J.J. Giltinan returns to Melbourne

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.


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