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Humble beginning leads to great Manly adventure

When more than 300 enthusiastic people attended the inaugural meeting of the Manly Warringah District Rugby League Football Club on November 20, 1946, little did they know the platform they laid would turn into such a powerhouse.

After being granted entry to the NSWRL competition on November 4, 1946, an inaugural meeting was held on November 20 at Luana Hall on Pittwater Road. The site is now the home of the Dee Why RSL Club, a corporate partner of the Sea Eagles.

The inaugural meeting was chaired by Jack McGrath, President of the North Sydney District Club, who considered the night as another step in the establishment of rugby league.

North Sydney was acknowledged at the meeting for their strong backing of Manly’s bid to enter the NSWRL competition after Manly won the 1946 President’s Cup competition, considered as the entry point to the state competition.

Both Norths and Manly worked together to gain a hold over rugby union on the peninsula at the time.

The meeting saw Brookvale Oval appointed as the Club’s official ground with a number of provisional officials appointed, headed by Manly Junior Rugby League President Bill Seymour, as the new club’s president.

The annual subscription fee to the Manly club was set at 5 shilling while residents of the Manly Warringah District were ‘urged’ to get behind their new team.

Roy Bull, who played in the President’s Cup team as a 16-year-old and would later become Manly’s first international, attended the inaugural meeting at Luana Hall.

“It was probably the most exciting moment for people involved with the Manly Warringah juniors. They were talking about the players they were going to take from Norths and the chairman told the meeting that the night was only possible due to the gallant President’s Cup side’s success,’’ Bull said.

Prop Roy Bull became Manly's first international player.
Prop Roy Bull became Manly's first international player.

Jack Martin, a leading figure in Junior League administration, was also present on the historical night.

“There was great enthusiasm and great ideas of what the club wanted to do. The only players’ names that were chucked at the meeting were the ones who were eligible and available to play with us under the League’s residential qualification rule.

You couldn’t get another player, and nobody paid anybody because there was no money around.

- Jack Martin

“The only way you could get an outside player was to get him to live in the district six months prior to the season.

“But the meeting was very enthusiastic, because they felt that with the players they had coming over from North Sydney, together with a backup from the juniors, would help us to perform well in our first season.”

As part of the public meeting - which spilled over four hours- a committee was formed to raise extra money for the club through football doubles and raffles, and who would work the turnstiles at Brookvale Oval on match day.

Despite Norths support of Manly’s bid, the Bears were stripped of 20 Manly juniors due to the residential qualifications including leading tryscorer Kelly McMahon, flying winger Johnny Bliss, and tough forwards Max Whitehead and Megsy Kirkwood.

Norths five-eighth Rex Harrison recalled the effects of the exodus of Manly players prior to 1947. The Bears won only half of their games in 1947.

“During the 1946 season we knew that we were going to lose some of those ex-Manly juniors, we didn’t think we were going to lose as many as we did,’’ Harrison said.

“In effect we lost the main substance of our first grade backline. They were all sadly missed and it took us a while to build up after their loss.

“Once Manly broke away that created a great on-field rivalry between the two clubs that still exists to this day.”

Footnote: Extracts for this article were taken from the book, The Sea Eagle Has Landed, written by Robert Smith.

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