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Easts celebrate 75 years of tough times, trophies and fun in style

Fri, 22/07/2022, 11:14 am
Jim Tucker
by Jim Tucker
70 years ago...the first grade side of 1952
70 years ago...the first grade side of 1952

The 75th anniversary party for Easts on Saturday night will have the glow of trophy memories that was missing from planning for the club’s 50th year.

When 1997 dawned, the Tigers were yet to win a first-grade premiership. The high hopes of visits to the grand final (1971, 1984 and 1995) had all been dashed.

Fast forward 25 years. The Tigers long ago ditched their inferiority complex. They have five glorious premierships to toast as well as the biggest juniors base in Australia with more than 1000 kids registered.

Only University of Queensland (six) have won more titles over this period.

Peter ‘Bull’ Murdoch (1997), Richard Graham (1999), Jade Ingham (2009), Jack Mullins (2013) and Ben Mowen (2020) have all led the Tigers to the Hospital Cup.

For Murdoch, the promised land was merely a mirage for season after season. He had toiled for more than 200 first grade games at lock before leading the Tigers into the 1997 grand final at Ballymore.

“To be captain and part of the first premiership team makes me extra proud because of what it meant to the club. You could feel how special it was when the crowd invaded the field at full-time,” Murdoch said.

“I arrived at Easts as a 17-year-old. The camaraderie, the inclusiveness, the enjoyment through all the grades, always supporting a mate in need...those things have always been a big part of what makes the club.

“It’s a place you can always have an incredible amount of fun with rugby thrown in. I’ve stuck around ever since.”

JB Sullivan was a productive centre in the 1997 grand final side but what happened next earned a place in club folklore.

He was still in his striped Tigers jersey and match socks three days after the grand final such was the epic celebrating at Bottomley Park.

The 2022 side is honouring the history in a unique way. There are moves called ‘Bull’ and ‘Spindle’ (named after 1997 and 1999 premiership winner Richard Graham) as a nod to the nicknames of club trailblazers.

Easts 1997 team

The club’s humble origins were in 1947 when the Queensland Rugby Union initiated an Old Boys Division for past students of GPS schools.

Brisbane State High School Old Boys was formed. The group of young men played as Colts the following season before Eastern Districts was born in 1949 as part of the QRU’s push for district Rugby.

Paul Mooney was proudly from the State High Class of 1946, played in the club’s foundation year to follow and became a true Easts stalwart.

The beginnings were humble for sure. Now 94, former first grade fullback Glynn Gauld remembers playing on the old Bottomley Park in the early 1950s when pieces of tin and glass would rise from the old garbage tip it was built on.

Mooney became Easts’ first Wallaby as a fast-striking hooker for two Tests against Fiji in 1954. As a youngster, he tuned his hooking technique with an unusual drill. Using two chairs as props, he’d get one of his twin sisters to feed a mock front-row and the other to receive the ball after a quick strike.

He would go on to become a Life Member at Wests and the QRU for his devoted service to establishing junior Rugby, principally at Under-19s level.

He would look back at his Easts’ milestone fondly: “There’ll be better Wallabies than me from the club but I’ll always be the first.”

The roll call of Tigers who have risen to become Wallabies has multiplied over the years. Red-headed fullback Bruce Cooke, silky flyhalf Paul Kahl and enforcer Nigel ‘Shredder’ Holt each played a single Test.

There have been a string of others, including respected lock Peter ‘Spider’ McLean, current coach Ben Mowen, who captained the Wallabies in 2013, lock Blake Enever and Queensland Reds co-captain Liam Wright.

Backrower Mowen returned from a lengthy playing career in France to devote 2020 to a final season at Easts before retirement. The ultimate reward was not just a first-grade premiership but the heady ‘six-from-six’ premiership week for the entire club.

Ben Mowen sends the Easts supporters on XXXX Hill in raptures after the 2020 Grand Final win

Tiger King - Ben Mowen thanks the Easts supporters on XXXX Hill after the 2020 Grand Final win

Acclaimed flanker David Wilson was the best openside flanker in the world during the prime periods of his 79-Test career.

He shared the highest honour in the game beside another Tiger, replacement hooker Jeremy Paul, in the 1999 Rugby World Cup final triumph in Cardiff.

The women at Easts have won more silverware than any other club. And why not with Wallaroos great Selena Worsley and current Australian captain Shannon Parry on the roll of honour.

Parry sums up the mood at Tiger-town, having returned to the club from the professional sevens program that earned her an Olympic gold medal in 2016.

“There’s something about Easts...everyone says ‘gidday’ even after all my years away, there’s the family aspect and the whole club community is supportive,” Parry said.

“I think the big ticket is inclusivity. The women aren’t on the back field anymore in the far corner under the dim lights where you’d lose sight of the ball when a high kick was put up.

“We’re on the main field, the lights are on and it’s great to hear that women’s amenities are part of the club’s upgrade plans.”

Club President Dave Waldie is excited about the future with a master plan that includes replacing the clubhouse which has served since the 1970s.

“We want to make the most of the 10-year runaway for Brisbane with the 2027 Rugby World Cup and the 2032 Olympics,” Waldie said.

“We are lucky to have the gift of three full-sized fields. The remodelled back field will be ready for next season.

“We have a well-developed master plan which will rebuild infrastructure so the juniors, women, Modified Rugby Program, Colts and Seniors can continue to grow.”

Easts will want to take winning smiles into Saturday night’s gala dinner. As ever, the first thing is taking care of business on the field against Norths at Hugh Courtney Oval in the latest round of the StoreLocal Hospital Cup.