Bears and Magpies set to renew old rivalry at Francis Ryan Reserve

ONE of the oldest and most feared rivalries in Group Seven Rugby League will add another chapter to the history books on Saturday afternoon.

Wreck Bay United and Crookhaven will clash at Francis Ryan Reserve at 2pm, marking the first time the two sides have locked horns in almost 20 years – the last coming in 1999 at the Berry Showground, with the Bears winning 84-nil.

“Saturday is going to be a special day – it’s going to be an honour to lead the boys out,” said Bears captain/coach Michael Blattner.

“Especially with it being NAIDOC week, I know all the Koori community are very excited for this match, which they’ve all had circled since the draw came out.”

The Bears, during their first stint in the competition which started in 1997 with a third grade side, went on to play in eight grand finals from 1974 to 2002, winning two of them in 1980 (18-14 over Shellharbour) and 1995 (22-2 over Jamberoo), while going down in 1997, 1985, 1987, 1993, 1994 and 1999.

In 1987 when they lost 42-32 to Shoalhaven All Blacks at Kiama Showground, it was the biggest crowd ever for a Group Seven grand final and one of the most spectacular grand finals ever witnessed.

Their last appearance in a decider was in 1999, where they lost to Sussex Inlet at Albion Park, the same year Todd Roberts won the Athol Noble third grade best and fairest award.

Despite this being his first season in the red and black colours, Blattner still avidly remembers these fiery clashes more than two decades ago.

“I can still remember watching these two teams going at each other like it was yesterday and it’s nearly been 20 years, which speaks volumes of how great those games were,” Blattner said.

“It was ferocious and scary footy and I feel privileged to be a part of it now.

“I can see the rivalry picking up where it left all those years ago and quickly becoming a must watch game on the calendar once again.”

The Magpies, who first entered a reserve grade side in 1964, last won a premiership in 1998, where they defeated Jamberoo 31-nil in third grade, before playing their final season in 1999 – excluding the 2003 season, where the Bears and Magpies joined forces for one season.

During their history, they’ve won the third grade/Regan Cup in 1984 (14-8 over Jamberoo), 1988 (15-4 over Milton-Ulladulla), 1989 (26-16 over St Georges Basin) and 1990, while also playing in deciders in 1974, 1975, 1981, 1983, 1991 and 1996.

“It’s great to not only see both clubs back in Group Seven but also renew this rivalry, which is what we grew up watching – it brought I tear to me eye when I found out we were back in the competition,” Magpies assistant coach Andrew Wellington said.

“The game is more than just a footy game, it brings two indigenous communities together, with a common understanding about what it’s all about.

“We’ve been counting down the weeks to this match and I know all the boys are jumping out of their skins to take the field.

“The whole town is a buzz, with black and white streamers lining the streets and I know the boys will do the jumper and all the former players proud on Saturday.”

Saturday will also involve a Welcome to Country Ceremony, as well as both teams walking out through a guard of honour, with the Magpies holding celebrations for their 1978 under 18s side.

Going into the clash, the Bears currently sit in third place, with a 6-3 record, while the Magpies are fifth with a 4-1-5 record.