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The Early Years and Foley Shield

After the establishment of Rugby League in North Queensland, fierce rivalry between clubs and towns quickly became a feature of the game.

To play for your town, North Queensland, Queensland Country, Queensland and ultimately Australia quickly became the dream of every northern player!

In south Queensland the "Bulimba cup" competition between Toowoomba, Brisbane and Ipswich teams was the major competition in Queensland rugby league well into the 1970s.

When the opportunity arose, other regions in the state, including North Queensland, relished the chance to prove themselves against one of these sides.

The first indication of the strength of North Queensland rugby league came in 1921 when the Townsville representative team, captained by Arch Foley, defeated Bulimba Cup champions Toowoomba.

The celebrations after this victory would have been long and hard.

Such a victory caused the rest of the rugby league world to begin to take notice of North Queensland's rugby league ability.

The flagship of North Queensland rugby league quickly became the "A" grade inter town competition, which until 1948 was called the "Carlton Cup".

This was revamped and renamed the 'Foley Shield' in 1948, in recognition of Arch Foley's dedication and contribution to the sport.

Few northern rugby league identities are remembered as well as Arch Foley. Apart from representing Queensland in 1915 and captaining the Townsville representative sides until the 1920s, he was instrumental, along with Queensland Rugby League Secretary Harry Sunderland, securing a match between North Queensland and the 1928 touring Great Britain team.

This was to be the first ever clash between the region and Great Britain, as the prevous tour in 1924 only went as far north as Rockhampton. This match, played at the Townsville Sports Reserve, was a huge boost to rugby league in North Queensland.

The Foley Shield competition involved two zones - "Northern" - involving Cairns, Babinda, Tully and Eacham - and "Southern" with Mackay, Ayr, and Townsville.

In 1949 the "Central" zone was included involving Herbert River, Charters Towers and Home Hill.

With the region's prosperity derived predominantly from sugar cane, mining and cattle, rugby league prospered.

Most towns had club competitions involving three or more clubs, and gaining selection in a Foley Shield side to represent these towns was a great honour.

The Foley Shield final played in Townsville became a highlight of the rugby league calendar, with many southern talent scouts and coaches attending to see the North's players in action.

Despite the game's success in North Queensland, it was still generally harder for a North or Central Queensland player to be selected for higher honours simply because of the "out of Sight, out of mind" scenario. This was especially the case prior to the 1950s.

Apart from 1915 when seven North Queensland based players (all from Townsville) made the Queensland side, most Queensland sides up until the 1948 involved players from Toowoomba, Brisbane or Ipswich.

Players like Harry "Mucka" Fewin (Australia 1920) and Cec Aynsley (Australia 1924-28), both North Queenslanders, made their Queensland and Australian appearances from Brisbane, while Jim Bennett (Australia 1924) had played in Cairns in 1920, but again wasn't selected for his state or country until he returned to the Bulimba Cup competition.


"Mucka" Fewin in 1920 Australian jersey with Harry Sunderland and Norm Potter. By making the 1920 Australian side, “Mucka” effectively became North Queensland’s first international, although he was playing for Brisbane club “Carltons” at the time.


Often the only chance a northern based player had of impressing Queensland or Australian selectors was if he made the Queensland Country side, (featuring Central, and North Queensland plus Wide Bay players) to play a South Queensland team made up of Bulimba Cup players.

It was a huge boost therefore when Townsville's Bill Glasheen became the first North Queensland player to be selected for Australia when named in the 1933 Kangaroo touring squad to England.

Townsville's "Frosty" Benton became the second Northern based International when selected for the 1948 Kangaroo touring squad.