The Rivalry Series: When the Vikings raid the Royals, penance is required

John I Dent Cup
by Matt Cleary

In the latest of RUGBY.com.au's series on some of Australian rugby's greatest rivalries, Matt Cleary looks at why two fierce foes in the ACT love to hate each other.

BROTHERLY BRAWL

"Canberra Royals and Tuggeranong Vikings go back so deep they can’t agree who’s underdog. 

Royals have more premierships (19) than Tuggeranong (14), though Vikings have been around half as long and are coming up with a bullet.

Tuggeranong has won six of the last eight premierships. Royals won the other two. 

They do agree that big brother is Royals and baby brother Vikings.

Though little brother has much more money than big, and is well out from under the shadow.

Big brother has more Wallabies.

Little brother has more Brumbies.

Big brother will celebrate its 70th anniversary on June 22.

Little brother celebrated the 2018 premiership.    

And so on.

This has been going on for 33 years. 

Indeed when players re-join Royals after a stint with the club’s arch-rival Vikings, they are asked to perform what might be described as “ceremonial penance”. 

To perform again in the royal blue strip after a stint in Viking red, the player must climb atop the club’s bar and skull a beer in the nude.

And then apologise.

THE RIVALRY SERIES: CHAPTER ONE: WHEN TWO TRIBES GO TO WAR, THERE IS USUALLY A GILBERT INVOLVED

Royals versus Tuggeranong fixtures have long been physical.

These people hate each other.

They don’t “hate” each other. It’s rugby not Rwanda.

Plus they are effectively the same people. They school together, work together, live together. In some cases they are related.

But come Saturday they will don the kit of their tribe and go to war with the mob over the hill.

There is no more passionate, intense, physical derby in Australian rugby.

GEO-POLITICS

Vikings and Royals inhabit valleys separated by Cooleman Ridge, Mount Taylor and Wanniassa Hill. 

The Tuggeranong valley was once outer Canberra, the southern frontier to the snowy mountains. 

It was where young home-owners went to breed.

And as they did and more like them came, the region grew and grew, and sprawled ever south into the tundra. 

And Tuggeranong became a behemoth. 

And the local rugby club – which entered the ACTRU comp in 1978 and was kicked off by four blokes drinking beer in a demountable shed – became a whale. 

Today Vikings are so big there’s a Vikings Group. 

The rugby club is backed by four licensed clubs with more resources than all other local clubs combined. 

The ACT’s National Rugby Championship team – to the annoyance of many local rugby types – is Canberra Vikings because said group backs them with money.

In the late ‘80s Royals mooted doing a similar thing. 

They changed the club’s name to Canberra Royals and mused about entering a team in Sydney’s Shute Shield. 

It was a precursor to Canberra Kookaburras, and quite annoying to most everyone else in ACT rugby for the “arrogance” of it.

People aren’t that fond of winners. Particularly not cocksure, strutting ones.

In the 1980s and ‘90s Royals’ licensed club was a huge venue. You could see the Angels play, Cold Chisel, Suzi Quatro.

Financial problems saw the licensed club taken over by the Raiders, though, who paid out its debt and left the rugby club without a base.

Today's Royals’ clubhouse is a brick outhouse no bigger than a scout hall.

And few in ACT rugby – those from Tuggeranong least of all – cried Royals a river.

CULTURE CLUB

Throughout the 1980s Royals were fitter than everyone else in ACT rugby courtesy of renowned league hard man Brian Bourke.

Coach John Kelsey had played junior footy with the country league legend. He suggested Bourke was just the man to make the club or break it.

Thus Tuesday nights under lights at Rivett Oval was witches hats and bow-legged Bourkie barking “hard yards”.

Surviving “a Bourkie” became a rite of passage. And a clear path to success.

Bourke’s legend grew and by 1985 he was running Canberra Raiders ragged. 

Mal Meninga eventually lobbied for Bourke to leave because his infamous “Mad Hour” made so many Raiders vomit. 

Rugby, meanwhile, was amateur and largely played for fun. Royals’ coach Kelsey and Kim Thurbon after him agreed that winning was the most fun. 

And the best way to win was to run. And the best way to run was to be fit.

So Kels and Thurbs had Bourkie flog the players like horse thieves. 

“But everyone bought into it,” says Royals Wallaby centre Paul Cornish. “The whole club - and it was like seven grades - would ‘do a Bourkie’. 

“You’d have 100-odd guys on a Tuesday night, all getting flogged, doing hills, doing 400s.

“Then come Saturday, in every grade, we’d be running other teams off their feet.

“Maybe normal now. In those days it was our point of difference.”

Royals saw themselves as the local embodiment of Randwick’s “Galloping Greens”. 

In times of leather footballs, Garry Owen and 10-man rugby, Royals played open, attractive, “running” football. 

In 1990 Thurbon instructed his players to never kick. Ever. And all season, every game, they ran and ran and ran, from everywhere. And won the comp.

There were Wallabies in first grade. The club made up the bulk of the ACT team. 

Michael O’Connor remains Royals’ most famous product. The Nowra kid was instrumental in dual premierships (’79-’80) and played for the Wallabies as a Royal, before heading north and a making a rugby league switch.

But the club’s DNA was set. They would run and run. 

After O’Connor, Cornish, Geoff Didier, John Ross, Matt O’Connor and Matt Pini played for Australia.

Greg Quinn and Jim Taylor should have.

Early in 1988 Royals played Randwick in a pre-season trial. And won. 

And while it just a trial and random Wicks were in Kiama playing sevens - and none of those left behind were called “Ella” – it was pretty special for Royals to knock off any Sydney team, much less the famous men in green.

It was a feeling enjoyed by few others in ACT rugby. 

Because Royals, to coin parlance of the time, were “up themselves”. There was more than a whiff of arrogance. 

The club knew it. They knew they were loathed. They revelled in it. 

It was unapologetic; Royals didn’t see the club’s dominance as bad for ACT rugby but rather as a standard for other clubs to reach.

And they dominated club rugby for a decade. 

From 1985, Royals routinely made grand finals in all seven grades. Most would win. Some grades went through undefeated. You could play sixth grade with old boys who’d played for the ACT.

The club championship was misere. 

First grade won the comp in 1985, lost the decider in ’86 (to Daramalan), then won five grand finals straight ’87-‘91.

For all the Wallabies, arguably Royals’ best – certainly most exciting - player of the decade was G.Quinn. The man was mercurial. 

He could dummy and step and shred opposition.

He once pulled off a dummy switch in which three Queanbeyan Whites barrelled winger Anthony Hofmeier into touch while Quinn dived over untouched.

His dummies could send everyone the wrong way – players, referee, crowd.

For a period he was so good coach Kelsey put video tape together and sent it to Wallabies selectors.

Locals reckoned if Quinn had played for Randwick – or Gordon or Manly or GPS, et al - he’d have played for Australia.

Quinn could beat anyone – except a flying Horse.

In 1991 at Phillip District Oval Tuggeranong’s Craig “Horse” Sweeny ripped off a move of his own – a stiff-arm and coat-hanger – ridiculously late - that sent Quinn’s legs flying up over his head, and 29 Royals and Tuggeranong players into combat in front of a baying Michael O’Connor grandstand.

Sweeny told mates he was concussed and can’t remember it. 

Quinn told mates he was annoyed because the chip and chase was on.

Either way Royals won the match and later the premiership beating Vikings by a point through Mick Newham penalty goals.

And the club celebrated and cavorted about town on party buses and ever wilder “Mad Mondays”, turning up at Tuggeranong’s Erindale club with a discarded book case, dumping it in the lobby, calling it “Tuggeranong’s trophy cabinet”.

Royals had poked the dragon.

And Vikings seethed. 

And as their rugby club grew with the region, and one licensed club begat more, and profits spiked ever upwards, they plotted to bring big brother down. 

And the worm turned.

And Royals didn’t win again for 24 years.

DWYER'S LAMENT

Tuggeranong won the comp in 1994 (beating Royals) on the back of a giant Springbok No.8 called Jannie Breedt and a flash young fullback called Joe Roff. 

They were the stars. But there were a host of others, boys, mostly.

Craig Sweeny was a tower in the second-row. 

Flanker Brenden Jones was once praised by Bob Dwyer as “very, very annoying”. 

Justin Harrison had just come down from Lismore.

Nick Scrivener played No.12 and ran hard, tight lines. James Swan was swift outside him.

The sleeping giant of ACT rugby had stirred. Though it was a slow enough burn.

They recruited Wallabies front-rower Rob Lawton. 

Wallabies great Duncan Hall was made coach. So was Bob Hitchcock. 

Yet it was the unheralded Chris Hickey who piloted the club to the premiership in ’94, the grand final memorable for Roff’s powerful fend on rangy Royals centre Clayton Brown.

If there was a changing of the guard moment, that was it.

Tuggeranong won 19-14. 

ACT rugby also grew strong. Roff was joined by George Gregan, Rod Kafer and young Stephen Larkham.

There was Marco Caputo, Murray Harley, John Ross, the inimitable Geoff Didier. 

The territory, long the poor third cousin, won a famous victory over NSW 44-28.

They beat Ireland 22-9.

Meanwhile Tuggeranong’s founding father John McGrath was an ACTRU committee member. Vikings was a sponsor of the Canberra 7s.

Late in 1994, the ARU decided they would no longer sanction the Canberra 7s.

McGrath was at a lunch with then-Wallabies coach Dwyer who was lamenting the fact.

“Bob suggested we send our best players to play for various Sydney clubs,” says McGrath. “We, the Tuggies people, said we’d rather send an entire team from Canberra.

“Bob asked how much the club made per annum. Our president said, ‘Two and a half’.

“Bob thought we meant $2500. He said, ‘You can’t afford it’.

“After we told Bob that we actually made $2.5 million each year, from that point we had strong advocate in Sydney.”

Canberra Kookaburras were born. ACT Brumbies followed.

And the top Royals and Tuggeranong players discovered a funny thing – they got on. Bus trips back from Sydney were beery and fun. Didier sang songs, told stories. 

(Later, the Canberra Vikings would play in the Brisbane club competition and under Laurie Fisher they won it all three years they played up north, from 2001 to 2003).

Meanwhile, Tuggeranong was on the up and Royals’ depth was tested. If you were looking to move up in footy, Vikings was the go. 

And they came from all over.

And the heaving southern suburb continued to grow.

Tuggeranong has now won 14 premierships. And it’s been Royals and others seething at their rich neighbour from down south, lording it over all.

There’s apocryphal stories of Tuggeranong flying Melbourne Rebels players back to play for them. 

It’s true that Melbourne approached Tuggeranong with the idea of parking players there.

Yet Vikings didn’t see any of them. Instead Melbourne recruited three Vikings.

And into Tuggeranong’s Book of Feuds it went.

In 2015 Royals snapped their 24-year losing streak when fullback Ben Johnson famously crossed with time up on the clock (against Tuggeranong, of course), their supporters flooding the ground in blue hoodies and flannelette shirts. 

Royals won again in 2017 unbeaten.

Around that, Tuggeranong has won six of the eight previous grand finals. 

They will go around this weekend with the same intensity as always. 

And they’ll do it for a cup named Wally.

WALLY 

Allan “Wally” Scollen had a prodigious left kicking boot. He could launch a torpedo punt like Ricky Stuart.

I played Colts with him in an ice blizzard in Crookwell in 1989. With the wind chill it might’ve been minus-2. No exaggeration. It was absolutely Baltic. 

We dressed on the team bus with the heaters on. We played 20-minute halves without a break. Then we got the hell off.

And Wally Scollen landed a goal from the sideline that the opposition stood under the posts and applauded. 

He’d placed the ball on some mud barely five metres from the try-line, just near the right corner flag where our halfback Paul Brown had touched down.

Then he lined it up, moved in and bent it hard, left-to-right into the icy, horizontal, stinging nettles, straight through the sticks.

I’ve been watching footy more than 40 years and nobody – not Mark Ella, Michael Lynagh, Grant Fox, Hugo Porta, Johnny Wilkinson, Andrew Johns, Hazem el Masri, Darryl Halligan or Johnathan freakin’ Thurston – has kicked a goal like it.

Wally’s conversion at Crookwell is the greatest goal I’ve ever seen. 

Wally played rugby for Marist College as a boy, part of the “Invincibles” who won the 1988 Waratah Shield scoring 941 points and conceding 78. 

He moved to Royals in ’89 and was straight into Colts, later debuting in first grade in a semi-final at Manuka Oval replacing the Wallaby Matt Pini. 

As Bruce Springsteen would tell you, they were glory days.

For the next decade Wally did what he’d always done – play rugby and make friends. 

He played for ACT, South Australia and Northern Territory. 

And there has been no more popular bloke in ACT, SA or NT rugby. He was a smiling, sweet-natured, flat-out crackerjack fellah. Champion bloke.

When he died in a car accident early in 2002, the Canberra community rallied for his little family, his wife, little girl and unborn son. 

And all his mates, equal parts Tuggeranong and Royals, stood arm-in-arm and wept and did their best.

On Saturday, Royals and Tuggeranong play for the Wally Scollen Cup. But 'play' might be underselling it.