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The Balmain Tigers (also known as the Sydney Tigers from 1995-96) were one of the founding rugby league football clubs of the New South Wales Rugby League and one of the most successful in the history of the premiership, with eleven titles. Only South Sydney and St George had won more by the time the tigers merged with neighbouring club Western Suburbs Magpies to form the Wests Tigers in 1999.

The club's home ground was Leichhardt Ovalmarker, in Sydney's inner west. They were also known as The Watersiders in their earlier days.


Foundation Club

In 1908 Australia's first season of rugby league began in Sydney and the Balmain club were one of nine foundation clubs to compete. Balmain reached their first Grand Final in only the second year in the competition but would protest as the match was scheduled as a warm up for a Kangaroos vs. Wallabies game. The South Sydney Rabbitohs were officially awarded the Premiership when at they kicked off to an empty half of the field.

After a string of poor years the Tigers managed a strong turn-around to become a dominant force in the Australian Rugby League with the club's first, second and third Premierships coming in successive years dominating the 1915, 1916 and 1917 seasons. Tigers dominance continued winning the 1919 and 1920 seasons comfortably. When they won the 1924 premiership this would be the last success for Balmain for over a decade to come.

Golden Era

wouldn't be until 1939 the Tigers won back the Premiership smashing Souths 33-4. The weekend of the Final will also be remembered for the invasion of Poland by Germany which led to England and Australia going to War.

Post-World War II marked a golden era for Balmain with the Tigers reaching five consecutive Grand Finals winning three of them. In the 1944 Grand Final the Tigers beat the strong favourites Newtown 19-16. Balmain reached the Grand Final again in 1945 but fell at the last hurdle against Easts 22-18. The loss was not long remembered as the Tigers went on to take out the next two seasons, beating St George 14-12 in 1946, and Canterbury 13-9 in 1947. On the hunt for a third successive title, they lost to Wests in 1948.Image:Balmain home jersey 1908.svg|1908-1924Image:Balmain home jersey 1930.svg|1925-1939Image:Balmain home jersey 1940.svg|1940-1962Image:Balmain home jersey 1963.svg‎|1963-1999Image:Balmain heritage jersey 2008.svg‎|Current heritage used by Wests Tigers


The Tigers would appear in several Grand Final matches throughout the 1950s & 1960s but were just another victim to the mighty St. George Dragons eleven year streak of Premiership wins in this period, losing in 1956, 1964 and 1966. When the Tigers did take out the competition in 1969 it was a classy 11-2 defeat of favourites Souths who boasted 11 internationals, this would signal the last time Balmain would ever win a Grand Final. The side was captained by Peter Provan, brother of Norm, and coached by Leo Nosworthy.

The 70s weren’t a great era for the Tigers. The wooden spoon had not been in Balmain since 1911, but it returned for the second time in club history when the Tigers won only 4 games and had 2 draws in 1974 following a number of poor years. That period of time between 1911 and 1974 was the longest wooden spoon drought for any team of all time, but current club Manly-Warringah look set to eclipse that record following recent years of success. In 1976 things looked more hopeful when Balmain began the year with an undefeated run through the pre-season "Wills Cup" competition. The side also won the 1976 Amco Cup knockout tournament in front of a then-record crowd of 21,600, beating North Sydney. The Tigers won eight straight games and led the competition, but a mid season slump left the Tigers in the same position as in 1975 and they failed to make the finals.


The Tigers consistently made the finals series in the 1980s reaching the play-offs in 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1989. In 1986, one of Balmain's players, Great Britain captain Garry Schofield topped the try-scorers list for the season. The Tigers wouldn’t reach the Grand Final until 1988, the first time since the 1969 success, winning a lot of fans along the way with a number of ‘backs to the wall’ performances winning four consecutive sudden death matches in just 3 weeks. The top five teams out of the premiership table went on to the final series, and this was the first time that a team in fifth position had progressed to the Grand Final. In 1988 the Tigers were deemed certain to miss the finals with 8 games left in the regular season. The Tigers remarkably only lost a single game from that point onwards reaching the Grand Final against Canterbury, only to be denied the trophy in a controversial 24-12 loss. Canterbury player, Terry Lamb, is still considered by most fans to have 'stolen' the title from the Tigers by knocking out the legendary Ellery Hanley with a high shot in back play midway through the first half. The Tigers were leading the game at the time.

The side would again make the Grand Final in 1989 but this time were the obvious favourites. The ’89 Final is regarded by many as one of the best ever in the history of Rugby League. In a controversial affair the side lost in extra time against the Canberra Raiders after being ahead 12-2 at half time.

After the heartbreak of the 1989 Grand Final, the Tigers never regained their dominating form (although they did make the finals again in 1990) and went through a rebuilding phase following the retirement of star players Wayne Pearce, Garry Jack, Steve Roach and David Brooks who had all played over 100 games for the club over a period of 10 years or more. The stars were missed as Balmain finished second-last in 1993 and got the wooden spoon in 1994.

In truth, it was the departure of coach Warren Ryan at the end of 1990 that was the key turning point for the club. Balmain took a risk on hiring the famous former Wallabies coach-cum-radio announcer Alan Jones as coach in 1991. As Paul Sironen admitted years later in his autobiography, the 'running rugby' style of Jones was too simplistic for the structured defensive patterns which had developed in rugby league during the 80s. Jones also began a controversial clear-out of some of the other Tigers stars who had not retired, notably the Kiwi international Gary Freeman, and often replaced them with inexperienced juniors who were not yet really ready for first grade football. By the time Jones was sacked as coach at the end of 1993, incoming coach Wayne Pearce inherited a massive problem which was only getting worse.

In drastic action Balmain released 31 players at the end of 1994 and moved to Parramatta Stadiummarker as the 'Sydney Tigers'. The Tigers stayed at Parramatta Stadium for 2 seasons before heading back to Leichhardt Oval. The Tigers only averaged 6,565 people attending home games at Parramatta Stadium in what was regarded as a failed experiment.

The Merger

Although things picked up for the club in following years, the Australian Rugby League/Super League war would spell trouble for the club. 1999 was a tumultuous year for the Balmain Tigers. The season began with a dark cloud hanging over the 17 clubs. The Super League/ARL compromise had left 1999 as the last season before the 14 team NRL competition began and with it came the much talked about criteria. On-field Balmain was struggling with a savage injury toll that forced the Tigers to use over 40 players throughout the season.

In July the option of forming a joint venture with fellow foundation club, the Western Suburbs Magpies was put to the Football Club members. The members ultimately voted in favour of a joint venture. As it turned out Balmain was in the top 14 clubs under the criteria (ahead of current NRL teams Penrith and South Sydney) but would have continued to struggle to be financially competitive with bigger clubs. The decision to enter a joint venture saw a crowd of 15,240 turn out in atrocious conditions to watch the Tigers play their last home game in first grade at Leichhardt Oval as the Balmain Tigers.

1999 was not the end of an era. Instead it was the dawn of a new era in the evolution of the Tigers. In 2000, the Tigers were still there in the black and gold as Wests Tigers whilst the NSWRL First Division and junior grades carry on the fine tradition that is the heart and soul of Balmain and the Mighty Balmain Tigers.

Although now known as Wests Tigers, the side made it to the 2005 Grand Final and defeated the North Queensland Cowboys 30 -16. Many old Balmain supporters have stuck with the club through the merger and regard the Tigers Grand Final win as one for Balmain also.

The club today

The club currently competes in all of the New South Wales Rugby League competitions. In the Premier League they are merged with the Ryde-Eastwood Hawks. They still enjoy their rival match against the Western Suburbs Magpies.

Coaching register

Name Years W D L % Finals Grand Finals Premierships
Robert Graves 1908-1913 33 2 41 43% 1909 0 0
Bill Kelly 1914-1915 & 1938-1943 73 11 35 61% 1938,'39,'41,'42,'43 1 2
Arthur Halloway 1916-1920 55 3 12 79% 1916 1 4
Charles Fraser 1921-1924 & 1932 36 5 22 57% 1924,'32 1 1
Alf Fraser 1925-1929 27 4 42 37% - 0 0
Norm Robinson 1930, 1944-1947 & 1954-1956 84 9 49 59% 1944,'45,'46,'47,'56 5 3
Reg Latta 1931 5 0 9 36% - 0 0
George Robinson 1933-1934 9 3 16 32% - 0 0
Joe Busch 1935-1936 18 1 11 60% 1936 1 0
Harold Matthews 1937 4 0 4 50% - 0 0
Athol Smith 1948-1950 37 6 17 62% 1948,'49,'50 1 0
Jim Duckworth 1951 6 0 12 33% - 0 0
Arthur Patton 1952-1953 15 0 21 42% - 0 0
Sid Ryan 1957 9 0 9 50% - 0 0
John O'Toole 1958-1960 29 1 29 49% 1958,'60 0 0
Harry Bath 1961-1966 65 3 48 56% 1961,'63,'64,'66 2 0
Keith Barnes 1967-1968 26 2 16 59% - 0 0
Leo Nosworthy 1969-1973 55 2 56 49% 1969 1 1
Alan Mason 1974 4 2 16 18% - 0 0
Paul Broughton 1975-1976 22 2 21 49% 1975 0 0
Ron Willey 1977-1979 35 4 29 51% 1977 0 0
Dennis Tutty 1980 7 0 15 32% - 0 0
Frank Stanton 1981-1986 79 2 72 52% 1983,85,86 0 0
Bill Anderson 1987 14 1 10 56% 1987 0 0
Warren Ryan 1988-1990 49 1 25 65% 1988,89,90 2 0
Alan Jones 1991-1993 24 3 39 36% - 0 0
Wayne Pearce 1994-1998 40 1 71 36% - 0 0

Players of note

In May 2003 the Balmain Tigers Team of the Century was named:

2005 the members of the Team of the Century became the inaugural inductees to the Balmain Tigers Hall of Fame. In addition to those inductees a further five were inducted at the inaugural Hall of Fame dinner on 17 March 2005. These were:

A further five were inducted at the Hall of Fame dinner on 29 March 2006. These were:

A further five were inducted at the Hall of Fame dinner on 20 March 2007. These were:

A further five were inducted at the Hall of Fame dinner in 2008. These were:



Biggest Win
  • 64-2 vs Wests at Pratten Park on July 29, 1944

Worst Defeat
  • 5-62 vs Wests at Lidcombe Oval on March 31, 1974


Most appearances

Most tries in a match
  • Sid Goodwin: 5 vs University at Leichhardt Oval on April 4, 1935
  • Arthur Patton: 5 vs Eastern Suburbs at SCG on August 12, 1944
  • Bob Lulham: 5 vs Parramatta at Leichhardt Oval on August 2, 1947
  • David Topliss: 5 vs Newtown at Henson Park on August 7, 1977

Most Tries In A Season

Most Tries For Club

Most Goals In A Match
  • Frank Driese: 11 vs Wests at Pratten Park on July 29, 1944
  • Keith Barnes: 11 vs Norths at Sports Ground on July 24, 1960

Most Goals In A Season

Most Goals For Club

Most Points In A Match
  • Frank Driese: 22 vs Wests at Pratten Park on July 29, 1944
  • Keith Barnes: 22 vs Norths at Sports Ground on July 24, 1960
  • Ross Conlon: 22 vs Wests at Leichhardt Oval on April 4, 1985

Most Points In A Season

Most Points For Club

Award Winners

Major Sponsors

  • Camperford (1977)
  • Avis (1978-1980)
  • Sharp (1981-1982)
  • Saxonvale Wines (1983-1985)
  • Alpha Micro Computers (1986-1987)
  • Philips (1988-1993)
  • MLC mobiles (1994-1995)
  • Meriton Apartments (1997-1999)

Notable fans

Balmain Tigers District Junior Rugby League

The Balmain Tigers District Junior Rugby League is one of the oldest Junior Rugby League Competitions in Australia. It administers an affiliation of junior rugby league clubs in the inner west and inner north west of Sydney.

The league caters for age groups from under 6's to A Grade (opens). The Senior competition (Under 13's - A Grade) is a combined competition with the St. George District Junior Rugby League. The Under 6's to Under 8's is a non-competitive competition. The Under 9's to Under 12's play in a modified competition.

As of 2009 there were ten clubs in the Balmain Tigers Junior Rugby League, with over 120 teams. These clubs are;
  • Balmain PCYC (formerly known as Balmain Police Boys)
  • Carlingford Cougars (formerly known as St Gerards Carlingford)
  • Concord-Burwood United Wolves (merger of Burwood Utd & Concord Utd in 1990's)
  • Dundas Shamrocks Junior Rugby League Football Club (formerly known as St Patricks Dundas)
  • Five Dock RSL Dockers
  • Holy Cross Rhinos (Ryde)
  • Leichhardt Juniors
  • Leichhardt Wanderers (known as Leichhardt Gladstone until 1930's)
  • North Ryde Hawks
  • Strathfield Raiders
  • West Ryde-Denistone Stones

Some extinct clubs that once played in the Balmain District junior competition include;
  • Drummoyne Sports (until 1990's)
  • Balmain Waratahs (until 1990's)
  • Ermington-Rydalmere (until 1990's)
  • Glebe Police Boys (until 1990's)
  • Balmain United (until 1990's)
  • Cricketers Arms (until 1990's - Darling St, Balmainmarker - know known as Monkey Bar)

  • Ryde District Devils (until 1980's)
  • Birchgrove Scorpions (until 1980's)
  • Gladesville Sports (until 1980's)
  • West Ryde-Dundas

  • Rozelle Codocks (until 1970's)
  • Pyrmont Colts (until 1970's)
  • Glebe Shamrocks (aka St James Sports Club - until 1970's)
  • Ryde CYO (unil 1970's)
  • Carlingford CYO (unil 1970's)
  • Balmain Arlines (until 1970's)

  • Glebe Youth
  • Bing & Swing (Glebe, former Glebe district junior team - folded in 1930)
  • Balmain Iona (aka Rozelle Iona)
  • Drummoyne Rovers (1920's)
  • Rozelle Fernleigh (1920's)
  • Marist College Eastwood

Some notable Balmain juniors include;

See also


Further reading

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