Moree residents stood as one to welcome home Moree High School Uni Shield winners
AS Moree High School’s pursuit of University Shield glory drew closer, an entire town banded as one to support a team of proud under-dogs.
Store window decorations and bunting in Moree’s main street were commonplace, and home games at Taylor Oval were played to grandstands packed with screaming fans.
And the frenzy wasn’t limited to rugby league tragics, either; people who wouldn’t know a football from a mothball quickly came to know each and every player on a first-name basis – and their field positions.
Paul Peachey says the support and encouragement from the people of Moree was instrumental in the team’s success.
“The beautiful thing is that it wasn’t about money; it was about Moree and its people,” Peachey said.
“The whole town got behind us and supported us, it was absolutely fantastic . . . they were wonderful times.”
It is estimated that more than 1000 supporters journeyed to Gosford to urge Moree High School to victory, and that number and more greeted the (in)famous “red rattler” when it pulled in to Moree railway station the following morning.
Those that didn’t attend the historic match tuned into special progress reports relayed by Moree radio station 2VM – a live cross to Grahame Park that is believed to have drawn the biggest Saturday afternoon listening audience for the station in a broadcasting history that stretches nearly 60 years.
A delayed telecast was also broadcast the following Tuesday night on regional network, NEN Nine.
Team member Gregg Humphries said the overnight trip home was “out of this world”.
“There were people on the train who were sitting and sleeping in the aisles – it was jam-packed,” he said.
As the Moree town band welcomed the travel-weary team on to the platform that frosty Sunday morning, more than 1500 supporters emerged from backyards, cosy lounge-rooms and workplaces to be a part of the emotional homecoming.
Many more lined the streets of Moree as the team, perched high on the back of a brightly-festooned table-top truck, joined a motorcade through Moree, the prized University Shield held proudly skyward.
Bernie Briggs, who kicked the crucial conversion that sealed the 13-12 win over Forbes High School, said team members were physically and emotionally drained by the time they arrived in Moree.
“If you look closely at one of the photos taken when we got off the train, there’s only one of us smiling,” he grinned.
An appreciation dinner and civic reception – a first in Moree for a schoolboy rugby league team – was arranged three weeks after the match and the players were, quite literally, handed the key to the city.
“It was just incredible,” Peachey said.
“The whole town celebrated. People would follow us down the street and then walk up and congratulate us, shaking our hands.”
In a public letter of thanks, then-Moree High School principal Ian Hodge wrote: “The all-round support was a tremendous morale booster and materially assisted in cementing the team spirit which developed during the quest for the shield.
“The way the boys came from behind to defeat Forbes is ample evidence of this spirit nurtured by coach, John McLean.”