NRL Mailbox: ANZAC Day tradition

Rugby League’s commitment to honouring those who have served our nation and whose courage and sacrifice has forged a bond between Rugby League and the Armed Services will again be commemorated in ANZAC Day tributes at matches in Sydney and Melbourne today.

While the long-standing ANZAC Day clash between the St George Illawarra Dragons and Sydney Roosters in Sydney has become a gathering point for war veterans and current service personnel after the city’s ANZAC Day march, the significance of the ANZAC Day tradition in Rugby League has grown to feature a second match in Melbourne between the Storm and New Zealand Warriors.

It is a tradition that honours men like Stan Carpenter, the first captain of Newcastle and an Australian representative who was twice recommended for the Victoria Cross;  Edward Larkin, the rugby union international who was the first full-time secretary of the NSW Rugby League and the Labor Member for Willoughby, who was killed at Gallipoli on ANZAC Day in 1915; Herbert ‘Nutsy’ Bolt, the NSW and Newtown centre killed at Fromelles in 1916 whose body was exhumed and identified in 2010; Jack ‘Bluey’ Watkins, the Eastern Suburbs and Australian lock forward who served on the Western Front; Clem Kennedy, the South Sydney and Australian half who fought on the Kodoka Track; and Jack Lennox, the Rabbitohs and Dragons player who died as a prisoner of war while working on the Burma-Thailand Railway.

They are among the hundreds of Rugby League players and the thousands of fans who have dedicated their lives to the defence of this country and who have inspired a Rugby League ANZAC Day tradition that to this day captures the hearts of fans both here in Australia and New Zealand, and around the world.

Their legacy will again be honoured, along with that of all of our nation’s service men and women, both past and present, at today’s Rugby League ANZAC Day matches that have become some of the most celebrated events of the Telstra Premiership season.

The ANZAC Day matches continue a tradition that dates back to 1926 when, on the first ANZAC Day holiday Monday, foundation clubs Easts and Balmain played in front of 20,000 fans at the Sydney Cricket Ground and Newtown and Sydney University played at Glebe’s Wentworth Park, with the first Rugby League match on ANZAC Day played in 1927, when Glebe met Western Suburbs, also at the SCG.

Last year Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith VC MG – a Roosters fan – honoured Rugby League by being part of an official ceremony which each year is developed in consultation with RSL NSW and the Australian Defence Force to honour Australian and New Zealand service personnel, both past and present, as well as a post-match ceremony that features the presentation of the perpetual ANZAC Cup to the winning team from the Roosters-Dragons match and the Spirit of ANZAC Award to the Man of the Match.

The Dragons-Roosters match will kick-off today at 4pm at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium while the Storm-Warriors match will start at 7pm at Melbourne’s AAMI Park.