History of the University of Southern Queensland (Saints) Rugby Club
By Cliff Hughes (Early Years) and Paul Hanna (Later Years)
The rugby club has just completed its 45th year, quite an achievement. So join us and review the history of this great club:
Queensland Institute of Technology Darling Downs (a college of advanced education) commenced operation in 1967 with 64 student’s one building and a farm house on approximately 180 acres of dairy farm in Baker St. A number of students were playing rugby with Rangers in Toowoomba, some were playing Rugby League in the city and I believe that the college fielded a team in a warehouse rugby league competition in 1967. With the commencement of 1968 a few insightful people lead by David Cleary and assisted by Bob Hedges, John Derrick, Bill Meynink and others held a meeting at the Southern Hotel. With 26 paying members and I suspect, a few non-paying members, off we went. We trained at “frogs hollow” in Queens Park, and our first coach was Bill Flamstead, assisted by Paul Costello. We entered an under 19 team and made the final against Rangers, played at Newtown Rugby League grounds on 17th of August 1968 and lost in a close game 9 – 6. So, at the end of the 60’s the club grew stronger and stronger.
Why Blue and White jerseys? I suspect because of a predomination of Christian Brothers men, “butchers hooks” blue and white bands, won the argument! Our first jerseys were actually the Newtown Rugby League jerseys.
The 1970’s brought with it the beginning of our success in the Risdon Cup with our first win in 1970. These were unusual times for the club because of Conscription and the graduation of the first batches of students, the club although strong struggled to repeat the Risdon Cup success. Although from time to time we played in finals, the U19 team was successful along with B grade successes. Our training venues also shifted to Lindsay St oval, then Gold Park. The Club also built by hand, a playing field where the Arts theatres now stand, by planting California Blue grass seeds. The burs were ferocious, and we put foam rubber on a roller in an attempt to pick up the burs. Then management decided to build a Ring Road which went through our field and to compensate we were given the area where soccer is currently played, to the south of the Ring Road. The changing room facilities were a clump of trees near Baker St and they doubled as a Latrine. Lighting was facilitated by a generator, sometimes it didn’t start, and three poles with very poor lights. H. A. (Bunty) Griffiths our patron was instrumental in these times, finding the generator and having it serviced at the Toowoomba Foundry. Also very helpful was Mr Heathwood and Bill Meynink Sr, both prominent Toowoomba business men. The club struggled in the mid 70’ with an all-time low in 1976 when we had difficulty fielding teams. However with a resurgence towards the end of the decade, led by Malcolm Allen, Terry Kehoe, Michael West and others, we won the Risdon Cup in 1979.
The decade of the 1980’s began with some low times again but, along with the 1990’s, proved to be our most productive and successful years. With the support of Dr Brian Roberts, Craig Mathieson, Michael West and others, we won four Risdon cups, wrote and published a book called Two Vintage Years, acquired a new oval and built our own clubhouse! We moved to the present day oval in 1984 and did a lot of the preparation ourselves, and commenced fundraising for a clubhouse in the same year. By way of fundraising Michael West, Craig Mathieson, Andrew Saxby and George Cossart developed the idea of running a B & S Ball. I remember a meeting a Georges’ house in Canberra St, it all sounded fanciful to me and if not successful, was going to be a lot of risk? Amazingly it worked, some 2000 plus people had a ball at the Show Grounds and it was a huge success, so we repeated it the next year. Mick Buckley built the club house, working bees did the painting and it was officially opened in 1988, by H.A. (Bunty) Griffiths. It cost about $134,000 and was essentially debt free. The clubhouse would not have been possible without the generous support of past players and supporters and especially the input from Keith & Craig Mathieson and their company M&S Steel Buildings.
A subcommittee was established by Dr Roberts to write a book, with the editorial assistance of Jack West (Michael’s dad) and again, an improbable project, the book was published (copies are available on request). The super momentum of all of these events carried the club to success after success both on and off the field. Memorable are the mad Mondays at the Southern Hotel, trips away and the camaraderie of being a part of a winning club.
An obvious fact when looking at the premiership history of this club, the years the Risdon Cups are won are the years when the “B” Grade is also strong!
In 1995 USQ won the Risdon cup for the eighth time after a five year drought. However, nobody could have predicted the way USQ Rugby would dominate the competition for the next decade. From 1995 to 2003, USQ Rugby Club won 8 A Grade premierships including a “five peat” (five Risdon Cups in a row from 1995 to 1999) and a “three peat” (three Risdon cups in a row from 2001 to 2003). Also at this time B Grade won their own “five peat” from 2001 to 2005 and the Colts (Under 19’s) won four premierships. Like any successful team, USQ had a core group of talented players that remained at the club throughout these winning seasons. Players including Graham Walls, Grant Statton, Julian Tuigamala, Tony Beverland and Jim Rawlings were instrumental in the club success.
The new decade saw renovations being completed with the clubhouse receiving new flooring & a new PA system and the field had a sprinkler system put in – with much of the ‘hard labor’ being carried out by the players instead of training, which suited them fine. The mid 2000’s represented a change of fortune for the club as, for the first time in fifteen years, USQ Rugby experienced a big rotation in player numbers with over thirty players moving on or retiring in two seasons. We also started to see less student participation from the University and lower player numbers in general; as the working week for Retailers & Tradies moved to include Saturdays. However, the season of 2009 saw a revamp of the Committee & Coaching staff led by new President Barry O’Sullivan and in 2010, perhaps the biggest change in the clubs history occurred; when the Junior, Teenage and Senior clubs merged to officially become the USQ Saints Rugby Club. Also, in 2009 the new dressing rooms were built alongside the present clubhouse to accommodate the Football fields that were built by the University behind the main oval.
After a lot of hard work throughout the club, both on and off the field, player numbers increased and a refreshed energy was felt as USQ Saints Rugby teams led the way in playing a more dynamic brand of rugby on the Downs. In 2010, the club was rewarded with a Grand Final appearance although a win would not come that year. However the club would not have to wait long for success with the 2011 season resulting in one of the most dominant displays in Downs Rugby history. A Grade won the Risdon Cup after a season that saw over 1000 points scored in 18 rounds as A Grade won with a strong performance of 53-21 over long-time rivals Rangers.
In recent years, the club has continued to grow with the introduction of more Teenage teams and Womens Rugby and the Junior Rugby continues to be an essential part of the club. The 2015 season was an interesting & surprising year for USQ Saints in what was essentially a re-building year for the club. USQ Players took out the Rep Player, Top Points Scorer and Mal Reiley Player of the year awards at the Downs Rugby Dinner and then A Grade achieved the chance to win another Risdon cup by making the Grand Final. The team ran out with five players under 20 years of age and after being 21-0 down, fought back to lose to a very strong Goondiwindi team 24-17.
Today we continue to grow and see ourselves as the Family Rugby Club. We field Junior Boys & Girls teams in U/6, U/7, U/8, U/9, U/10, U/11 and U/12; Teenage boys teams in U/13, U/14 & U/15 and U/16-17; Teenage Girls teams in U/13, U/15 and U/17; and Senior teams in Womens, A grade, B grade and C grade. The USQ Rugby Club is also very proud to host the first Modified Rugby Team (MRP) in Downs Rugby for players with learning difficulties.