This Sunday, elite-level organised rugby league will be played at Sydney’s Wentworth Park in Glebe for the first time since 1931.
At 5pm Sunday, the Newtown Jets will play an Intrust Super Premiership trial match against the Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles. This game will follow another historic encounter, a Ron Massey Cup trial match featuring the Jets’ feeder team Glebe-Burwood taking on Blacktown. That match will kick-off at the traditional Sunday time of 3.00pm.
Sunday’s historic double-header will be the Newtown club’s first appearance at Wentworth Park in 91 years. The Glebe Dirty Reds, meanwhile, last played at Wentworth Park in August 1929, 89 years ago. They lost to University 13-5 that day. A week later they drew with North Sydney 24-all before bowing out of the competition … until they were revived to team-up with Burwood for last season’s Ron Massey comp.
Wentworth Park was one of two venues used for the first-ever round of NSWRL matches back in 1908, but it hasn’t seen much rugby league since ’31, apart from the Sydney Roosters using it as a training base a decade or so back, while the NSW Blues have also had the odd training run there over the years.
The last-ever elite-level rugby league match played at Wenty featured Balmain, who used it for one home game in 1931.
Pop past there most days and you’ll likely see a set of soccer goals up either end of the Wentworth Park playing surface – as if to troll the modern 13-man game. You see, this stadium was once one of the hottest properties on the Sydney sports landscape (there’s a modern real estate tangent we could quite easily take here as well, but we won’t).
Back in the roaring 1920s, every sport wanted to play here. But it came at a price. As The Sporting Globe reported on Saturday, May 23, 1931, “from 1920 to 1923, competition for grounds, by the rival bodies, reached an acute stage. In 1923, the soccer body, in a successful effort to outbid the rugby league for Wentworth Oval, paid 666 pounds [$60,375 in today’s coin] for the use of that ground from May to August.”
This #codewarz thing has been a thing for a while then, hey? Sure enough, a quick check through the NSWRL records of seasons 1920-23 reveals that just one rugby league game - a 7-5 win for Glebe over Balmain on June 16, 1923 - was played at Wenty during that four-season period.
But that war ended soon after. “The formation of a grounds committee, reported The Globe, “comprising reps from of the different codes, took place towards the end of 1923, and as a result a halt was called in the matter of outbidding for grounds.”
Thank you to Andrew Ferguson’s Rugby League Project for all that record-keeping, and thank you to the Glebe-Burwood and Newtown clubs for returning the 13-man code to this lovely and historic venue … at very long last.