All About Eric Weissel

ERIC WEISSEL by Barry Ross

Cootamundra’s Eric Weissel is one of the greatest five eighths to play our game and he was named as one of Australia’s greatest 100 players. Born on 16 February 1903, Eric was the 11th child of railway fettler Edward Weissel.

He was born in the tiny village of Brawlin just south of Cootamundra and attended the local Cootamundra school, where he established himself as a top class athlete as a young boy.

 While football activities were scarce during World War One, they increased quickly after hostilities had ended and Eric began played with the Cootamundra junior team, or cadets as they were known in those times. The famous Maher Cup began in 1921 and from 23 August 1922, Cootamundra had an unbeaten run of 19 matches until 25 June 1924, when Temora defeated them 10-7. However just a week later Coota reclaimed the Cup when they journeyed to Temora and beat the locals 17-6. That win was the start of another unbeaten run, this time 13 games.

Eric came in the Cootamundra team, at 19 years of age, for his first Maher Cup game on 30 August 1922 when the team beat Tumut 20-5. Altogether, Eric finished with 45 Maher Cup matches for Cootamundra, winning 39, drawing one and losing just five.

In those games, he scored 84 points from 22 tries and nine goals. While with Cootamundra in 1923, he was selected for Group 9 in their 29-13 win over Group 8 at Goulburn on 16 June and from that game, he was chosen in the Southern Districts team which beat North Coast 19-7 at Country week in Sydney on 21 June. Then he played for Combined Country in their 14-8 win over Newcastle.

He also represented Group 9 and Southern Districts at Country week in 1924. He was unavailable for the 1924 Country side because of work commitments, but he did play for Southern Districts in their 31-4 loss to the touring Englishmen at Cootamundra on 27 May.  In February 1923 he was set to be transferred to Sydney in his job with the Berrima Dairy company but this did not eventuate. In 1925 he also represented Group 9 and Southern Districts at Country week, as well kicking seven goals in Group 9’s 26-25 win over New Zealand at Cootamundra on 19 August 1925. Eric landed a 45 metre penalty goal with three minutes to play which gave Group 9 their victory.

While the Maher Cup was the main focus of teams in the south western region of NSW for about 50 years from its beginning, the teams competed for several other trophies such as the O’Farrell Cup, the Farrar Cup and the Motor Cup. In the early days there wasn’t an organised weekly competition and country clubs just challenged each other for the various local cups.

Realising what a talented player Eric was, the Temora club offered him the captain/coach role for the 1927 season on a salary of 100 pounds. The basic wage in those years was less than five pounds per week, so this was an attractive amount and Eric took the job. He was also give a job with well known Riverina firm, J. Thom and company. While he was well paid to play football in his eight seasons for Temora, the club continually denied him permission to play rep football on the basis that they were paying him big money to play with Temora.

After marrying his long term girlfriend, Eileen Cashman of Cootamundra on 23 March 1928, he was given permission to play on the rep scene that year and so was a member of the Group 9 side which defeated Group 8 by 14-2 and then starred for Southern Districts who were beaten 20-12 by Eastern Suburbs at Country week in Sydney at the Sports Ground on 6 May. Eric was the Country Firsts five eighth in their 35-34 win over City Firsts at the SCG on 9 May and then was selected for the NSW Second XIII who beat Queensland 22-9 at the Sydney Cricket Ground on 16 May. Next he was a reserve for NSW in the clash with Queensland on 19 May and back at Cootamundra, he won the Man of the Match Award when South Western Districts played a 14-all draw with England.

After missing selection for the first Test at Brisbane on 23 June, which England won 15-12, he was chosen to play his first Test when the original selection at five eighth for the second Test, Jerry Brien of Easts, was injured. England won this match by 8-0 at the SCG on 14 July.  After holding his place for the third Test a week later, Eric did well in Australia’s 21-14 victory. He was then selected for NSW to play Queensland in Brisbane on 4 August, but Temora would not allow him to play.

St. George gave him a good financial offer to join them for the 1929 season but he wanted to stay with Temora. He captained Group 9 in their 37-10 win over Group 8 at Queanbeyan on 12 May 1929 and scored two tries and six goals. Next it was Country week in Sydney and Eric played four tough games in 11 days. They were Southern beat Far North Coast 22-5 on 22 May, St. George beat Southern 17-5 on 24 May, Country lost to City 16-5 and the for NSW in their 21-8 win over Queensland at the Agricultural Ground on 1 June.

The 1929/30 Kangaroo team for the tour of England was announced on 29 June and Eric was in the side that left Sydney in the ship Aoranga on 25 July. The team had been away for 221 days or close to eight months when they sailed into Sydney on Monday 3 March 1930. The players received four pounds 10 shillings a week ( $9) while on tour plus an end of tour bonus of 150 pounds ($300).

Eric played all three Tests, plus 17 other tour games and finished with a total of 127 points (5 tries, 56 goals), which was a Kangaroo tour record at the time. After leaving Sydney, they sailed to Vancouver Canada, with stopovers in Fiji and Honolulu. New York was next by train across Canada and then by the 1929 luxury ship Aquitania to Southampton and train to Leeds. Eric had only been married for six months when he left with the Kangaroos, but he continued to say throughout his life that the tour was a great experience.

Back in Australia he played rep football in 1930, including Country’s 35-26 win over City on 31 May in which he scored a try and seven goals. He was captain of the Country team and also the NSW side that defeated Queensland  16-11 at the Agricultural ground on Saturday 7 June.

Temora would only allow him to play for NSW in this game if he was back for Temora’s game the next day. The secretary of the NSWRL paid for a driver to do this and he played well in Temora’s win over Canowindra. Temora would not allow him to play for the Kangaroos versus the Rest in Sydney on 14 June and also they would not permit him to play for Southern Districts against the New Zealanders at Young on 6 August.

In 1931, he did not play rep football, but in 1932 he wanted to play in the big games because of the English tour, so he stood down as captain/coach of Temora. He then repped for NSW Country 31 versus Balmain 29, Group 9, 41 against Group 8, 18, Probables versus Probables, Country 15 against City 27 and for NSW in the 9-all draw with Queensland at the Sports Ground on 14 May. For the first Test at the SCG on 6 June 1932, Eric was at centre in Australia’s tight 8-6 loss. He returned to five eighth for the other two Tests. In the second game at Brisbane on 18 June, he had a tremendous game and set up a try for his halfback Hec Gee, after a 75 metre run on an injured ankle. This Test was known as “ The Battle of Brisbane, “ because Australia were down to 11 men at times in the second half, with injury worries. Australia won this game 15-6, but England took the Ashes with an 18-13 third Test victory. This last game was Eric’s final Test and he finished with eight Tests (all against England) and 33 points (try and 15 goals). He also played five games for NSW.

Eric retired from rep football in 1933 but continued with Temora until the end of the 1934 season. Under his guidance the club had a great record, winning 15 and drawing one of the 21 Maher Cup matches he played for the club. In these Maher Cup games he scored 145 points (13 tries, 53 goals).

In 1935, he took an executive position with Vacuum Oil, located in Narrandra. There was no Rugby League side in this town but with Eric’s arrival a club was soon formed and he was captain/coach for two years.

In 1937 he captain/coached Yanco and in 1938 joined the Wagga Magpies. Although now 35, Eric had a lot of success with the Magpies in both seasons. The club beat Leeton 13-6 at Wagga for the championship of Group 13 on 10 September 1939 in what was supposed to be Eric’s last game. The Magpies were Clayton Cup winners in 1939, as the best Country club in NSW. For the next few seasons Eric helped out with training, selections and coaching at the Magpies.

Then in 1946, now 43, he played four games, including the 12-5 win over Batlow at the Wagga Cricket Ground on 21 July when he scored a good try from outside centre. He coached Southern Districts against England at Junee in 1946 and on 7 June 1947 was Country Firsts coach in their loss to City.

As well as football, Eric was exceptional at many other sports including Cricket, Aussie Rules, Soccer, Tennis and Cycling, while he also had a fine tenor voice and sang in the Temora Church of England Choir for many years.

Playing for Riverina in the 1926/27 Country Week cricket tournament in Sydney, he did remarkably well. On Thursday 25 November 1926 at Waverley Oval playing against Far North Coast, he scored 218 not out in Riverina’s total of six for 340 and this included seven sixes and 28 fours. Far North finished with nine for 132, with Eric taking 6 wickets for 47. But it was a match three days before this that brought him a lot of attention down the track.

It was at the SCG on Monday 22 November 1926 and Eric top scored with 42 in Riverina’s 145. Southern Highlands won easily, replying with 8 for 282. In this innings, Eric caught and bowled an 18 year old batsman named Don Bradman for 43. It was the Don’s first appearance at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Eric and the Don were then both selected in the Country Firsts team to play City at the SCG on Monday 29 November.

City 8 for 301 beat Country 7 for 171 (Bradman 98, Weissel 1).

Just two days before this, Bradman in his first game of Sydney first grade cricket, scored 110 in St. George’s total of 6 for 389 against Petersham. In club cricket over many years in the Riverina area, Eric scored many centuries and took many wickets.

In January 1931 he scored four consecutive centuries playing club cricket in Temora, while in his next and fifth innings he cracked 212 not out. Even in his fifties playing in Wagga, he finished with some big scores and along with his son, featured in some good partnerships.

At Goulburn on 14 January 1927, playing for Goulburn Districts as a guest, he scored 40 and took 2 for 75 against the South Australian Sheffield Shield team. Three months after this, on a matting wicket at Cootamundra on 20 April 1927, playing against a Mailey XI from Sydney, he scored 34 and took 1 for 10 in Cootamundra’s win. Arthur Mailey was a well known Test player of the early 20th century.

On Sunday 21 August 1927 at Temora, Eric banged in three of Temora’s goals in their 5-3 soccer win against Coolamon, and then three days later in a benefit match for the Temora Hospital, he kicked four goals in Beetrie’s 77 to 75 win over Wattle Park at Aussie Rules.

In the celebrations for 100 years of Australian Rugby League in 2008, he was named as one of Australia’s greatest 100 players. He passed away at his home in Wagga on 28 August 1972, aged 69. 

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