RUGBY league in Newcastle changed forever in 1988.
Years of hard work behind the scenes from Newcastle Rugby League officials and other concerned parties paid off when the Newcastle Knights were admitted to the NSW Rugby League competition.
The puzzle was now complete.
Throughout the golden years of rugby league from the 1930s to the 1960s, Newcastle produced 40 internationals, an average of one every year, to become one of the world's best rugby league breeding grounds.
The Coalfields Kurri Kurri in particular produced an amazing number of Australian rugby league representatives for such a small area.
They were the days when players would be picked to play for NSW and Australia while playing in the Newcastle competition.
By the 1960s and 1970s more and more players, including the big names like Les Johns, John Sattler and John Cootes, were being lured to Sydney clubs, and the strength of the NRL was declining.
Kurri's Jeff Masterman was picked to play for Australia in 1981, and the only other player from the Hunter Region to represent Australia in the 1980s was Maitland's David Trewhella in 1989.
Critics of the Knights believed they would take too many players out of the local competition and bring it to its knees.
When Maitland failed to field teams in 1990 those complaints appeared justified, but it was only a hiccup.
One of the key arguments Knights officials put to the NSWRL when seeking admission was the fact that talented juniors would stay in Newcastle if they had a top-tier team to play for.
The attraction of playing for the Knights lured players in from all over the Hunter and country NSW.
The only ties 1988 premiers South Newcastle had with the Knights was playing the grand final at the International Sports Centre.
Under coach and former NSW player Paul Merlo, the Lions defeated Lakes United 29-8 and made it back-to-back victories in 1989 when they beat Western Suburbs 20-2, also under Merlo's control.
In 1990, Waratah-Mayfield ended a 38-year drought when they defeated Lakes United 17-14 to win the Newcastle premiership, and former Central Charlestown player Mark Sargent was picked to play for Australia.
Sargent started his senior career with Canterbury but returned to Newcastle and was the first Knights player to play for the Kangaroos.
Belmont boy Paul Harragon and Beresfield's Brad Godden were the next to join the elite list of Australian representatives to come out of the Knights when they played in the 1992 World Cup.
The Knights' influence on the local competition was there for all to see when Kurri Kurri ended a 48-year premiership drought by defeating West 20-18 to win the 1993 grand final.
Former St George and Knights halfback Steve Linnane was captain-coach of the Bulldogs and was joined in the side by former Knights first-grade players Glenn Miller and Brian Quinton.
Kurri made it back-to-back titles in 1994 when they defeated Toronto 20-16 with largely the same side as the year before and with Linnane in charge again.
Phil Williams broke the club pointscoring record in 1993, Linnane won the JJ "Mo" Wilson medal for man of the match in the 1994 decider and Brendan Dooley was named 1994 Player of the Year.
The crowning glory for Kurri came in 1995 when they completed an amazing hat-trick of titles.
Not prepared to take any risks in search of their history-making third straight title, Linnane added star backs Ewan McGrady and Gavin Cook, utility David Smith and prop Craig Melia to the side.
The Bulldogs were a class above West, winning 24-4.
West were beaten in the 1996 grand final 16-6 by Lakes United but their time would come.
In 1997, the second year under captain-coach Tony Price, the Rosellas saluted with a 26-16 win over Lakes United.
It was a victorious time in New Lambton with West taking the NRL title and the Knights, whose headquarters were at the other end of Monash Road, claiming their first premiership success.
The Knights beat Manly to win the ARL premiership, inspired by star halfback and Cessnock product Andrew Johns and with Harragon leading the way as skipper.
Newcastle played a pivotal role in rugby league leading up to the controversial 1997 season when the game was split by Super League at the top level.
ARL officials were overwhelmed by Newcastle's support for the establishment and some even suggested Newcastle, in particular the Knights, saved rugby league.
The war between News Limited and the ARL died down in 1998 when the National Rugby League formed a united competition.
West continued their dominance of the Newcastle competition when they thumped South Newcastle by a record score, 51-14, in the 1998 grand final.
They completed the club's second hat-trick of titles, equalling the feat of the Rosellas 1980-82 teams, when they defeated Cessnock 22-18 in a controversial 1999 grand final.
Cessnock hooker Zane Clarke appeared to have scored but referee Tony Hardy ruled he knocked on when grounding the ball.
The new millenium would bring with it highs and lows for the Newcastle competition.
Raymond Terrace were added to the competition in 2001 and were an instant hit.
A second-division club for so long, the Magpies received strong support at home and had a faithful band of travelling supporters, the likes of which had long been missing in the local league.
Lakes made up for their loss to Waratah-Mayfield in the 2000 grand final by winning the 2001 title and West won their 16th premiership in 2002, the most by any club in the first 100 years, eclipsing the 15 titles won by Northern Suburbs.
Newcastle and Country Rugby League officials made a landmark decision at the end of the 2002 season to allow Wyong into the Newcastle competition in 2003.
Left with nowhere to play, the Roos linked with the NRL after four of their strongest rival Central Coast clubs Woy Woy, Erina, The Entrance and Ourimbah joined the NSW Rugby League's Jim Beam Cup.
Cessnock brought the Coalfields to life when they defeated Raymond Terrace 22-20 in a high-quality grand final to claim their first premiership win in 27 years.
Captain-coach Daniel Smailes played the game with a broken leg.
Goannas fans were as nervous as the players when winger Daniel Spiteri dropped the ball on the last play of the game, but Terrace prop Dean Jones was ruled to have knocked on when diving on the ball to score.
West beat Nelson Bay-based club the Northern Blues in 2004 to claim their 17th grand final win.
But the Blues had their revenge quickly, when they defeated West 30-12 in the 2005 decider.
The 2006 season will be one of the most memorable for 17 players who were given the opportunity of a lifetime to play against Great Britain.
The Newcastle representative side had not played against a touring Lions team in 22 years, and the 2006 clash was doubly special for coach Mal Graham, who had played in the 1984 side beaten 28-18.
The game was expected to be one-sided, and Great Britain won 40-6, but every Newcastle player left the field with his head held high.
The disappointment of losing could not compare with the thrill of being a part-time player taking on a world power of the game.
Four players were sent to the sin bin for fighting, including Great Britain captain Jamie Peacock.
Cessnock forward Peter Jensen received the loudest cheer of the night after he started a fight with Lions hooker Michael Higham in the 77th minute.
Jensen was trading blows with Higham when Peacock raced in from 10 metres away and ignited a brawl.
Jensen was sent to the bin and on his way off taunted the Great Britain players and waved to the crowd, who roared with laughter and broke into applause.
Paul Skovgaard captained the Newcastle side that night and was also skipper of Lakes United in 2006 and 2007 when they won back-to-back titles.
The 100th season was a tough one as the league dealt with clubs in financial crisis and Maitland and Waratah-Mayfield no longer part of the competition.
NRL officials were forced to implement a salary cap and a points system designed to control spending and keep clubs alive and well for another 100 years.
Special thanks to Newcastle Rugby League historian Kerry Clarke, Herald librarian Grahame Marjoribanks and Ben Quinn and David Middleton for their assistance in this series.