The history of ACT Premier Rugby Union
The ACT local rugby club competition got underway in 1938 and from the very beginning the teams competed for a piece of silverware, a striking cup donated by John Dent. John Dent was a friend of WG Woodger (Uncle Bill & Ozzie) who was then the President of the ACTRU. John Dent himself was a wealthy Cootamundra grazier wo also owned shops in Civic, Kingston and Manuka. He retired to live in Canberra and took up a grazing lease on which is now erected the suburb of Weston.
The inaugural First Grade Premiership Final took place on 6 August and RMC, who were to enjoy a healthy start to the competition in the pre-war years, took out the first Cup, downing Northern Suburbs 11-6 at Manuka Oval. The Military College defended their crown a year later beating Eastern Suburbs in the showdown and claimed the 1941 Final against the same opposition. In between, Northern Suburbs took home their first title.
It was in 1942, 6 April to be precise, at the ACTRU 6th Annual General Meeting at the Hotel in Kingston that a recommendation was made to rename the trophy the John I Dent Cup after the man who had supplied the spoils. Unfortunately, due to the Second World War, the cup would not be competed for again until 1945.
When play resumed in earnest it was RMC who, once more, were the dominant force. Two wins in a row in 1945 and 1946 precipitated a run of five successive wins as the 1950s hove into view. Even when RMC weren’t winning, their second team was as RMC 2 downed RMC 1 in the 1950 Grand Final, the former winning 17-15.
Eastern Suburbs had won their first Final in 1947 and Canberra Royals claimed their first crown in 1954 with an 11-3 victory over Northern Suburbs. As the decade drew to a close Royals won back-to-back titles in 1957 and 1958 including a record 40-17 victory over Queanbeyan, the most points a team scored in a title decider until Tuggeranong Vikings racked up 44 against Wests in 2011.
Queanbeyan were first time winners in 1959 but the sixties began with RMC bagging a trio of wins in succession, the last in 1962 their final taste of cup glory to date. Royals then won a treble of their won (1964-66) whilst Western District saw the transition into the seventies with their maiden win.
Western District began the seventies as they ended the sixties, by lifting the John I Dent trophy with a 27-3 win over Royals. The dominant force in local club rugby throughout the decade, Western Districts were to win seven Grand Finals in ten attempts in a glorious run for the club. Royals were on the receiving end twice during this spell (1970 and 1976) as were RMC (1972 and 1974).
Breaking the Western Districts monopoly of the competition were Northern Suburbs, led by the try-scoring prowess od D. Power, who claimed back-to-back titles of their own in 1971 and 1972 defeating Queanbeyan 8-3 and RMC 17-13 respectively. Royals won their eighth crown in 1977 and would end the seventies by adding a ninth, a narrow 13-12 win over Queanbeyan sealing the deal.
Whilst Royals would begin their won period of dominance on the local game, Western Districts reign came to and end with their 1978 win over Queanbeyan, a 17-9 success at Rugby Park. The trophy success would be their last taste of the winner’s circle for fifteen years. Royals emphasised the changing of the guard by beating Wests 10-3 in the 1980 Grand Final.
Queanbeyan sprung to prominence in the early 1980’s, following the trend of losing a couple of big games before getting their hands on the cup. The Whites had been beaten in the Final in both 1978 and 1979 before dragging themselves back into contention and winning three on the spin from 1981-83. Again, following the trend of success turning into decline, Queanbeyan would not win the tournament again until 2007.
Similarly, Daramalan, lost two in a row in the early eighties before winning a couple of titles themselves. The team, that was to emerge as Gungahlin Eagles, actually played nine Grand Finals in succession from 1982-1990 but would only be on the winning side twice. As far as bridesmaid stories go Daramalan’s is pretty compelling. They would have their day in the sun again however, as we shall see.
As the 1980’s drew to its close Royals emerged as the crack unit once more, winning in 1987, 1988 and 1989, and they would carry that run of from into the nineties with successes in the first two years of the new decade. Indeed, Royals met Daramalan in four straight finals from 1987-1990 and must have been truly sick of the sight of the men from Phillip.
Whilst Royals began the 1990s as the pre-eminent club rugby side in the ACT they wouldn’t have it all their own way. The wins in 1990 (18-7 over Daramalan) and 1991 (14-13 over Tuggeranong) were their only John I Dent Cup victories as they followed the trend of suddenly finding difficult what once was so easy. Six times in the following eight years they’d be forced to clap off the winners as the vanquished opposition.
The first of those defeats was a maiden, and sole, success for University in 1992. An amalgamation of ANU and University of Canberra they saw off Royals 22-17. The club would later merge with Northern Suburbs in 2001 to form the Uni-Norths Owls as we know it today. Wests took up the baton once more in 1993, their first win since 1978, before the birth of the Tuggeranong juggernaut.
Tuggeranong had reached their first Final in 1991, losing to Royals, but would be back with a vengeance in middle of the decade. Indeed, in a frightening run of form the southside club would contest twelve of the next thirteen John I Dent Cup Grand Final deciders, winning seven of them. The only final they would not compete in would be in 2002 when Wests defeated Royals 29-12.
Tuggeranong’s first win in 1994 was a comprehensive revenge mission as they were too strong for Royals winning 30-10. The duo would meet in the next two Grand Finals as well but these would be much tighter affairs. Vikings winning 11-10 in 1998 and 13-10 twelve months later. Only Wests seemed capable of upsetting the Tuggeranong steamroller.
They defeated Tuggeranong 13-5 in the 1996 showdown and embarked on a triple success of their own from 2000-2002, with Tuggeranong their victims in the first two Finals of the new Millennium. Royals returned to the big stage in 2002 to try and wrest the title from Wests but they too left with a bloodied nose, sent packing to the tune of 29-12. Wests would win again in 2005 but before that Gungahlin had their turn.
The Eagles snatched a 26-20 win over Tuggeranong to win the Cup in 2003 but Tuggeranong reversed the roles a year later winning 33-13. Another win for Tuggeranong in 2006 against Gungahlin followed before the decade ended with Queanbeyan atop the tree, the Whites successful in 2007 and 2008 but losing out in 2009.
If losing in the 2009 Grand Final to Tuggeranong was a disappointing way to end the previous ten years, Queanbeyan were determined to make amends and did so by gaining ample revenge in 2010. The Whites claimed the spoils from an absolute thriller at Viking Park winning by 30-28, a wonderful match to kick-start the next generation of John I Dent Cup Finals.
Whether that defeat reinvigorated the Vikings is unknown, but something was definitely stirring in the men from the Valley and they roared back in the years that followed. Four wins in a row and five victories in six finals appearances, made them the team of the decade to date.
Wests, Royals and Queanbeyan all had a pop at dethroning the Vikings during this period of the game with Wests first to feel the force of a Vikings side that was as strong on the pitch as it was in good health off it. The 2011 Final saw Tuggeranong batter Wests 44-18 and they repeated the feat a year later, albeit by a less impressive margin, this time winning by twelve points, 29-17.
Royals stepped up to the plate in 2013 but they suffered the same fate, beaten 28-21 as Tuggeranong utilised the nous and experience they had of the big day to grand effect, calling on all their reserves to hold off a stiff challenge. Teams were getting closer though and Queanbeyan were unfortunate to lose 25-13 in 2014 before the dynasty came to an end.
All good runs generally do and, as we have seen, the John I Dent Cup has thrown up many examples down the years of teams building successful Grand Final winning squads before seeing their streak come unstuck. For Vikings, this was to occur in 2015 as Royals ended twenty-four years of hurt by taking the silverware home. 1991 was the last time Royals had won the cup and now, as then, Tuggeranong were the side they sent packing. They wouldn’t have to wait as long to win again this time!
You can’t keep a good side down however and Tuggeranong were back in 2016 and celebrating once more, a thirteenth Grand Final win, as they beat Whites 26-22. In 2017, Royals won an eighteenth Cup with a 28-12 defeat of Wests capping their perfect, undefeated season.
Last season, Royals got back to the Grand-Final, but couldn’t quite secure the Championship, losing to Vikings 29-17. Vikings were the best team in the competition from start to finish and were worthy winners on the day.