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1908 - 1919

The Club's formative years established early success for the Tricolours, with the likes of Dally Messenger, Dan Frawley and Sid Pearce leading the charge for the Club's first Premiership. 

During this period, Eastern Suburbs District Rugby League Football Club was established, claiming three Premierships and three City Cups, paving the way for further success. 

Club Foundations 

In January 1908, Colonel James William Macarthur Onswlow - a member of the NSW Legislative Assembly as a representative for Waverley - was invited to become a patron of the Eastern Suburbs District Rugby League Football Club by Messrs Victor T Trumper and James J Giltinan.

Giltinan was the NSWRL’s honorary secretary, Trumper was Australia’s beloved cricketer of the generation, while Albert Pointing – a butcher and former Mayor of Paddington – became the Club’s first president. 

The district had provided the most (nine) players to represent NSW against the All Golds, and with the players from Easts Rugby Union citing a lack of respect from representative selectors, change was on the horizon.

Eastern Suburbs District Rugby League Football Club (ESDRLFC) was then established on Friday 24 January, 1908 at Paddington Town Hall

Despite the lack of media coverage, on the following Monday, January 27, The Telegraph’s story read like this:

 

RUGBY FOOTBALL LEAGUE ANOTHER NEW CLUB

A number of gentlemen interested in the new phase of rugby football met at the Paddington Town-hall on Friday night for the purpose of forming a local club, under the auspices of the rugby football league. The chair was taken by Mr H Hoyle (President) who, together with Mr JJ Giltinan (secretary) addressed the meeting. Objection was taken to the term ‘professional’, it was pointed out that professionalism could not exist in this State, neither was there any necessity for it. The league had arranged an attractive programme, and intended to devote a big proportion of the gate-money taken at the last competition match to charities. It was mentioned that the league was already in a sound financial position.

Officers of the newly formed club were elected as follows: Patron, Colonel Onslow MLA; president, Mr Albert Pointing; vice-presidents, Messrs James White, James Lawrence, JF Wadsworth, W Weeks, W Austin, J Jugelman; hon. Secretary, Mr H Flegg; hon. Treasurer, Mr E Hooper; committee, Messrs V Trumper, E White, J Stuntz, R Mable, W Leslie, J Thompson, S Pierce, M Frawley, A Rosenfelt, N Rosenfelt, F Brennan, F D’Alpuget.

Eastern Suburbs' territory covered Waverley, Randwick, Woollahra, Paddington, Darlinghurst and Vaucluse municipalities, and were nicknamed the ‘Tricolours’ after their Red, White and Blue playing strip. Harry ‘Jersey’ Flegg was appointed the first secretary and later on became the Club's inaugural captain.

I think this new game under Northern Union rules, with 13 men a side, is the better game. It’s hotter from a player’s point of view, and it’s a better game for the onlookers. It’s a splendid game to watch – always fast – and a man has to get into tip-top “nick” to play it.

Dally Messenger Early comments on Rugby League in 1908

Players trained at parks in Double Bay, Rushcutters Bay and Botany, and even travelled as far as Lansvale to learn of the new game from Englishman Tom McCabe who was conducting training camps to prepare them for the inaugural season. 

On March 28, 1908, Easts and Souths played the first recorded 13-a-side game of Rugby League in Australia, which resulted in a 6-all draw - an appropriate match up considering what was to come. 

1908 - The Journey Begins

Played: 11
Won: 9
Lost: 2
Draw: 0
Final Position: Runners Up

Easts dominated the inaugural season of the competition, starting with a 32-16 defeat of Newtown at Wentworth Oval in their very first match at 2pm on April 20, which was described as 'brilliant' and 'a contest as fast as the wind' according to local sources. Johnno Stuntz was the star on the day, scoring four tries. 

Winning the next five matches, a 5-11 loss to Glebe proved to be the only hurdle as they won their remaining two games to finish first on the competition table before the four-team semi-finals series.

But the competition turned on its head as the Kangaroos were bizarrely absent on tour for the finals series. After defeating North Sydney in their semi-final, Eastern Suburbs were beaten in the Grand Final to South Sydney as both teams had key players missing - Easts without Dally Messenger, Albert Rosenfeld, Dan Frawley, Larry O’Malley, Sandy Pearce and Lou ‘Baby’ Jones.

Despite this, however, the reserve grade and thirds side - who were appropriately labelled ‘Sydney’ - both took out their respective competitions, with promising signs to come.

Inaugural Squad: Harry 'Jersey' Flegg, Herb Brackenreg, Dave Brown, Lou D'Alpuget, Daniel Frawley, Fred Fry, Lou Jones, Bob Mable, Larry O'Malley, Sandy Pearce, Albert Rosenfeld, William Smith, Johnno Stuntz, Percy MacNamara, Horrie Miller, Hugh Thompson, Harold Kelley, Dally Messenger, Herb Woodhill, George Green, Alfred Playfair, Joe Shakespeare, Percy White, William Leslie, Mick Frawley, Bill King, Ted Briscoe

Inaugural Season: The very first team to represent the Eastern Suburbs District Rugby League Football Club in 1908. The Club's first captain, Dally Messenger, is third from the right in the middle row.
Inaugural Season: The very first team to represent the Eastern Suburbs District Rugby League Football Club in 1908. The Club's first captain, Dally Messenger, is third from the right in the middle row.

1909 - Momentum Building

Played: 11
Won: 5
Lost: 6
Draw: 0
Final Position: Semi-Finalists

With multiple Kangaroo Tourists taking a break from their rigorous schedule, Eastern Suburbs were left with a number of holes in their squad, which also included the illustrious Dally Messenger.

Headed by new captain Arthur Hennessy, Easts won their first three matches against Glebe (38-5), Wests (10-2) and North Sydney (26-16), and despite losing to South Sydney in Round 4, two more wins against Newcastle and Newtown saw them flying in second place on the ladder.

But five losses to finish the season would see them knocked out by eventual Grand Finalists Balmain in the Semi-Final 8-15. The second grade side lifted the trophy for the second year running, which would have plenty of bearing on the next few seasons. 

Debutants: Tom Bruce, Eddie Griffiths, Arthur Lawes, Arthur Surridge, Wally Webb, T Oates, E Russell, Arthur Hennessy, Gordon 'Babe' Hooker, L Brown, F Foran, L Abbott, F Denholm, Henry Kaufmann, William Lenton

1910 - So Close Yet So Far

Played: 14
Won: 9
Lost: 3
Draw:  2
Final Position: Third

Easts headed into the 1910 season with arguably one of the best rosters in the competition, but still stung by the fact there was no premiership glory for the Club

Dally Messenger had returned and starred in a match against Souths, dubbed ‘Souths v Messenger’ where he had scored all the points for his side in a 10-14 defeat, but a win against competition juggernauts Newtown put the Tricolours at the top of the competition at the end of Round 5.

But once again the heavy representative fixtures - which included a Kangaroo Tour of Great Britain - saw the trophy elude the Red, White and Blue, despite winning the final four matches which included 38-8 against Wests, 8-3 against Souths, 39-2 against Balmain and 36-0 against Glebe.

In a season where only the top two qualified for the Grand Final, positives came in the form of a third consecutive second-grade premiership, as well as an inaugural President’s Cup, while the Eastern Suburbs Junior League was also formed. Success was just around the corner for the Red, White and Blue. 

Debutants: Barney Dalton, C Nash, Bob Williams, Lesley Wylie, G Payne, Eddie Mandible, J.D. "Dinny" Campbell, Leslie Cody

1911 - Champions Crowned

Played: 14
Won: 9
Lost:  3
Draw: 2
Final Position: Premiers

With Messenger and Sandy Pearce declining another Kangaroo Tour citing family and business commitments, Easts were in a prime position to take home the trophy.

After winning their first two games, the side hit a patch which included three losses, three wins and two draws after ten rounds in fourth spot, but an end of season charge saw them win their final four rounds to finish in equal second place with Souths.

A playoff to decide who would take place in the Final saw Messenger score 20 of his side’s points in a 23-10 victory, and after defeating Glebe in the final 22-9, the first-placed side exercised their right for a rematch.

Unfazed by another hurdle, Messenger kicked three goals and a field goal to help sink the Dirty Reds and lead his side to the Club's first Premiership in a closely fought 11-8 victory. 

Debutants: Fred Kinghorn, F Strickland, Eddie White, Charlie Lees, A Nicholson, H Corbett, J Cunningham, W Dalton, G Mackay, Herbert Collins

Original Superstar: Herbert Henry 'Dally' Messenger, in his Tricolours kit. Dally M was regarded as the code's first superstar in Australia, guiding Easts to three consecutive Premierships between 1911-13.
Original Superstar: Herbert Henry 'Dally' Messenger, in his Tricolours kit. Dally M was regarded as the code's first superstar in Australia, guiding Easts to three consecutive Premierships between 1911-13.

1912 - Back to Back 

Played: 14
Won: 13
Lost: 1
Draw: 0
Final Position: Premiers

In April, Easts pioneered further expansion of the game as they took an exhibition match to Orange, facing off Grand Final opponents Glebe. Despite falling short 15-13, the match was highlighted by Dally Messenger’s 50-yard penalty goal.   

In order to allow time for the newly introduced City Cup knockout tournament post-season, the NSWRL scrapped semi-finals and introduced a ‘first past the post’ system, whereby the team finishing in first position at the conclusion of the regular season were crowed Premiers.

With Messenger at the helm and the signing of Arthur 'Pony' Halloway, Easts dominated the competition, only losing one game in Round 5 to Newtown in a tense 2-4 battle, and maintained top spot on the competition table for the entirety of the season, finishing four points clear after the fourteen rounds with Messenger rested for the final two.

A first-round elimination in the first round didn’t matter – Easts had become back-to-back Premiers of the NSWRL, and that momentum would continue into 1913.

Debutants: Arthur Halloway, Wally Messenger, A Allen

1913 - Threepeat

Played: 14
Won: 12
Lost: 2
Draw: 0
Final Position: Premiers

With the addition of Les Cubit and Bob Tidyman, one of the all-time great sides in Rugby League history was completed. 

An Easts side brimming with talent dominated the competition to win their first seven matches, before a surprise 11-14 upset to Newtown in Round 8, but proved to be a small distraction as they won their final five matches to claim their third Premiership in a row, becoming the first Club to do so.

After announcing his retirement following the first-round defeat in the City Cup, Messenger announced his retirement from the game aged 30, stating ‘I have played my last game’, and was presented by the Royal Agricultural Society’s Shield.

The Royal Agricultural Society’s shield, which was presented at the inception of the league’s first grade competition, has been won outright by Eastern Suburbs, who upset all calculations by winning the premiership three years in succession. The club has presented the shield to their captain, Dally Messenger, ‘as a token of appreciation of his captaincy’. In addition to bearing the names of the various holders from 1908, the shield carries those of every member of the victorious Eastern Suburbs team last year…

Claude Corbett Football: Notes on all Codes, May 1914

Debutants: D Flannery, Bob Tidyman, Jack Watkins, Les Cubitt, Ernest Gowenlock, Claude Nicholson, R Maher, Sylvester Redmond

1914 - Rebuilding Begins

Played 14
Won: 8
Lost: 6
Draw: 0
Final Position: Fourth

Despite a retired Dally M and an ageing roster, the Red, White and Blue still kept in touch with the top of the competition, and after nine rounds they trailed top spot by a single point.

However, following the Round 9 win over Western Suburbs, Easts would only claim a solitary victory over the remaining five rounds.

One positive that kept spirits high for the Eastern Suburbs faithful was the Club’s first City Cup victory, with wins over Annandale (12-5), Glebe (26-9) and Premiers South Sydney in the Final (6-5), season 1914 was not without its high points.

Debutants: George Challis, W Watson, W Allman, Paul Butler, James Martin, H McNamara, Arthur Davison

1915 - Veterans Step Up

Played: 14
Won: 6
Lost: 8
Draw: 0
Final Position: Fifth

Although a new-look Easts side headed by veterans Sid Pearce and Dan Frawley missed the top four for the first time with six wins from fourteen matches, yet another City Cup was claimed with a 22-3 win over Glebe in the final.

Highlights of the season included back-to-back victories in Rounds 8 and 9, with big wins over Annandale (32-3) and North Sydney (35-4).

Debutants: Jim Duffy, George McGowan, Edward Coyne, Reginald McKellar, Charles Barker, Bob Linklater, Abraham Jonas

1916 - Messenger Continues to Dominate

Played: 14
Won: 7
Lost: 5
Draw: 2
Final Position Fourth

Wally Messenger, younger brother of Dally, kicked an incredible 10 goals from 12 attempts in a 53-nil thumping of Western Suburbs. Les Cubitt and Herb Gilbert both scored four tries in the Club’s first scoreline exceeding 50 points.

Messenger would go on to top the point-scoring for the season with 112 points from 14 games, scoring a try and kicked six goals in Easts’ third City Cup triumph.  

Sadly though, talented centre and 1913 Premiership-winner Bob Tidyman was a casualty of the Great War, in what was a tragedy for the Club and the game. 

Debutants: Harry Caples, Herb Gilbert, Tas Jones, Bill Raymond, Francis Male

Three Time Champions: The Eastern Suburbs side of 1913 pictured with the Royal Agricultural Society Shield, having claimed their third consecutive premiership. The Club awarded the shield to Dally Messenger (pictured directly behind it) after claiming their third title.
Three Time Champions: The Eastern Suburbs side of 1913 pictured with the Royal Agricultural Society Shield, having claimed their third consecutive premiership. The Club awarded the shield to Dally Messenger (pictured directly behind it) after claiming their third title.

1917 - A Forgettable Season

Played: 14
Won: 7
Lost: 7
Draw: 0
Final Position: Fifth

A three-game mid-season winning streak could not propel the Red, White and Blue into the top four, finishing in fifth position with seven wins and seven losses from fourteen matches.

 A first-round exit in the City Cup also spelled the end of Eastern Suburbs’ three-peat, while Les Cubitt took over captaincy duties from an ageing Sid Pearce. 

Debutants: Ray Norman, T O'Connor, Roy Adams, William Tijou, Gordon Wright

1918 - Positive Signs Ahead

Played: 14
Won: 8
Lost: 6
Draw: 0
Final Position: Fifth

Forward Jim Duffy becomes the Club’s captain, leading the side on fourteen occasions, and a strong start to the season finds the Club at the top of the ladder after wins over Newtown (17-3), Wests (8-2) and Glebe (17-9).

A mid-season slump which includes six losses from eight games cruels them, however, but in a positive, they finish with a treble of wins against North Sydney (10-6), Annandale (15-8) and the 1917 Premiers Balmain in the final round in a resounding 22-15 victory, with Les Cubitt scoring a hat-trick.

Debutants: Henry Keane, F Moran, Rex Norman, W Lyon, Tom Glazebrook, Albert Arrowsmith, Sid Kaufman, Robert Batchelor

1919 - Competing Once Again

Played: 14
Won: 9
Lost: 3
Draw: 2
Final Position: Second

As normality returns following the cease of the Great War, Easts bounce back into form and are pipped by Balmain for the trophy, with Gordon Wright leading the try-scoring and Wally Messenger taking second place in the point-scoring charts, beaten by a solitary point.

Two round game winning streaks from Round 3 to Round 6 and Round 9 to Round 12 put the Red, White and Blue at the top of the ladder with two games remaining, however losses to Souths (12-15) and eventual Premiers Balmain (4-13) but it was a positive end to the decade with future success just around the corner.   

Debutants: Harold Bawden, Reg Farnell, Stan King, J Larkin, Rupert Bruton, Edward Connerton, Wally Freeman, Ernie Tate