A history of Holy Cross junior rugby league
When local league identity Bob Godfrey began coaching his first team of under 8s in 1961, he couldn’t have imagined the legacy he was creating. Half a century on, the Holy Cross Rhinos stand tall as a true Balmain DJRL success story. These days, the club boasts 230 players in 17 teams from U6s to 17s. Whilst continuing to grow, we also look back proudly on some wonderful achievements - champion players produced, competitions won, lifelong friendships forged, valuable lessons learned and outstanding deeds performed. All the while, the Rhinos have helped extend and enrich a mighty century-old connection between the great game of rugby league, Holy Cross College, the Ryde community and beyond. In his definitive history of the Balmain Junior Rugby League, From Fraser to Farah , author Chris Karas wrote at length about Holy Cross JRLFC, our milestones and more noted players, starting, of course, with our most famous export of all, Blues, Tiger and Rhino legend Ben Elias. The following is printed with Chris' kind permission. Our main photo shows the Rhinos' only 15-year player, Darren Nicholls, with future Kangaroo, Luke O'Donnell at Leichhardt Oval on grand final day, 2000.
Champion Hooker Benny Elias from Holy Cross Junior Ranks
Benny and the Rhinos ... our best ever.
CHAMPION hooker Benny Elias is the greatest footballer to emerge from the Holy Cross Ryde junior ranks.
Elias - inducted into the Balmain Tigers Hall of Fame in 2005 - first donned the maroon and gold jumper as a fresh-faced 10-year-old in a crackerjack Holy Cross team that won seven successive Balmain Junior League premierships without losing a game between 1973 and 1979.
The classy hooker was a cut above the rest and by the age of 15 was starring for the Balmain S.G Ball and Australian Schoolboys Open teams.
Elias revolutionised the art of hooking and is regarded by many as one of the greats of the modern era.
He played 234 first grade games for Balmain during an illustrious 13-year career that also featured 19 State caps for NSW, two Kangaroo tours in 1986 and 1990 and five Test appearances.
Talented half back Greg Cox and top centre Denis Bendall were graded by Balmain from the Holy Cross junior nursery in the 1970s. Others to follow included the likes of Mark and Paul Beavan, premiership-winning Penrith prop Paul Clarke, John Owens, Mike Marketo, Gerard Crowe, Mark Dimento, Patrick Walsh, Craig Clarke, Peter Clarke, Martin Mulcare, Paul Perkins, Tony Elias, Stephen Cox, Lloyd Butt, Paul McInerney, Brett Wheelhouse, Grant Wheelhouse, Jamie Shepherd, David Shepherd, John Moses, Franco Kmet, Simon Greally, David Gower, Dave Marando, Bryan Dickson, Craig Carrington and Josh Lewis, Darren Nicholls, Jarred Farlow, Jacob Marketo, Matt Hyland and Aaron Woods.
The Rhinos have produced a host of Balmain junior representative players and have won the most premierships since entering the Junior League in 1965.
Promising cubs Darren Nicholls, Jacob Marketo, Australian Schoolboys prop Aaron Woods and State U/17 rep Matt Hyland made the grade in 2008 at NYC Toyota Cup level before Marketo (St George-Illawarra), Woods and Hyland (Wests Tigers) were drafted into the NRL.
Skilful five eighth Nicholls, who captained the Tigers to the 2009 Toyota Cup Grand Final against Melbourne, was named Balmain-Ryde Eastwood's Rising Star in 2010 and is now playing Super League in Europe with Toulouse Olympique.
Tough forward Gower was named the NSW Cup Player of the Year in 2009 and represented NSW Residents against Queensland along with Farlow - the NSW Cup Lock and Captain of the Year in 2010. He also made his run-on debut in the NRL in round three this year with St George.
Woods made his top grade debut for Wests Tigers against the Bulldogs in the opening round of the 2011 premiership.
The seed for rugby league was sown at Holy Cross College Junior School many years before they finally accepted Balmain's financial advances in 1967 to participate in the Balmain Junior League.
In 1961 former grade footballer Robert Godfrey, of Godfrey Auctions, approached the College and received permission to coach 8 year old rugby league teams that performed credibly in the Ryde Coaching Class competition.
At the same time 'Borromeo' - as Holy Cross College Preparatory School was then named - played junior rugby union from the ages of 9 years to 12 years.
So began a great tradition of rugby league football at Holy Cross.
Borromeo - under the guidance of Sportsmaster Brother John Thompson - had dominated the Eastwood Junior Rugby Union competition for many years, generally taking out all grades from Under 9s to Under 12s.
In 1966 the Borromeo Under 10 side won their premiership undefeated, scoring 450 points for nil against.
Throughout the 1967 season, after many heated debates within the Borromeo Junior Rugby Union Club, it was democratically decided to enter the junior teams in the Balmain Junior League Schoolboys competition.
Due to the happy association the Borromeo club maintained with the Junior Rugby Union, it was also decided that during this transition period a number of schoolboy teams would be registered in both codes.
Naturally this became quite a challenge for the coaches and managers, who at times played their junior rugby game at Meadowbank Park and then bundled their players into cars to race to E.L.S Hall Oval at North Ryde to arrive only just in time to run onto the field for their junior league fixture - and in many cases win both matches.
At the end of 1968 the Borromeo Club voted for a complete withdrawal from rugby union. The Eastwood Rugby Union Club was very concerned that so many of their future players were being lost to rugby league and tried desperately to have the Borromeo club reverse its decision. About this time, St Charles School at Ryde became part of Borromeo for winter sports.
Although rugby league was always the main winter sport at Holy Cross College Secondary School, they were not benefiting from the Primary whose code up to 1967 was rugby union.
However all grades of both codes did participate in selected rugby league knockout competitions, both within and outside the College, with outstanding results.
Naturally the Metropolitan Catholic Schools (MCS) rugby league competition which has always been considered the prize sporting highlight for the College to capture, is highly regarded and fiercely contested, but suffered considerably in the early days because of the two codes being played at the school.
With the amalgamation of Primary with their senior partners, the College produced its full potential.
Not only did the players at the College combine Secondary and Primary but more important the weight, expertise, knowledge and other factors that make rugby league teams function on the field were now united in the administrative department also.
Results on the football field is the ultimate guideline to success and the records of Holy Cross since 1965 are most impressive.
Holy Cross foundation committee comprised Junior League delegate Fred Bendall, former Balmain Junior League secretary Bill Brown and president John Jackson, Allan Boekeman, Michael Mulherin, Max Hemmens, Myles Kennedy and Peter Cox.
They worked tirelessly to build the club into a potent force at Ryde Schoolboy and Junior League level.
Other officials who have played key roles in the club's proud history include top coaches John O'Brien and Kevin Smythe, Harry Raven, John Doyle, Charles Fisher, Kevin Tyrrell, Ted Clarke, Gayle Caruso, George Butt, Kevin Newton, Brian McGoogan, Barry Alexander, Wayne and Janine Papworth, Michael Haylen, Barry Geraghty, Pat and David Mitchell, Steve and Trish Hyland, Allan Jarvis, Stuart Stanton, Paul Clifford, Brett Wheelhouse, Danny Stapleton, Chris Woods, Richard Jones, Gary Hinchliffe, Helen Williams and Sharon and Peter Boyle.
Life member Bill Brown was secretary of the Balmain Junior League when the Tigers won the 1982 S.G Ball and Jersey Flegg Cup trophies with a batch of Holy Cross cubs.
*An adaptation from the book “From Fraser to Farah - the History of Balmain Junior League 1908-2008” written by Chris Karas.
Also in this section ...
Facts and Figures
Club War Cry
Did you know ...?
- The Rhinos have won more premierships over the past 50 years than any of the other 10 Balmain DJRL clubs with 112 titles.
Spread the word ...
Related Rhinos articles by Chris Karas
- Ryde college a thriving league nursery
April 1, 2011
- Rhinos rule the roost in junior nursery
August 22, 2007
- Rhinos, Wolves and Cougars share spoils
August 31, 2005
- Benny Elias Shield trifecta
August 25, 2010
- Showcase of top junior league talent
August 15, 2007
Did you know ... ?
- A number of our current Rhinos are the sons and grandsons of former Balmain players or officials but none can match cousins Zach and Jason Stanton, whose great, great grandfather turned out for the Tigers right back where it all started in 1908.
Rhinos' best ever ... ?
The Rhinos' outstanding side of the 70s, starring Ben Elias, rates as one of Balmain DJRL's best ever. But who were his team mates?
Did you know ... ?
- Johnny O'Brien's 55-year association with Holy Cross junior rugby league is the longest but was punctuated by an 18-year absence while coaching at John Paul II at Marayong. Dave Mitchell's 23 years as a Rhino's coach make him our longest-serving continuous clubman.
Galleries of yesteryear ...
Some of our historical Rhino pics go way back ... check 'em out!