Normanby RLFC is one of Brisbane’s oldest surviving amateur Rugby League Football Clubs.
Arguably Brisbane’s most successful amateur club, Normanby has won a number of Premierships in five different Leagues over the years and is probably the only club to do so. These include trophies in Shiftworkers League, Commercial League, Metropolitan League, Public Service League and Brisbane Second Division.
The club was formed in 1947 and was originally based at the Normanby Hotel. Before the recent change of ownership and refurbishment of the hotel, many of the club photos once hung proudly on the walls of the bars.
In 1950, a team was first entered in the Shiftworkers League – a Sunday competition played at Hamilton and which in the early days was reputedly run by bookmakers including the great John McLeod who donated trophies to the winners. In this first year Normanby made the finals but went down to Sandgate-Nundah 23 - 6 in the minor semi-final.
The Shiftworkers competition consisted of teams from district worker groups, as well as the wharfies from Hamilton and provided popular Sunday entertainment for an otherwise dull day of rest. Crowds of up to 13,000 people attended Grand Finals and players often received more money in this competition than they did for their clubs on Saturdays.
In 1951 the club fielded A and B Grade teams both of which were competitive especially the B Grade which played in the mid-season Wight Shield and the Grand Final. Normanby played home games at Gilbert Park, Red Hill and regularly atrracted crowds in excess of 1,000 at the ground. Normanby went on to win the Premiership in 1951.
Normanby formed an early connection with Western Districts and many Wests players backed up for Normanby in the Shiftworkers League. This caused friction in 1951 when the BRL had to schedule three weeks of match of the day fixtures on Sundays June 17, 24 and July 1, due to the use of the Brisbane Cricket Ground by other codes on the Saturdays. Tom Purtell (Wests President) told the Courier Mail, "We will hold our players on July 1".
This rift caused both the Shiftworkers League and the B.R.L. to seek a compromise and in 1952, the Shiftworkers League sought affiliation with the B.R.L. The terms of the affiliation were hotly debated and the application dragged on most of the 1952 season*. The club was always strong in Shift Workers, winning the 1952 A Grade premiership in this very tough League, defeating Hamilton 16-14 Normanby 16 (Ching 2, Johnson, Dowling tries, Fraser 2 goals) d Hamilton 14,in front of 12,000 spectators (Courier Mail Monday September 15, 1952). In this year they won a rare double also beating Hamilton in the B grade 21 -12.
In an interesting sidelight, hooker Leo Johnson, who played in the Grand Final for Normanby was offered a place in the St.George side for 1953 after the game. Johnson, who was 19 at the time, was praised by St.George chairman of selectors, Len Kelly, who said, “in my opinion the only hooker in Sydney football who would beat Johnson is the Test hooker, Kevin Schubert.” St. George were in Brisbane to play two post season games and the squad watched the Shiftworkers’ Grand Final. Johnson was keen at the time but got cold feet however and played with Souths (Brisbane) in 1953. He made the Queensland team in 1954, but was thrashed in the scrums in the first game against NSW by Schubert. Queensland only went down 26-23 despite having only 30% of the ball, but Johnson was dropped and didn’t play for Queensland again until 1960.
Normanby proved their Shiftworkers’ premiership win was no fluke by again beating Hamilton, 22-8, for the Flem Hickey Cup as a curtain raiser to Sydney v Brisbane Waterside Workers eleven days later on Thursday 25 September at the Exhibition Ground under lights. Normanby 22 (Pickup 2, Dowllng. Biffin tries: Long 3. Fraser 2 goals). d Hamilton 8. (*by 1953 things had settled and the League was affiliated with the B.R.L.)
In 1953, Normanby again made the B Grade Grand Final, but went down to Hamilton 24 -3.
The Shiftworkers League eventually evolved into the Commercial Rugby League, and most games were still played at Hamilton. Commercial League was also known for its toughness and competitiveness. Normanby’s success continued and they added more premierships to their growing Trophy Cabinet. Normanby won Premierships in Commercial League in 1961, 1962, 1971 and 1972. In addition they were runners-up in 1963 1964 and 1965 and preliminary-finalists in 1970.
In 1973 the club moved from Commercial Rugby League to the Metropolitan Rugby League which was based at Gibson Park, Stafford. Normanby was immediately competitive and were Minor premiers, Premiers and won the President’s Cup, the Carlton Cup and the Castlemaine Cup in their first year. The club went on to win many premierships, becoming the most successful club in the Metropolitan League. They were winners in 1973, 1974, 1976, 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1984.
In the mid 1980s, Normanby moved to the Public Service League at Kalinga and again won the premiership in 1985, the first year in their new competition, completeing a fantastic run of five premierships in a row albeit in two different competitions. They also won a B Grade Public Service League Premiership in 1986. At this time, however, rugby league in Brisbane was changing with club football now being played on Sundays. With much more entertainment becoming available on Sundays and Brisbane Club Football now firmly establishing Sunday as the main day for fixtures, clubs struggled to find players for the once popular Sunday Leagues and the Public Service League gradually shrank and finally folded.
In 1993, the Club had a final move to Brisbane Second Division which played on Saturday afternoons, winning a Premiership in this first year.
In the Hounds 60th year, 2007, the Hounds were inspired by the significance of the year and were passionate and committed in the grand final and came away with a hard fought 34-22 win against Deception Bay Bombers. The Bombers were undefeated throughout the premiership rounds but the Hounds rallied to beat them in both the major semi-final and the grand final.
Normanby has now won Second Division Premierships in 1993, 1999, 2007 and 2013, and hopefully there will be many more to come.