THE bright lights of night football welcomed teams into the 1928 season and ushered in a new era in the colourful history of the Newcastle Rugby League.
The Newcastle Coursing and Sporting Club at Hamilton hosted a double-header under lights during the 1928 season.
South Newcastle, in their traditional red-and-white strip, took on the sky blue jumpers of Northern Suburbs in the first game that kicked off at 7.45pm.
The second match was between Central Newcastle, wearing blue and gold jumpers, and Waratah-Mayfield, decked out in black jumpers.
The double-header under lights at the greyhound track was the only game recorded as a night fixture in the 1928 season.
The initiative was evidence of the continued increase in popularity the game of rugby league was experiencing in Newcastle.
Wally Prigg, one of the region's brightest lights, confirmed his status as a dominant force in rugby league when he was included in the Australian team for the first time in 1929.
A lock or second-rower from the Western Suburbs club, Prigg was the first forward to tour three times with the Kangaroos and the only Kangaroo to make three sea voyages to England. His career spanned 1927 to 1939, during which he resisted all offers to leave his native Newcastle.
Born in Lambton, Prigg represented Australia more than 100 times, playing in 19 Test matches, seven of which he played as captain.
Prigg's presence in the game continued to lift the profile of the sport in Newcastle and the Coalfields.
The trend continued in 1930 when Cessnock became the third Coalfields club to join the ranks.
The Goannas were quickly competitive and made the grand final in 1932 only to be beaten 20-17 by Eastern Suburbs.
Cessnock had to endure the pain of back-to-back grand final losses to Waratah-Mayfield (12-2) in 1936 and Central Newcastle (22-2) in 1937, and another to neighbours Kurri Kurri (12-5) in 1940, before their breakthrough victory.
The Goannas saluted in 1941 when star centre Ross McKinnon captained them to an 18-3 victory over South Newcastle.
Jim Gibbs, who played for South Newcastle, continued to raise the interest level in Newcastle rugby league in 1933 following the addition of Cessnock into the competition.
A prop, second-rower and hooker throughout his long career, Gibbs was selected in the Kangaroos squad to tour England in 1933, becoming Newcastle's fourth international in the process.
Gibbs played seven Tests for Australia, which included the 1933 and 1937 Kangaroo tours plus games against New Zealand in 1935 and France in 1937 following his second tour of England.
Born in New Zealand, Gibbs moved to Newcastle with his family in 1911 at the age of two and settled in Glebe.
He began his senior football career in 1927 and his last game with South Newcastle was in 1946 after a season with Canterbury-Bankstown in the NSW Rugby League competition.
During World War II, Gibbs served overseas in the Royal Australian Air Force in the City of Canberra bomber squadron.
He was also involved in other sports as a member of Cooks Hill Surf Club and Merewether Bowling Club.
Gibbs was one of five brothers that played for South Newcastle. The others were Jack, Bill, Harry and Alf.
Alf followed in his older brother's footsteps when he played five Tests for Australia in 1948 as a front-rower.
Such was the influence the brothers had on the club, a park bordered by Curry Street and Rowan Crescent in Merewether was renamed Gibbs Brothers Oval in 1988.
Ray Hines and Mick Shields both played for Australia in 1935, while Laurie Ward played 10 Tests for Australia between 1935 and 1938 and Len Dawson played five Tests against three different countries in 1937 and 1938.
One of the greatest moments in the rich history of the Newcastle Rugby League came on Saturday June 27, 1936 when the region's representative side defeated the touring English team. It was a historic victory, seeing as they had lost all seven previous international matches against touring teams from England during a 26-year period, dating back to the first game on June 22, 1910.
The locals defeated the tourists 21-16 at No.1 Sportsground in front of a estimated crowd of 10,000 supporters.
Match reports from the game suggest it was a tough and, at times, brutal affair with both sets of forwards hitting hard in defence.
Newcastle scored the first try of the match to lead 5-2, but the tourists hit back to lead 7-5 before the host side went to the break leading 12-10.
England scored a try to lead 13-12, but a penalty in front gave the home side a 14-13 lead. Dawson was the hero for Newcastle when, with his side trailing 16-14, he chipped ahead and regathered to score under the posts with 13 minutes to go.
The Newcastle team were Laurie Ward, Alf Fairhall, Ron Bailey, Chip Charlton, Len Dawson, Arthur Toovey, Jack Dempsey, Lou Boyd, Herb Narvo, George McNamara, Frank Wilkinson, Rees Duncan, Geoff Laidlaw.
Several players in the team had played or were destined to play for Australia. An Australian selector was scheduled to watch the match but it was reported at the time that illness prevented him from attending.
Despite this Narvo showed everyone else at the ground he was ready for Test football and he was selected for the 1937-38 Kangaroo tour.
Narvo played four Tests for Australia, two against Great Britain and two against France.
Centre Bailey also played in that historic win over England, but it was not until 1946 that he played his only Test for Australia. Such was his standing in the game, he was made captain.
Bailey played many years of his career in England and was widely regarded as one of the best players in a golden era of Newcastle and Australian rugby league.
Andy Norval joined Narvo on the 1937-38 tour, and Dave Parkinson and Noel White both played for Australia in 1946.
Another member of the 1946 Australian side to come from Newcastle was the legendary Northern Suburbs lock-forward Jack Hutchinson.
Hutchinson was a member of three premiership teams in the 1940s and 1950s at a time when the Newcastle competition was arguably at its peak.
Hutchinson was interviewed in The Newcastle Herald in 1999 and declared Prigg as the greatest player he ever saw in Newcastle, edging out fellow Central product and Immortal Clive Churchill.
High praise indeed for Prigg, who was the dominant player in a strong period for the Newcastle Rugby League.
But not everything was going well off the field after Eastern Suburbs folded a fortnight before the 1942 semi-finals.
Morpeth-East Maitland had already folded at the start of the 1942 season and the league was down to eight teams after having 10 since 1930.
Maitland City were also struggling to field teams in the 1942 season, so it was decided to merge their club with Morpeth-East Maitland and that led to the birth of the Maitland Pumpkin Pickers in 1943.
On the field, success continued as Newcastle made it consecutive wins over touring teams when they defeated Great Britain in an international match at No.1 Sportsground on Saturday, June 15, 1946, prevailing 18-13 in a thriller.
It had been 10 years between matches against a touring team and, coupled with World War II, the Newcastle competition had become almost stagnant.
But, at the end of the war and on the back of a thrilling win over Great Britain, Newcastle had renewed interest in the game and a another team were added to the competition in 1947.
Lakes United joined North, South, West, Cessnock, Maitland, Kurri Kurri, Central and Waratah-Mayfield in a nine-team competition.
Based at Belmont between the Pacific Ocean and Lake Macquarie, they adopted the Seagulls as their symbol.
It was only a coincidence Lakes and Parramatta, who joined the NSWRL competition in the same year, both chose blue and gold as their colours.
Incredibly, Lakes won the competition in their debut season when they defeated Northern Suburbs 13-0 in the grand final at No.1 Sportsground.
It was a fairytale beginning for the Belmont boys after they were beaten 14-6 by North in the the first semi-final.
Halfback Jimmy Scoular was captain of the Lakes team that included a young Albert Paul who would go onto bigger and better things in the game.
Paul, centre George Davies and winger Alan Ward scored tries in the grand final and Paul's partner in the second row, Don McKinnon, landed two conversions in the victory.
It was the start of good things to come for the Lake Macquarie club, which was set for more success in the future on the back of plans to build a Belmont Sportsman's Club.
The club was proposed to be built adjacent to Belmont Sports Ground, later to be known as Pat Cahill Oval.