settle down.”
Tommy Bishop (Cronulla captain-coach): “The rule could bring the forwards into the play a bit more but there would be no chance of going back to the old bash and barge because, after all, there are only six tackles to work with. I can see the forwards driving the ball in attack but this is good football. I would like to see another couple of matches under the rule before finally making up my mind on its merits.”
Don Furner (Easts coach): “In our game there were only 16 scrums, and this has to make the match better. I like the idea of the six tackles. The best football will come on the fourth, fifth and sixth tackles, when the defence is starting to tire a little.”
Leo Nosworthy (Balmain coach): “From our match it was obvious there was not the panic from the players that has been there at times. Nor was there as much useless kicking and this has to be better.”
The final saw Newtown beat Balmain 12-8, to claim their first title of any kind since they won the City Cup in 1945, 25 years ago. The win was more impressive given Newtown played the last 30 mins with 12 men, after forward John Oakley was sent off for a deliberate high tackle.
Despite Easts fielding a poor side and Cronulla failing to reach the final, the competition saw the Cronulla club financially “almost square.”
So successful was the trial of the 6 tackle rule that the NSWRL decided to implement it fully for the upcoming season.
Toyota-Thiess decided to continue their sponsorship for the competition in 1971, due to the Cronulla club deciding to expand the competition to include more teams, possibly from Wollongong, Newcastle and Brisbane.
The 1971 competition would see trainers being allowed to attend to injured players without stopping play, as well as each game being just 25 minute halves. Every game of the competition would also be televised live. All 8 sides not involved in the finals would be taking part.
The final of 1971 saw Cronulla pick up their first ever title, defeating Canterbury 20-13. The trial of trainers being allowed to treat players without stopping play was seen as another success from the Endeavour Cup and was introduced from the start of the 1972 season. Half of the gate takings were donated to the NSW Paraplegic Association.
With the competition being used as a sounding board for new rule ideas, it was thought that the Endeavour Cup would continue functioning beyond 1971, especially given that it was the only post-season competition on the calendar.
However, a lack of major sponsor and the concern by the NSWRL that some clubs were not taking the competition seriously, with some clubs using the competition as an opportunity to allow suspended players to serve part of their suspension, it was decided not to continue the competition any more.
But in the space of two years and just 12 games, the Endeavour Cup provided the competition with the 6 tackle rule and no stoppages to allow injured players to be treated, making it arguably the most successfully innovative competition in the post-war era.
August 30 – Newtown 13-11 Cronulla
August 30 – Balmain 34-12 Easts
September 6 – Playoff for 3rd – Cronulla 30-2 Easts
September 6 – Final – Newtown 12-8 Balmain
August 30 – Canterbury 19-15 Newtown
August 30 – Cronulla 15-3 Penrith
August 30 – Norths 7-5 Easts
August 30 – Wests 22-3 Balmain
September 5 – Semi-Final – Canterbury 17-7 Norths
September 5 – Semi-Final – Cronulla 20-19 Wests
September 12 – Playoff for third – Wests 25-21 Norths
September 12 – Final – Cronulla 20-13 Canterbury