The story of the Western Suburbs Rugby League Club dates from the foundation of rugby league in Australia in 1908. The Club therefore is part of the fabric of rugby league in Australia but in those formative years it was very much about growing and developing the game rather than keeping comprehensive records for future historians.

The information that is available is often the sporadic and sometimes inaccurate reports in the print media of the time, and the occasional photograph. In 1908 some rugby league team photos were published but most often were uncaptioned which has made it difficult to identify the players in the photo and also when and where the photo was taken.

One of these photos was the Western Suburbs First Grade team photo which was published in the Australian Star newspaper on 21 July 1908. The photo was uncaptioned and for more than one hundred years it was not known who the players were in the photo nor where and when it was taken.

Using some tangential research techniques, it has been possible to identify the Wests team which played Eastern Suburbs at the RAS Showground on 30 May 1908. It was only the fifth competition game ever played by Wests and the earliest photographic record of this great Club. The story of how the provenance of this photo was determined, follows.

Western Suburbs DRLFC First Grade 1908
(The team photo was taken at the RAS Showground on 10 May 1908 – Wests v Easts)

Standing: Unknown, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown, Tom Phelan, Ernie McFayden
Middle: Unknown, Jim Abercrombie, Jim Stack (c), Unknown, Ted Mead
Front: Unknown, Claude McFayden, William “Bill” Elliott, Unknown

The “Unknown” players in the team photo include Ray Gormley, Frank Frost, Percy Franks, James Hodgson, Edward Ellis, Alfred Mount and Robert Ellis

Western Suburbs DRLFC Furst Grade 1908
Source: Australian Star newspaper 21 July 1908

The above 1908 team photos are the same but with a different background. It is not known why this was the case, but the lower photo was one of a set of four that was printed by the Australian Star newspaper. Interestingly, the players are in the same position and have the same pose which could suggest that the background was altered by the photographer in the studio. The photograph with different backgrounds makes identification confusing particularly in trying to compare the Wests photos against other team photos that might have been taken at the same venue.

Rugby League player and match records in the early years were often inaccurate and could be unreliable. Lower grades often had no match or team selection reports, so it is difficult to have a full understanding of all the players that played for the Club in those times.

On 17 April 1908 The Australian Star Newspaper printed First and Reserve Grade team lists for Wests final trial match before the competition commenced, three days later. This is one of the few occasions when a full playing roster was recorded and therefore has been reproduced below.

Western Suburbs First Grade (Trials 17 April 1908):
G Duffin, Three-quarters: L Byleveld, H Duggan, T Phelan, P Franks, Halves: T Watkins, R Gormley, Forwards: W Elliott, R Ellis, E Mead, A Mount, J Stack (C), J Abercrombie, Reserves: A Brown, C McFayden

Western Suburbs Reserve Grade (Trials 17 April 1908):
W Medcalf, Three-quarters: A Blake, Dale, Mawson, E Gormley, Halves: James, H Boyle, Forwards: L Duncan, Putt, H Herrington, Crawford, Harris, Rudman

The First-Grade team that played in the first competition game against Balmain was similar to the First-Grade team that played in the trial match on 17 April, but included Arthur Blake, Arthur Brown and Edward Gormley.

The First Grade team in the opening competition round on 20 April 1908 was:  George Duffin; Arthur Blake, Arthur Brown, Herbert Duggan, Percy Franks; Edward Lucien Gormley, Raymond Gormley; Jim Abercrombie, Jim Stack (c), T. Alfred Mount, Thomas Phelan, William “Bill” Elliott, Ted Mead.

The enduring question that remains is who were the players in the 1908 Wests team photo? A number of observations have been made, including the following.

  • The 1908 photo is not of the very first team that played in round one against Balmain on 20 April 1908. Claude McFayden is in the photograph, but he was not in the run-on team that played Balmain that day. Claude made his First-Grade debut in round three against Glebe.
  • Given that the 1908 team photo was published in the Australian Star newspaper on 21 July 1908 it would have to been taken prior to round nine.
  • However, the 1908 team photo was first known to appear in the round seven game program which was the match between Wests and North Sydney on 27 June. As round six was a bye and Claude McFayden did not play in the first two rounds of the competition, the photo was most likely taken between rounds three and five.
  • There were 27 players listed as playing First Grade in 1908. However, that should be adjusted to 26 as there is no record of player N. Booth ever taking the field in First Grade. Player Boyleau is most likely the player H. Boyle who also played First Grade in 1909
  • Seventeen players were in the First-Grade teams from round three to round five. There are only thirteen players in the team photo, so it was necessary to refine the search further.

Wests 1908 team photo first appeared in the match day program on 27 June 1908

Each round has been reviewed and a list of players and the rounds that they played is shown in the table below.

Western Suburbs Rugby League First Grade Teams 1908


PlayerRd 1Rd 2Rd3Rd 4Rd 5Rd 6Rd 7Rd 8Rd 9Rd 10
Abercrombie J.XXXXXByeXXXX
Blake A.X    Bye    
Brown A.XXXX ByeX XX
Boyle H.   X Bye    
Byleveld L. X   Bye    
Duffin G.X X  ByeXX  
Duggan B.XXXX Bye    
Elliott C.      Bye   X
Elliott W. X XXXByeXXX 
Ellis E.  XXXByeXXXX
Ellis R. XXXXByeXX X
Frost F.    XByeXXXX
Gilbert G.     Bye X X
Gormley E. L.X    Bye    
Gormley R.XX XXByeXXXX
Herington H.     Bye  XX
Holloway E.     Bye  XX
Hodgson J.    XByeXXXX
Luhr C. X   Bye    
McFayden C.  XXXByeXXXX
Mount A. XXXXXBye    
Phelan T.XXX XBye    
Watkins T. X   Bye    

The 1908 team photo appears to be the run-on side for one of the round matches in 1908. The Referee that officiated is in the white jersey standing rear centre. It is not possible to tell when the photo was taken by only identifying the known players. If the Referee can be identified, then there is every chance that the photo can be aligned with a specific round of the competition and the thirteen players that took the field for Wests on that day will be known.

It was not unusual for these photographs to contain players, club officials, ancillary staff and sometimes match officials. The Wests team photo was one of four that appeared in the Australian Star newspaper from May to July 1908. Only the Balmain photo had names captioned. Of the four photos, the Wests, Eastern Suburbs and Balmain team photos included the Referee. The Referee in the Balmain photo is identified as T Poulton but is known to be Harold Manard Poulton. The Referee in the Wests and Easts team photos appears to be the same person, but who is he?

Wests Team Photo       Easts Team Photo    Balmain Team Photo      Harold M Poulton

Rugby League Historian, Tony McCarron, has undertaken an exercise to identify as many of the First Grade rugby league Referees as possible, who made their debut in the 1908 and 1909 seasons. There were eight First Grade Referees who debuted in 1908 and a further four in 1909, with a number of others refereeing in the lower grades. A list of these Referees and photos have been included below.

 1908 NSWRL First Grade Referees

  1.  George Boss
  2. Tom Costello
  3. Eddie Hooper
  4. George Seabrook
  5. Fred Henlen
  6. Charles Hutcheson
  7. Aubrey Welch
  8. Tom McMahon Snr.

George Boss               Thomas B Costello           Edward J Hooper            George J Seabrook

George F “Fred” Henlen        Charles Hutcheson               Aubrey C Welch             Tom McMahon Snr


     Henry McDermott      Referee in Wests and Easts 1908 Team Photos (George Seabrook??)

1909 NSWRL First Grade Referees

9. Bill Finegan
10. Harold M. Poulton
11. Arthur Ballerum
12. Arthur Farrow


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