North Sydney Bears 19-21 Balmain Tigers (lost footage of NSWRFL Premiership season game; 1961)
22nd April 1961 issue of The Rugby League News reporting on the event's television significance.
On 15th April 1961, the North Sydney Bears hosted the Balmain Tigers for an opening New South Wales Rugby Football League (NSWRFL) Premiership season game. Occurring at the North Sydney Oval in front of 6,777, the visitors achieved a narrow 21-19 victory, in what marked their only victory in the first seven rounds. The encounter is also historic from an Australian television standpoint, as it became the first rugby league match to be televised live in Australia.
The previous NSWRFL season saw North Sydney finish seventh out of ten teams with 16 points, while Balmain reached the playoff stages, officially ranking fifth after losing the 4th place playoff to Canterbury. Naturally, both sides were seeking to improve under the captaincies of Brian Carlson and Keith Barnes respectively. Particularly, motivation in scoring tries increased thanks to the new "Craven 'A' Award", which offered cash prizes for accumulating tries, especially from fullbacks, wingers, and centres.
37 years prior, Balmain was part of radio history, when its 3-0 1924 NSWRFL Premiership Final victory over South Sydney became the first rugby league game to receive live radio coverage. However, television broadcasts appeared out of the question for several decades in Australia, making the 1948 Challenge Cup Final in the United Kingdom the first live televised game. NSWRFL's reluctance to allow television cameras within grounds likely stemmed from concerns that broadcasts would deter fans from travelling to games, something that was also raised in Britain. But by the late 1950s, analysis indicated no impactful link between television and ground attendance.
Thus, as British coverage became more regular, Sydney-based Channel Nine began negotiating with the NSWRFL on covering the upcoming 1961 season games live. A deal was struck which enabled the second half of a game to be televised live per week. It also gave the league the opportunity to end its agreement prematurely should the experiment fail. To that end, Channel Nine transferred two cameras into the North Sydney Oval, placing them at around the 25-yard lines. This enabled coverage to switch seamlessly depending on the location of play. Commentary was provided by Ray Stehr, an Eastern Suburbs mainstay who represented Australia in eleven Test matches. While the beginning of Australian rugby league television coverage was comparatively later than other sports, it has become a lucrative business for both Channel Nine and the modern NRL. In December 2021, a $115 million broadcast deal was forged with Nine until 2027, extending a partnership which fully began in the early 1990s.
The game itself occurred on 15th April with 6,777 attending the North Sydney Oval. Both teams earned three tries each; the Bears' Ken Irvine, Barry Levido, and Ron Potter all contributed a try each, while a double by Dick Quinn and a single try from Bob Mara put Balmain on equal footing in this regard. In the end, the Tigers' Keith Barnes scoring six goals as opposed to Brian Carlson's five gave his side the edge, Balmain ultimately achieving a 21-19 victory. Despite a successful season opener, Balmain soon suffered a six-game losing streak. However, a strong run later in the season meant the Tigers reached the playoffs once more. They reached the Preliminary Final, losing to eventual runners-up the Western Suburbs 7-5. Meanwhile, North Sydney finished sixth out of ten sides.
While the game has historical significance for Australian television and rugby league, it has fallen into obscurity with very few available sources discussing it. It is unclear whether the game was recorded and little coverage from the inaugural television years has publicly resurfaced. One exception is a Round 9 clash pitting Cadbury Bankstown against South Sydney Rabbitohs on 4th July 1964, which saw the Souths win 31-4. The match was uploaded to YouTube but was falsely claimed to have been from 1962.
- 1924 NSWRFL Premiership Final (lost radio coverage of rugby league game; 1924)
- 1927 Challenge Cup Final (lost radio coverage of rugby league game; 1927)
- 1948 Challenge Cup Final (partially found footage of rugby league game; 1948)
- 1954 Rugby League World Cup Final (partially found footage of international rugby league game; 1954)
- Christchurch vs High School Old Boys (lost radio coverage of charity rugby game; 1926)
- England 11-9 Wales (lost radio coverage of Five Nations Championship game; 1927)
- England 16-21 Scotland (partially found footage of Home Nations Championship game; 1938)
- Great Britain 20-19 New Zealand (partially found footage of international rugby league game; 1951)
- Scotland 21-13 England (lost radio coverage of Five Nations Championship game; 1927)
- Archived Rugby Football Tables detailing the 1960 NSWRFL season. Retrieved 17th Sep '23
- 15th April 1961 issue of The Rugby League News previewing the game. Retrieved 17th Sep '23
- 22nd April 1961 issue of The Rugby League News reporting on the game's television coverage. Retrieved 17th Sep '23
- Radio Sports Broadcasting documenting early Australian radio broadcasts of rugby league games. Retrieved 17th Sep '23
- Archived RFL noting the 1948 Challenge Cup Final was the first televised game. Retrieved 17th Sep '23
- Rugby League in Twentieth Century detailing rugby league television coverage in the United Kingdom and the debunked relationship between television and ground attendance. Retrieved 17th Sep '23
- Transdiffusion summarising rugby league's inconsistent history on television, and the concern over television's impact on ground attendance. Retrieved 17th Sep '23
- NRL summarising the game's television significance. Retrieved 17th Sep '23
- 13th July 2006 issue of Big League Magazine documenting the television coverage of the game. Retrieved 17th Sep '23
- Tech Notes summarising the history of the Nine Network. Retrieved 17th Sep '23
- NRL biography on Ray Stehr. Retrieved 17th Sep '23
- Sports Pro Media reporting on the latest broadcast deal between Channel Nine and NRL. Retrieved 17th Sep '23
- Rugby League Project detailing the result of the game and other statistics. Retrieved 17th Sep '23
- 22nd April 1961 issue of The Rugby League News reporting on the results of Round 1. Retrieved 17th Sep '23
- Archived Rugby Football Tables detailing the 1961 NSWRFL season, the final table, and playoffs. Retrieved 17th Sep '23
- Rugby League Project detailing the result of the Canterbury-Souths 4th July 1964 game. Retrieved 17th Sep '23