Petone and Onslow first five-eighth Jackie Dougan passed away last week in Masterton, aged 93.
The following story was published on this website in 2015:
1955: The year the suburbanites won the Jubilee Cup
The history of the Jubilee Cup is littered with fairytale wins. In recent times, championship wins by Oriental-Rongotai (2011) and Tawa (2013) have been embraced by their local communities.
In terms of cinematic seasons, it’s hard to go past Onslow’s first Jubilee Cup title success in 1955, the season when the community club representing suburban Ngaio and Khandallah took on and beat the established powerhouse clubs and won the title.
For several years Onslow had been building. They had won promotion to the Senior 1st grade in 1947 after winning the second division the previous year and were unbeaten after the first round before falling away at the back end of the season.
This pattern of hope and despair had continued for the next several years and mid-table finishes became the norm for Onslow supporters.
By the mid-1950s Onslow had a formidable set of forwards, but it was the surprise transfer from Petone of the leading first five-eighth of the day, Jackie Dougan, that provided the spark for them to win the championship.
At the time, the Jubilee Cup was at the peak of its popularity. Throughout the 1950s, club rugby was the leading show in town and crowds of several thousand were the norm most weekends at Athletic Park where two Senior 1 (Premier) matches were staged each Saturday.
University had set the benchmark. With four All Blacks, including the superstar of the day, Ron Jarden, they had swept to the 1952, 1953 and 1954 Jubilee Cups. They were chasing a four-peat of titles.
Though not as strong as they had been in the preceding three years, the students were nevertheless the favourites again. With Jarden at the peak of his powers (and scoring 110 points including 14 tries in 16 games in 1955) and others such as openside flanker Bill ‘Seagull’ Clark, who was going to stop them again?
Heading into the start of the season, Petone, with the likes of former All Black fullback Bob Scott current All Black lock/flanker Don McIntosh and hugely popular Wellington representative flyhalf Jackie Dougan were expected to be their closest challenger.
Onslow were one of a handful of clubs, including Oriental, Poneke and Athletic, who were at least expected to keep them honest. Wellington representative players prop/lock Cardy Williams, evergreen 35-year old hooker Stan Judd and centre Barry Allen, who had joined the side from Oriental, among them.
Other players included captain and No. 8 Bob Foster, future captain and flanker Stan Blair, half deaf and half blind forward Fred Thomson, No. 8 Jim Elliston, lock Trevor Reynolds, flanker Peter Elliston, former wing-turned prop Roy Lewis, halfback Bill Parekowhai, first five-eighth Ray Williams, midfielders Wally Heatherwick and Eddie Tonks, wings Bob Butler, George Blair and John Edmondson and fullback Mel Smith.
Pre-season, Onslow lost to Taranaki club Waverly 8-10 in their traditional Easter clash at Athletic Park, then had a narrow 5-3 win at home at Nairnville Park over Marist the following week on Club Saturday. After a mixed build-up, the championship proper was set to open the following week at home against Athletic.
Perhaps signalling a change of fortunes for the better, the No. 1 ground at Nairnville Park that had traditionally run alongside the treeline on the western side of the ground was changed to run in front of the terraces where it is today. In their first match, they battled past a determined Athletic to win 6-5.
Then came the shock news of Dougan’s transfer. Several years ago Bruce Heather, who was then a local Wellington College student and club supporter, wrote a book called Onslow’s Golden Winter. He recently explained the circumstances around Dougan’s transfer:
“At the time of pre-season training, Jackie was in the Hutt Valley representative cricket team playing in the Hawke Cup competition. He completed his cricket commitments and in the meantime Petone announced their Senior squad with Dougan missing from it.
“Jack was living in Titahi Bay and Onslow was the closest Senior club to home. He contacted fellow Wellington representative and Onslow’s hooker Stan Judd and he subsequently joined Onslow.”
The move rocked the entire Wellington club rugby community, not least because he was one of the leading players but Dominion columnist ‘Corinthian’ devoted his opinion piece to the matter upon breaking the news. Players generally stuck with club throughout their careers. Transfers were relatively rare; transfers of leading players rarer still.
Dougan’s transfer papers weren’t processed in time, so he was a spectator when Onslow made it two from two in their second match of the season, beating Hutt 16-6.
Dougan thus made his Onslow debut three games into the season, ironically against Petone, which the Villagers won 6-3 after Onslow had established a 3-0 halftime lead.
The following week, Onslow beat Marist 20-8 and were thus three from four to start the 1955 season.
It was Onslow’s emphatic 29-6 win the next week over hot shots University that set them on their way. Dougan and Judd were the stars in front of 7,000 fans at Athletic Park. University were heavily favoured to win this, but Onslow opened with both barrels and scored 29 unanswered points before Jarden salvaged some pride for his team with a late try and dropped goal.
The headline in the Dominion the following Monday morning said: “Onslow overwhelm University in rugby surprise of the season,” going on to state that “Not since University trampled all over Poneke in 1952 has such an upset been witnessed in Wellington rugby as the overwhelming defeat of the triple Jubilee Cup winners, University.”
With University dispatched, it was clear that University and Petone were on a collision course for title honours. Onslow went on to defeat Oriental 20-11 and 1951 champions Poneke 14-13, whilst leaders Petone edged University 14-8 in front of a monster club rugby crowd of 15,000 on Queen’s Birthday Monday.
Back at Nairnville, Onslow then defeated Wellington 11-3, Taita 31-3 (wing Les Butler scoring four tries), St Pat’s Old Boys 21-10, Wellington College Old Boys 8-3 (in the first match on the Basin Reserve for almost three decades). Thus the first round concluded with Petone holding a 2-point lead over Onslow and University having fallen further behind after they were beaten 5-6 by Petone in the biggest upset of the season thus far.
Clearly, Onslow and Petone were set on a collision course for title honours. However, Onslow fell three points behind Petone when they drew 8-8 with Oriental in their next match.
The following week a crowd of 12,000 watched an International hockey Test between New Zealand and India as the curtain-raiser to the Poneke-Onslow match. The hockey field was marked in white and the rugby field in yellow for the occasion. Onslow had little trouble distinguishing between the two sets of lines and won 31-11. At the same time, Petone beat Athletic 18-0 and a depleted University were smashed 33-0 and their title defence was over.
After a break the following week for the annual North-South match, featuring Jarden, Clark and Marist prop Ivan Vodanovich – but surprisingly to both the media and his peers not Dougan – the stage was set for the biggest club match of the year on 30 July between Petone and Onslow.
Unbeaten Petone would effectively wrap up the Jubilee Cup with victory, while Onslow had to win to stay in touch. Predictions were of a record crowd, but it rained on match-day and about 12,000 were present at Athletic Park.
The first half was the Bob Scott show, and Petone had one hand on the Cup by halftime when leading 14-0.
As far as stirring halftime talks were concerned, that by Onslow’s coaches Lin Thomas and his assistant Tom Morrison was up there. Heather, in Onslow’s Golden Winter explained that the instructions were for the backs to spin the ball at every occasion and the forwards were told to lift a gear and prove that were the best pack in the competition.
It worked a treat and Onslow got back into the game. Dougan put them on the board with a dropped goal, followed by halfback Bill Parekowhai scoring a sniping try. Replacement No. 8 Jim Elliston kicked two penalties to narrow the gap to 12-14 and it was all on.
With the clock winding down, would Petone crack? Dougan missed a poor attempt at a dropped goal, but Petone’s wing, Lionel Abbott, made a meal of the tidy up and clearance and Onslow wing George Blair poured through to score the match winning try.
The Rugby Weekly wrote the following week: “It will be a long time before we again hear such a roar from a crowd as that which thundered out when Onslow scored the winning try.
“The real heroes of the Onslow victory were the forwards. They subjected Petone’s pack to a remorseless pounding. I have seldom seen a club pack display such power as Onslow did. The control and stability which Onslow displayed was a revelation.”
The following week saw more high drama.
Onslow held a slender 9-6 lead over University with time almost up on the clock. But when Jarden made a break and kicked and chased it was almost too unbearable to watch for Onslow’s supporters. In a foot race to the line, Dougan beat Jarden by the narrowest of margins and booted the ball clear free of the All Black wing’s clutches.
Ironically, this game was played at the Petone Recreation Ground, as Petone met Oriental clashed on Athletic Park. Once again, Bob Scott was in fine form for Petone and they led 12-10 heading into the dying stages.
Oriental’s Doug Wilson had already scored two tries, and Petone’s defence was no doubt busy watching him when the Magpies’ second five-eighth, Terry Green, potted a dropped goal to give them a 13-12 win.
Onslow’s win over University and Petone’s defeat to Oriental now meant that Onslow led the Jubilee Cup by a point with one round to play. There were no finals, so Onslow just had to beat Athletic to win it for the first time.
An anxious three weeks followed while club rugby was put on hold owing to representative rugby. On the morning of the match, Onslow supporters organised a procession involving over 20 floats and 200 cars, all decked out in green and red Onslow livery. The parade left Khandallah shops at 12 noon and hit Athletic Park in time for kick-off.
Up against Wellington locks Dave Harker and New MacEwan, also an All Black, Athletic’s forwards were not to be taken lightly. But Onslow’s pack tore into their work and dominated the match. The 14-0 win could have been more.
The Jubilee Cup was presented to them by the famous 1905 All Black Billy Wallace, who told them: “I must compliment Jack Dougan. He was a great asset to you. The forwards were excellent and you gave everything a go. Your victory was popular and deserved.”
That night, Nairnville Park and the old clubrooms on Cockayne Road, adjacent to the current artificial ‘top field’ were heaving.
Heather explained to Club Rugby what the win meant to the club and the community.
“The winning of the Jubilee Cup meant a huge amount to the local community. At this time the Onslow membership was close to 800 including schoolboys and honorary members. There is no similar event in the Ngaio/Khandallah area that has captured the imagination of the whole district.
“The following year Onslow ran a Queen Carnival that raised several hundred thousand dollars (in today’s money), which enabled the club to purchase the land including the gymnasium and a four bedroom house next door that is now Krishna Way [opposite the swings at the top of Nairnville Park].
“Onslow continued to feature in the top three or four teams until 1962 when they won the Jubilee Cup again. Eddie Tonks George Blair and Peter Elliston were survivors of the 1955 team and Wally Heatherick was the coach.”
After that there was a gradual demise, throughout the 1970s and leading to the merger of the Onslow, Karori and Athletic clubs in 1982.
“Onslow still had a large membership but most of these people disappeared with the merger that became Western Suburbs RFC. Schoolboy numbers declined which in turn affected Onslow College and eventually this impacted on Western Suburbs who are now struggling to halt the decline in numbers.”
Heather, Bruce. Onslow’s Golden Winter. Published 2010.
The Dominion, the Evening Post and the Rugby Weekly May-September 1955.
Photo credit: Onslow Rugby team. Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1955/1668-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22709493