THE HISTORY OF DARLING DOWNS RUGBY

126 YEARS – 1887 TO THE PRESENT

The Beginning

On the 2nd November 1883 a meeting was held with the intention of forming a Rugby Union Association in Queensland.  At the time Melbourne Rules was the dominant code with both it and Rugby administered by the Queensland Football Association.  As a result of the meeting The Northern Rugby Union was formed due to dissatisfaction with Rugby treatment by the Queensland Football Association.

Early Days 1886 – 1890

In the early days of Rugby in Queensland, Rugby became the most popular sport because it was the only sport in which we could compete against the other colonies.  IN 1887 the major Queensland schools changed from Melbourne Rules to Rugby.  Also in 1887 the Toowoomba Rangers Rugby Club and the Augbiny Rugby Club were formed bringing about the birth of Rugby on the Darling Downs.  Records exist to confirm that not only were the first games played in Toowoomba in 1887, but records also exist to confirm that the first Toowoomba Premiership Competitions started in 1890.  Also by 1890, 17 years after its formation the Northern Rugby Union consisted of some 70 clubs, fielding 95 teams.  Many of the early games played on the Darling Downs were hosted at the Athletic Oval and the old Toowoomba Showground.

The 19th Century Closes

In 1893 as the 19th Century drew to a close, every primary school in Queensland was playing Rugby.  The founder of Rugby in Queensland, the Northern Rugby Union also decided in the year of 1893 to change their name to Queensland Rugby Union to encourage total affiliation of their association, which was a reality by 1896.

In 1899 however the Boar War had severely reduced playing numbers, to counteract this reduction in players, Electorate Rugby was initiated.  It collapsed in 1905 allowing for the return of Club Rugby, Brisbane Clubs Brothers and Past Grammars were the most notable to return.

A New Century

Early in the 20th Century Rugby in Queensland was extremely strong in country regions such as the Darling Downs; however it was administered with a big City mentality.

On the 11th of May 1908 Queensland Rugby Union took the unexpected approach of banning Rugby Union players from taking part in Rugby League matches in Sydney, giving birth to Rugby League in Queensland.  Prior to 1908 there had been no club Rugby League in Brisbane.

Past Grammars joined the Toowoomba Rugby Competition in 1910, strengthening the competition enormously.

The Rugby League Story

Due to Queensland Rugby Union’s lack of ability to support country Rugby Union, a great drift to Rugby League by players in country areas commenced.  Rugby League promoted themselves well in country areas and provided greater access at the selection table.  Whilst flourishing in the country regions, Rugby League did however struggle in Brisbane as it was an amateur organisation and as such did not have the profile of Rugby League in Sydney.

The Great War (World War 1)

A massive reduction in playing numbers in 1915 saw Queensland Rugby Union abandon the Brisbane Premiership in 1916.

By 1918 Rugby Union in Queensland was almost non-existent and due to this the ailing Country Queensland Rugby Union switched from Rugby Union to Rugby League along with all of its affiliated country clubs.  Brisbane Clubs, Brothers and University were soon to follow the country clubs also switching to Rugby League.

Toowoomba Rugby Union clubs faced for the first time ever the prospect of no opposition to challenge and accordingly followed the transition to Rugby League.  Schools in Queensland were the last the change from Rugby Union to Rugby League and did so at this stage.

1928 – The Rebirth

In 1928 the once prominent Queensland Rugby Union was reformed and the Greater Private Schools (GPS) competition switched back from Rugby League to Rugby Union.

By 1929 Queensland Rugby Union had convinced some teams now associated to Rugby League to re-affiliate.  Due to unhealthy infighting between Brisbane Rugby League and Queensland Rugby League, more and more clubs started to change back to Rugby Union.

1930 saw the revival of the Toowoomba Rugby Union competition with Gatton College joining the competition in 1934.  In the mid to late 1930’s the other dominant Toowoomba clubs were Valleys, Past Grammars and Catholic Young Men.

The Second World War

During World War II the game again started to struggle as participation heavily relied on men employed in protected industries.

The Toowoomba competition again ceased as did the majority of competitions state wide, only 5 clubs remained participating in Brisbane.

Development Begins 1950 – 1970

Following the end of World War II the Darling Downs again re-formed a stronger than ever competition which supplied many representative players to the Queensland and Australian Teams. 

All was not well though and by 1951 the local junior competition ceased, which was to cause long-term recruitment difficulties for many senior clubs.  Also in 1951 a team from Dalby joined the Toowoomba competition but was to soon withdraw due to travelling difficulties.  A team from Crows Nest joined the competition in the early 1950s but needed to withdraw due to severe lack of players shortly after.

Gatton College withdrew its team from the Toowoomba competition in 1956 and sought entry into the Brisbane Reserve Grade Competition where they competed until 1964.

In 1960 the Toowoomba Rugby Union was disbanded.  This occurred after many clubs had struggled badly to attract players following the demise of the junior competition.  The Rangers Club continued in existence and played in the Brisbane competition for a number of years.

In 1961 the Queensland Junior Rugby Union was formed and shortly after in 1963, the Queensland Country Rugby Union was formed.

A meeting held in Warwick in early 1964 under the auspices of Queensland Rugby Union led to the development of the Darling Downs Rugby Union.  In its first year of competition 5 teams took party – they included:  Toowoomba Rangers, Warwick, Goondiwindi, Dalby and Gatton College 2nd XV. As part of the arrangements for this competition, Mr Keith Leahy of Risdon Santa Stud, Warwick, donated a magnificent gold plated cup which was to become the prized trophy as a result of winning the Darling Downs A Grade competition. Thus the RISDON CUP.

In 1965 the Gatton College 1st XV entered the competition and Past Grammar Students reformed to give the A Grade competition 6 teams.  Also in 1965 an Under 19 Competition was established.  A Reserve Grade competition was also established in the late 1960s.

The Gold Park complex was leased by Toowoomba Rangers from Toowoomba City Council in 1968.  Due to financial difficulties faced by the Toowoomba Rangers club, the lease to the complex was taken over by Darling Downs Rugby Union in 1972.  The original lease was for a 20 year period with a further 20 year option.

QUT entered the Risdon Cup Competition in 1969.  This team subsequently became the Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education and then University of Southern Queensland.  Despite many name changes, the club has dominated the competition almost since its inception.

1971 - 2009

The Darling Downs Rugby Union Club was formed in 1973 and a sub-lease was arranged with DDRU for the land on which the club was built.

Dalby Agricultural College entered a team in the Under 19 competition in the late 1970s At around the same period; the Past Grammars Club folded, and soon after the Augbiny Club was reformed.

St George and Roma were admitted to the Darling Downs Rugby competition in 1985.

The C Grade competition was established around 1990 and had gradually built up player numbers.

1995 saw the Development of women’s Rugby on the Darling Downs and by 1996 4 women’s teams were established.

By 1999 as the Australian Wallabies again won the World Cup, junior, school and Under 19 rugby participation rose to unprecedented levels.

In 2001 Darling Downs Rugby consisted of 73 Junior Teams, 64 Secondary school teams, 28 senior teams and our Queensland Country Championship Winning Representative Team.

In 2003 Teenage Rugby was introduced with under 13 to under 17 games being held on a Sunday. There were 6 rounds culminating in the selection of under 13 and under 15 teams to contest the Teenage State Championships.
2003 was also the year of the World Cup in Australia which was an exciting time for the rugby community. Australia went on to contest the Final against England but lost. Despite this, the World Cup was hugely successful and caused a real buzz around the Country.

Interestingly, given that Sevens is now taking hold on a broader international and national scale, there was a 7 a-side pre season series at Warwick. There were 10 A grade teams with Rangers, Gatton, Bears, Roma, Warwick, USQ, Dalby, Goondiwindi, St George and South Burnett. There were 8 under 19 teams with South Burnett and Warwick included.

In 2005 the Highfields Redbacks entered the senior club ranks with a C Grade and under 20 team.

In 2007 Gatton was forced to withdraw from the Risdon Cup as they could not sustain an A Grade team during the semester break when students/players left for an extended break.  

2009 and Beyond - The New Era - Downs Rugby Limited

2009 was a pivotal year in the history of Darling Downs Rugby as it marked the creation of Downs Rugby Limited in October, 2009 through the merger of the former Darling Downs Junior Rugby Union and Darling Downs Rugby Union. Downs Rugby now oversees the operation of junior, teenage, senior and representative rugby at all levels. A new Board of Directors was established with 6 Directors. There were 15 founding clubs. Separate sub committees were set up to advise the Downs Rugby staff on the operation of the junior, teenage and seniors competitions. Highfields entered a B Grade side for the first time. The founding Board member were: Pat Brown (Chair), Brendan Ryan, Mike Horan, Paul Tindall, Justin Garvie and Matt Strahorn.

In 2010 Downs Rugby relocated their offices from the Mary Street office to unit 5, 189 Anzac Avenue, Toowoomba.  Registered player numbers were at a high with approximately 1,282 registered juniors and 944 registered seniors. The Darling Downs under 15 representative side finished third at the State Championships.

2011 saw the reintroduction of the UQ Gatton A Grade team who combined with the Highfields Club. South Burnett stepped up to B Grade and combined with the Warwick A Grade side. Chinchilla entered a C Grade in the competition and combined with the Condamine Club. For the first time a Darling Downs Development Officer was located fulltime in the Toowoomba office. Two new club development officers were engaged as part of the State Government's Jobs Plan programme  The prestigious 2011 State Teenage Championships were succesfully hosted at Downlands where 1,200 players and officials participated.

In 2012 we were fortunate to host a second State Championships and in 2013 the year started on a high with the hosting of the St George Queensland Reds playing the Auckland Blues at the Toowoomba Sports Ground on 2 February, 2013. 

FK Gardner & Sons