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Gold Coast Rugby League Club

Club History
by Sean Fagan of RL1908.com

Kevin CampionThe Gold Coast club (originally Gold Coast - Tweed Heads) joined the premiership in 1988. Known by various names over their eleven seasons, the club failed to reach any great heights before being closed down after the first year of the NRL.

In May 2005 the NRL announced that a new Gold Coast club would be allowed entry into the 2007 competition.

The base of the first Gold Coast club overlapped the state border between Tweed Heads (in New South Wales) and Gold Coast (in Queensland). This meant it was in the unusual position of drawing players from both NSWRL and QRL district competitions.

Rugby league began in ‘the Tweed' following the visit of South Sydney to the town of Murwillumbah in 1914. The success of the Rabbitohs against a Tweed side saw the Tweed Wednesday Rugby Union, the only football in the region, vote to "play League instead of Union".

The well populated farming region of northern NSW saw regular visits from the Great Britain Lions including matches at Lismore, Grafton, Kempsey and eventually Tweed Heads itself in 1979.

In comparison the holiday resort area of the Gold Coast did not become an established rugby league area until the 1970s. The first visit of an international side to the region came in 1982 when New Zealand played at Burleigh Heads.

When the NSWRL was considering the proposals for the entry of three new clubs in 1988 (bringing the total to 16) there were a number of applications for the Brisbane club. When the so called ‘Internationals Syndicate' missed out on their Brisbane bid, they set their sights on the Gold Coast - Tweed Heads region.

It was hoped the Gold Coast could provide the corporate support, while the Tweed would provide a strong Leagues club and ground (at the Seagulls Stadium complex), supporters and vibrant local club competition. The ‘International Syndicate', comprising John Sattler, Bob Hagan and Peter Gallagher, were all former Australian players.

The Gold Coast - Tweed Giants were accepted into the 1988 competition and appointed Bob McCarthy as coach, Graeme Langlands as team manager, with Ken Irvine as sprint coach. The Giants entered the players market well after Brisbane and Newcastle, causing a mid-season storm at Manly when they signed Ron Gibbs. Also joining were Chris Close, Mike Eden, Billy Johnstone, Neil Hunt and Tony Rampling.

The Giants found the going tough in their first season, winning only four matches. The club snared the giant Queensland back rower Bob Lindner in 1989 as their on field performances improved marginally. A 29-6 flogging of Manly at Seagulls was one of the rare highlights.

In 1990 the club dropped the Giants name in favour of Seagulls in recognition of the financial backing coming from the licensed club. The tongue-tired reference to the ‘Tweed' also disappeared as the Gold Coast Seagulls began a new era for the club in their red, white and black jerseys.

Over the next three seasons the club failed to avoid the wooden spoon, taking last place every year. Even the signing of Wally Lewis in 1991, after he had fallen out with Brisbane, did nothing to change the club's fortunes. Lewis' appearance in the team attracted more fans through the gate, but he became increasingly frustrated at the inability of the majority of his team to convert the opportunities he created on the field.

Lewis became captain-coach in 1992 and the club gained experienced players Brent Todd, Steve Jackson, Dale Shearer, Paul Martin and Mike McLean. The expected improvement in results failed to materialise and at the end of the season Lewis ended his playing days to concentrate on his role as coach.

The ensuing season saw no change in the club's position at the tail of the field and Lewis was replaced as coach for 1994 by John Harvey. Lewis though had put a lot of faith in the junior talent in the club and given more time he may have achieved more success.

His 1993 team saw the early days of the careers of seven future Queensland State of Origin players: Kevin Campion, Wayne Bartrim, Jamie Goddard, Jason Hetherington, Scott Sattler, Adrian Vowles and Terry Cook.

With Craig Coleman, Peter Gill and Wayne Bartrim showing the way in 1994 the Seagulls finally moved above last place - up one position. The arrival of two additional Queensland clubs in 1995 did nothing to assist the stability of the Gold Coast club. In late 1994 the Seagulls lost a total of ten first grade standard players to the North and South Queensland clubs. Bartrim also left for St George.

In the 20 team competition the Seagulls managed to finish four places above the bottom in another season of gloom. One of the rare highlights was the selection of teenage sensation Ben Ikin in the Queensland side after only a handful of games for the Gold Coast.

The ensuing off-season proved almost fatal to the club. The Seagulls Leagues club withdrew its financial support and the ARL/News battle clouded the future of the game so much that no willing financial backers could be found. Local businessman Jeff Muller stepped in by mid December 1995 and apparently took control of the club. A farcical period then ensued which saw a procession of rugby league identities coming and going from the club.

Ultimately the ARL took control by deciding to run the club itself. The ARL appointed a board of directors, led by respected League officials Tom Bellew and Paul Broughton. The club was moved into Queensland and was renamed as the Gold Coast Chargers. The new home ground became Carrara Stadium, located 8km to the west of Surfers Paradise.

An entire first squad was put together in the last weeks before the 1996 season kicked off. Wearing jerseys in a combination of jade, black, purple and gold colours, the Chargers side was built around Jamie Goddard, Brendan Hurst, Shane Kenward and Jeremy Schloss, with Phil Economidis as coach.

Brendan Hurst 1996 football card The Chargers performed well in the twelve team 1997 ARL competition, achieving their best ever result by securing 7th position and earning a spot in the play-offs.

Captained by former Test player Graham Mackay, the historic side for the first semi-final included Andrew King, Marcus Bai, Wes Patten, Martin Bella and Scott Sattler. Against Illawarra at Parramatta Stadium the Chargers earned a 14-4 lead at half time, before a try to Sattler pushed them to 20-8 in front. The Steelers fought back but a field goal and late try saw the Gold Coast win a semi-final at their first attempt by 25-14.

The Chargers returned to Parramatta a week later to front the 4th placed Sydney City side. The match was an even affair until the last twenty minutes when Gold Coast captain Mackay was sin-binned for dissent. During his absence the Roosters ran in three tries, eventually winning 32-10. The efforts of coach Economidis did not go unrecognised as he won ‘coach of the year' at the ARL Awards night.

The better than expected finish to the season also deflected talk of mergers with the rapidly ending South Queensland Crushers and Hunter Mariners. The Chargers were included in the NRL's twenty team competition for 1998 and with their finances now in a sound position, home crowds improving and pleasing on field results the club seemed on the rise.

Unfortunately it all came undone. The fans faded away as the Chargers slumped back to equal last, winning only four games all season. While keen judges observed that the club had a prodigious talent in rookie utility back Preston Campbell, a visit to Melbourne saw the Chargers defeated 62-6 in a diabolical performance.

While the Chargers thought they had another season to position themselves for the 2000 14 team competition, they ultimately paid dearly for their 1998 results. The St George and Illawarra joint venture triggered further concessions between News Ltd and the ARL. News Ltd withdrew its financial support of the Adelaide Rams, and the ARL - who were still in control of the Chargers - decided to close the Gold Coast club down.

In recent years the Gold Coast region has become a growth area for residential development with a burgeoning population of mostly young families. The push for the inclusion of a new Gold Coast club succeeded in May 2005, and the club will make its debut in 2007.

Gold Coast Rugby League History © Sean Fagan / RL1908

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