Tomorrow night the Melbourne Storm and Cronulla Sharks will playoff for the right to carry around the coveted J.J Giltinan Shield … as minor premiers. This seems a massive undersell for a trophy of such historical significance.

The JJ Giltinan Shield was awarded to the New South Wales Rugby League premiers for the first time in 1951, a year after James Joseph Giltinan’s death. Giltinan was part of a group of men who have since become known as the Founding Fathers of the 13-man game. Giltinan, along with Henry Hoyle, Victor Trumper and Peter Moir, were the main drivers for the installation of a new union, one which would offer compensation to players whose rugby league injuries forced them to miss work days.

A brand-new trophy, its first owners were the South Sydney Rabbitohs. The Bunnies, featuring such luminaries as Clive Churchill, John Graves and captain/coach Jack Rayner, downed relative rookies the Manly Sea Eagles (Ken Arthurson et al.) 42-14 in the decider at the Sydney Sports Ground. (If you’ve ever seen the Sports Ground mentioned in record books over the years and wondered what happened to it, it’s underneath the Sydney Football Stadium and Rugby League Central car park on Driver Ave, Moore Park.)

As authoritative rugby league historians David Middleton and Ian Heads wrote in their superb book A Centenary of Rugby League, Giltinan “was a man of energy and enterprise, an opportunist and an entrepreneur who put up the money for the games that started rugby league, and who then took a further punt – on the first Kangaroo Tour – and was bankrupt because of it.”

The Shield could even be awarded alongside the current Telstra Premiership trophy after the grand final; this writer has no issue with that. This happened for many years before the shield’s demotion to minor-premier prize. The Wills Cup from 1960–1981, the Winfield Cup from 1982–1995 and the Optus Cup in 1996 were all awarded alongside the Giltinan. Doing this ensures the Shield is left untarnished by sponsor names.

Come up with some other trophy for the minor premier if need be. Judging by recent debate, clubs would rather the money (but more than the $100,000 on offer) than a trophy anyway, wouldn’t they?

As rugby league spirals further and further away from many of its traditions such as founding playing strips and venues, presenting the Giltinan Shield to the grand final winners would be one viable way of maintaining a link to not only the game’s past, but to the origin of its very existence here in Australia. It’s time for the Shield to be given its deserved annual lap of honour on that first weekend in October.