ON 20 May 1908 Albert Baskerville, rugby footballer, rugby league pioneer, aged 26 years old, died in a Brisbane hospital.
RUGBY league's annual City v Country game continues a football tradition in Australia in the 1830s
100 years ago this Friday (Sept. 1), rugby league was played for the first time with its signature features ? 13-a-side and the play-the-ball.Born in England in 1895, the first League matches used rugby union rules and 15-aside.Rugby union though was primarily a scrummaging game. In a manner akin to American football, (which also evolved from rugby), a scrum was formed after every tackle.For much of the time, spectators and backs alike could only watch on, wondering where the ball was under the mass of forwards scrummaging around the field.Finally in 1906, the League decided to introduce reforms to bring about attacking ball-passing football, radically reduce the number of scrums, and ensure the ball could always be seen by the paying public.Space was created on the field by reducing teams to 13 men. This alone though could not stop the endless scrum battles.The highly open and visible play-the-ball was adopted to replace the mandatory scrum after every tackle.The effect upon the game was instantaneous. Being able to see the ball, crowds flocked to matches as they could become ?involved?, cheering or booing the actions of the players and officials.While rugby union rules created a game for the enjoyment of the players, rugby league had evolved into a game for players and spectators alike.It was a timely change, for just over a year later, rugby league arrived in Australia.Off-field dramas beset the new code, but its matches were an instant favourite with the sporting public. One paper observed: ?What saved the League is that the game it controls is spectacular and popular?.With their new freedom, teams experimented with 5-man and 7-man packs, new positions such as ?wing-forwards? and ?rovers?, while others used back-lines with 2 half-backs, 2 five-eighths or even 5 players in the three-quarter line.Meanwhile, faced with competition from League, over the following decades rugby began to allow rucks and mauls rather than stop play for a scrum.The reforms introduced to rugby league a century ago this week, continue to be integral features of the game today.More detailed articles on the 1906 changes are available at:
AS NRL minor premiership winners, the Melbourne Storm will be awarded the James J. Giltinan Shield at this Saturday?s match against the Manly Sea Eagles.Named in honour of rugby league?s founding father, achieving the minor premiership title is a significant milestone in securing the development of the code in the Victorian capital.?Old ?Gilt? will be smiling down from above when the shield is handed over to the Melbournians. It was a dream of Giltinan?s, held from the very beginnings of rugby league in this country, that the code would stake a permanent claim on the Melbourne sporting landscape.Upon starting rugby league in Sydney in August 1907, Giltinan immediately opened negotiations with Melbourne?s John Wren, the famed sporting promoter and Collingwood Magpies patron. They began organising a match in the southern city between the NSW Blues and New Zealand All Golds.Both entrepreneurs envisaged the possibilities that founding rugby league in Sydney and Melbourne would bring ? with the holy-grail being the financial goldmine to be garnered from ?NSW v Victoria? inter-state matches.Their plans though were thwarted by the late arrival of the New Zealanders in Sydney, leaving no time for the Melbourne match before the All Golds were due to leave for England.Giltinan in particular was not dissuaded, and travelled to Melbourne in mid-1908 with hopes of making progress.He organised an exhibition match between the Australian Kangaroos and New Zealand Maori teams. Giltinan?s plans again came unstuck, this time unrelated court action in NSW brought the Maori tour to an abrupt end, and the Melbourne match was abandoned.A month later, travelling with the Kangaroos as their tour promoter and manager, Giltinan returned to Melbourne where the Australian team joined the ship bound for England.He took the opportunity to meet with Australian rules officials, in the hope of persuading them to open talks to create a hybrid football code with rugby league.The Victorians agreed to examine his plan, and ultimately the negotiations continued on-and-off until the 1930s ? the financial appeal of a ?National football code? embracing Sydney and Melbourne ensuring interest remained high.Unfortunately for Giltinan, labour strikes and dreadfully poor weather caused the 1908/09 Kangaroos? tour to end in financial disaster ? and Giltinan?s bankruptcy. His career in rugby league was over, and it would be 90 winters before a Melbourne club was established.Nearly a century on, Giltinan?s dream of professional rugby league gaining a permanent and successful home in Melbourne looks assured.
THE NSWRL's first premiership shield (1908-13) has a new home - Australia's National Museum in Canberra.