West Harbour R.F.C. was founded in 1900 as Western Suburbs D.R.U.F.C. with Stan Wickham – who could play five-eighth or centre with distinction – as foundation captain. The club originally fielded only two grade teams but still won the Sydney Premiership at its third attempt in 1902. Since then the club has won one other championship – in 1929 – when the great Sid King was among the players in our firsts.
Western Suburbs grew from a club originally known as Burwood that played in the Sydney competition before the electoral system began. The club had to change its name to Western Suburbs to satisfy municipal aldermen when it sought a lease on St Lukes Oval, later Concord Oval. Ward and Wheat Prentice followed Wickham, the club’s first international when he played against Great Britain and New Zealand between 1903 and 1905, into Test rugby.
Western Suburbs enjoyed a golden era after World War I when Secretary Francis Joseph Herlihy co-opted T.C. (Iron Guts) Davis, Larry Wogan, and Charlie Rea to help lift the club’s fortunes. Davis became Western Suburbs’ captain-coach with Wogan and Rea assisting him both on and off the field. They built a playing strength that enabled Western Suburbs to figure prominently in the competition for years and to win it in 1929
Western Suburbs’ boundaries were far-reaching in its early days because the club could draw on players from Concord to the Harbour, south to Port Hacking, north to the Parramatta River, and west to the Blue Mountains. When Parramatta, St George, Drummoyne, Gordon and Eastwood joined the competition these boundaries were reduced.
The brothers Geoff (1929) and Keith Storey (1936) entered international football from Western Suburbs followed by Sid King (1929), M.R.Blair (1931), T.S.Lawton (1929), A.Thorpe (1929), P.K.Collins (1937), R.L.F.Kelly (1936), R.E.M.McLaughlin (1936), T.P.Pauling (1936), and Cecil Ramalli (1938). Phil Hardcastle was an established Test player when he joined us from Easts in 1948.
Western Suburbs were unceremoniously bundled out of the Sydney 1st Grade competition in 1951 to eliminate the need for a bye in the weekly match draw. Western Suburbs were brought back in 1966 because of a desire to introduce the University of NSW to 1st Grade.
Western Suburbs faired poorly until Rufus Miahere joined as 1st Grade coach in 1970. Miahere began with seven wins in 1971 and eight wins in 1972. In 1973 he lifted us back to the glories we enjoyed in the 1930’s by winning 17 matches in a row. Western Suburbs won the Club Championships that year and the season was flawed only by our loss to Randwick in the Grand Final. That year Laurie Monaghan became our first test player since World War II, followed shortly after by one of Sydney’s true Rugby characters, Mick Ellem.
The Club was relegated to 2nd Division again in 1980 and promoted back to 1st Division in 1981. In 1982 the Club had discussions with the Sydney Rugby Union regarding the upgrading of Concord Oval. The Club made a donation of $250,000 to the NSWRU, which allowed the State Government to provide a further $1 million.
In 1987 more than 25,000 people attended Concord Oval to watch the World Cup match between Australia and France. In recent years concord Oval has come under the auspices of the NSWRU who have almost abandoned the arena for games despite the fact that it is still the best Club ground in Australia.
The 1980’s and 90’s saw resurgence in the Club’s strength. Stephen James represented Australia in a number of Test series from 1986 and Fili Finau wore the green and gold on a French Tour in 1993. In 1997, Fili Finau again represented Australia, this time against New Zealand in the Bledisloe Cup. Jason Madz and Fili Finau also featured prominently for the NSW Super 12 side during this period. Steve Devine represented NSW and Australia U/21’s and played with the Waratahs before taking up a Super 12 contract with the Auckland Blues. Steve has been a member of the All Blacks squad since 2002. Pierre Hola capped off a fine 2001 by being selected in the Tongan national team and was a member of the Tongan 2003 World Cup Squad and is playing in Japan.
Club stalwart Des Tuiavii played for the ACT Brumbies in 2000/01 before taking up a NSW Waratahs contract for the 2002/03 seasons. Des won both the Sydney Morning Herald’s Player of the Year and the NSWRU Ken Catchpole Medal in 2001 and played his 100th 1st Grade game for West Harbour in 2003. Des finished a remarkable 2003 season by playing for the Samoan side in the 2003 World Cup.
A number of other players have also reached NSW U/19 and U/21 representative levels during this time including Danny Naylor, Bill Young, David Basha, Daniel Parks, Matt Dunning, Rob Shehadie, Nathan Mc Lachlan, Brendan O’Connell, Salesi Ma afu, Matt Skillecorn, Rodney Blake, Alesana Muliaina, Chris Siale, Elia Tuqiri, Peter Sullivan, Pierre Hola and Ben Tull.
West Harbour currently has had a number of players in the NSW Waratah and Junior Waratah squads.. Lote Tuqiri,, Chris O’Young and Elia Tiqiri all represented the Waratahs in 2004. Chris Siale and Rodney Blake represented the Australia U/21 side in the IRB Championships in Scotland. Both subsequently signed Super 12 contracts – Chris with the Waratahs, Rodney with the Reds. Lote Tuqiri continues to play a starring role for the Wallabies and the latest West Harbour wallaby is League convert Timana Tahu. Des Tuiavii also played in the Samoan Rugby World Cup side. Viliami Fililava and Salesi Maafu are full time members of the Waratah Junior Academy – others including Mark Howelll, Lewis Farrar, Khan Taylor, Fotu Aalua, James King, Dave Rimmer and Chris Moore have been part of the 2005 NSW Academy Program. Peri Maika, Chris Siale, Elia Tuqiri and Nick Reily all represented Australia in the IRB Sevens at various stages throughout 2004.
The Club established a Rugby Academy Program in 2002 to provide local junior and school players with the opportunity to be involved with the Club and take part in advanced training sessions, attend information session regarding diet and strength programs, meet current Waratah players to discuss career paths and professional Rugby, as well as becoming part of the NSW and ARU Talented Identification Program. The Academy Program was expanded in 2003 to include scholarships and a separate Junior and Senior Academy Program.
Wests Juniors continue to expand their operations and provide the Club with a valuable source of talent for the future. The Club has grown from two teams nine years ago to encompass all age groups from Under 6 to Under 17’s. These sides have also represented West Harbour at the NSW State Championships. The Junior Committee is run independently of the senior club and has done a magnificent job in promoting Rugby in the inner western region. The West Harbour U/13 District side won the NSWJRU State Championships whilst the Unders 16’s had a tremendous series before going down in the Final.
The 1999 season saw a new era in Wests Rugby with the introduction of a Womens team to our ranks. The Women won their 5th premiership in 2004 – runners ups in 2003. 7 West Harbour players (Penny Anderson, Louise Ferris, Charmain Smith, Debby Hodgkinson, Tui Ormsby, Nyree Osieck, Pearl Palaialii) represented the Australian Wallaroos in last Womens World Cup Tournament in Barcelona (Spain) . Debby Hodgkinson was named the SMH “Player of the Year” for the 2004 season.
The Club changed its name in 1995 to West Harbour Rugby Football Club to more truly reflect the Clubs location in the inner west. The Club is one of 13 sides competing in the NSW Rugby Union Premier competition – The Tooheys New Cup. Our Licensed Club (The Pit) amalgamated with Burwood RSL in 2002 and is scheduled for redevelopment in July 2005. Our home ground is Waratah Rugby Stadium (Concord Oval) which was home of the first Rugby World Cup in 1987.
The Club had a successful 2004 season with 3rd, 4th & 5th Grade, 1st , 2nd & 3rd Grade Colts and the Women all progressing through to their respective Final series. The Women were once again Premiers. West Harbour won the Colts Club Championship and the Club was placed 4th in the overall Club Championship.
Overall 22 players have been chosen directly from Wests to represent the Wallabies.
The Original Gates to Concord Oval (1900)
Concord Oval from the Air