THE last time Northern Suburbs Bluebags played a competitive match, Bob Hawke was Australia’s Prime Minister, the internet was described by one newspaper as “an obscure but rapidly growing computer network”, and Madonna was on top of the charts with her hit single, Like a Prayer.
Twenty-eight years down the track, the foundation Newcastle Rugby League club – who won 15 first-grade premierships before merging with Nelson Bay in 1989 – will make an emotional return at Passmore Oval on Saturday, in the opening round of the Newcastle and Hunter A-grade competition.
Adding to the sense of nostalgia, their first opponents will be South Newcastle, one of the three other original clubs from the 1910 season, along with Western Suburbs and Central Newcastle.
And in another blast from the past, inaugural Knights skipper Sam Stewart has committed to playing for North, at the age of 54, most likely in a cameo appearance off the bench – weather permitting.
The club’s resurrection mission kicked off late last year, at an annual gathering of former players. Over a few beers, the Old Boys resolved to form a junior club.
But those plans were put on hold after they were surprisingly inundated with approaches from players interested in launching a senior team. Soon they had enough numbers to register a side and had secured a coach in former Gunnedah player Dennis Hoffman.
Prominent Newcastle architect Steve Doran, who played in North’s last premiership in 1979, was installed as the club chairman.
Doran said Saturday would be a proud day, but hopefully just a step towards the ultimate goal – re-admission to the Newcastle RL top-flight ranks.
“We’re putting in place a five- to seven-year plan to work our way back there,’’ he said. “Time will tell, but you’ve got to start somewhere. You’ve got to crawl before you walk, and walk before you run.’’
Doran said he had been amazed by the level of interest in North’s comeback, as evidenced by almost 14,000 hits on the club’s Facebook site. He was confident the modern-day Bluebags would encapsulate the ethos that made the club so successful in its glory days.
“This is grassroots football in the true sense of the word,’’ he said. “Mate against mate.
“Suburb against suburb. It’s about the community you represent. It’s about something money can’t buy – spirit.’’
As well as their men’s A-grade side, North will field a team in the inaugural NSW Rugby League women’s competition, to be be captained by Jillaroos skipper Bec Young.
Saturday’s historic clash with South will kick off at 3pm, unless the recent deluge of rain results in an unplayable ground.
“It’s been a long time between drinks,’’ Doran said.