The man central to rugby on The Coast

Stu Walmsley.
by Stu Walmsley

Larry Thomson OAM stands on the hill at Gosford Showground scribbling in a tiny notepad as Ourimbah get the better of the Central Coast club he has been involved with since 1975.

He is flanked by wife Pam, who keeps a watchful eye on grandson Archie, in their care for the day as daughter Kate referees a Premier 2 fixture at The Lakes Rugby in Budgewoi.

As Thomson jots down results from up and down the coast the full-time whistle blows and Ourimbah run out 38-17 winners over arch-rival Gosford, putting the Razorbacks top of the Premier 1 table.

The record keeping of Central Coast Rugby’s president is temporarily interrupted as he presents the Thomson-Brown Shield to victorious skipper Matt King - the ledger now stands 4-3 in Gosford’s favour - and it might be level pegging in the near future if current form is anything to go by.

Larry Thomson presents Ourimbah captain Matt King with the Thomson-Brown Shield. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyBetween chasing up results from tardy clubs, Thomson casually recounts the tale of Ourimbah’s formation, which occurred during his decade-long tenure as secretary of Gosford’s Red Devils.

““I think it was 1981; we had too many numbers and a good friend of mine John McIntosh lived out at Ourimbah and asked; ‘do you mind if we just form a team out there?’, he says. “Initially, they started playing lower grades, now they’re getting up and beating Gosford.”

Thomson’s anecdote on the history of the zone, of which he has a limitless supply, is interrupted by another phone call, one he has to take, because the information will form part the detailed report he compiles after every round.

He’ll publish the results on social media as the players enjoy a post-match beverage in the clubhouse and the week ahead is a busy one with the zone sending women’s, colts and men’s teams to the NSW Country Championships in Warren.

Ourimbah players celebrate victory over Gosford. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley

The rugby-related duties started many hours earlier that Saturday with a women’s sevens gala day at Kariong Oval and Michael Burgess, a development officer with the NSW Waratahs on the Central Coast, marvels at Thomson’s ongoing contribution.

“Just seeing how much time he puts into rugby - I know they’re both (he and Pam) retired now - but basically it’s their way of life,” he says. “You wonder where they find the time.”

“All the little things, like keeping the community informed about what’s happening in all the matches, they’re things they don’t have to do but they do because they just love the game so much.”

Larry Thomson and wife Pam watch the action at Gosford Showground. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley

Kate Thomson, now 38, is refereeing in Warren this weekend and Larry and Pam will be on the sideline, as they have been in some capacity at almost every NSW Country titles for the last 30 years.

“We were practically born in the change room, we’ve been involved with rugby all our lives,” Kate says, referring to the indoctrination she and younger sister Jaie (a premiership player with Sydney University) happily endured. “Dad, obviously with having two girls, he got quite involved in women’s rugby with schoolgirls and then through women’s rep and NSW Country.

“But, when we were small, it was dad playing, mum running the canteen, and us kids out the front,’” she says. “We were just always at the footy on a Saturday, that’s what we did, we didn’t know what everybody else did.”

Kate Thomson officiates the Premier 2 fixture between Lakes United and Terrigal at Slade Park. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley

Larry Thomson moved to the Central Coast in the mid 70s after attending university in Armidale and worked in teaching and administration at Wyong High School and Brisbane Water Secondary College (Umina) until retiring in 2011.

His involvement in schools rugby is also exhaustive, but he recalls coaching Umina High School (now Brisbane Water Secondary College) to the Buchan Shield (NSW Combined High School under 16 boys competition) in 1999 as his crowning achievement.

“One of the matches was a curtain raiser at North Sydney Oval against Granville Boys. I’ll never forget it, John Eales had been injured and they basically invented a game between Australia A and another invitational team (for his comeback) and it was absolutely packed.” he says.

“It was pretty mind blowing for the kids and we beat Endeavour Sports in the final at Rat Park - that was a good year - and we made the final again in 2002.”

Juniors at a 2017 secondary schools sevens tournament at Woongarah Sports Facility. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyBut Thomson is slightly less effusive about the current opportunities now available for juniors outside of Sydney and laments the demise of competitions like the Wiburd Shield, a Year 10 statewide knockout competition instigated by Bathurst’s Don Wiburd which ran from 1980 to 1995.

“There are still pathways for NSW Country players, but many of our older juniors go to Sydney to try their luck in the tough Sydney colts competition,” he says. “We encourage that and hope they return to the Coast as solid senior players in later years.”

After some tumultuous times in the recent past, the power balance among the Central Coast zone’s 10 clubs has levelled out this season. The on and off-field performance of Terrigal Trojans continues to set the standard, but the rest of the pack are chasing hard, and there’s no better example than The Lakes Rugby.

Max Camden of Wamberal Savers (who play as Lakes United second grade) during a round-three defeat to Terrigal at Slade Park. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyA foundation club as Wyong Wallabies and then Northlakes, the last rites have almost been read at picturesque Slade Park a few times in the past decade, but the zone’s northernmost member defeated 2017 grand finalists Ourimbah in round two and pushed premier Terrigal all the way a week later.

“We weren’t just struggling, we were nearly dead,” says president Scott Moroney, who has been involved as a player or committee member since 1992. “We renamed two years ago to take it in a bit of a different direction and try and tie in with the surf club as well. It gave us a fresh start, which we needed.”

The Lakes played four sevens tournaments in the pre season, taking out the Country Cup in Hamilton and Kiama, which helped attract and retain a significant Fijian contingent and junior numbers are also burgeoning.

“A young bloke on our committee Kyle Lanzini has worked really hard in the off season. Our sponsorship is as good as it’s ever been, and we’re probably in the best position financially we’ve ever been in at this point of the season,” he says.

Northlakes juniors Kobe, Jasmine and Kupa at Slade Park in Budgewoi. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyMoroney is clearly familiar with the amount of volunteer hours it takes to keep a rugby club running, and was also quick to heap praise on Thomson.

“He’s a great fella and really good for our zone - a bloody hard worker,” Moroney says, “If you don’t have people like that the comp doesn’t run and most don’t see the work that these guys put in, the hours are crazy.”

Less than 40 minutes drive separates Slade Park from Southern Beaches, the closest club in Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union (NHRU), widely regarded as the best standard of club footy outside Sydney and Brisbane.

Paul Satu of Lakes United opens the scoring against Terrigal in round three. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyMoroney confirmed as many as seven former Northlakes juniors have returned from Southern Beaches this season, a trend echoed by Ourimbah captain Matt King, who tried to force his way into Shute Shield rugby with Gordon at the start of 2017.

“Numbers are strong in grade this year; every team is pretty much fielding three full teams, and the comp’s as close as I’ve ever seen it.” he says. “A few years ago Northlakes had about 15 players playing two or three grades and, by the time they get to first grade, it’s just a walkover.

“They’ve got almost the most numbers in the comp now and they’re winning in every grade - it’s really good to see and it just makes it more fun.”

: Pio Seru of Lakes United is tackled in the loss to 2017 premier Terrigal. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyCentral Coast is unique in country rugby for the relatively short distances between clubs and Thomson recalls this geography resulting in more than a few mutinies down the years.

“It has happened a lot, actually. There’s numerous stories where a group of players haven’t liked the coach or something and they’ve gone up the road,” he says, “But sometimes it’s a good thing because it means clubs have to do the right thing; good coaching, good administration.

“I really do encourage the guys to play with the club they’re nearest to, but you can’t blame blokes for wanting to see how they go in Sydney or play with their mates.”

Pio Seru of Lakes United is tackled in the loss to 2017 premier Terrigal. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyThomson is also the voice of rugby on The Coast, spruiking the match of the round in regular time slots on local radio and television, and generally heads south on the M1 for anything Waratah related, such as the recent Super W final at Allianz Stadium.

“What a cracking game that was,” he says of the inaugural season’s epic decider. “It’s fantastic to see women’s rugby finally being played on a stage like that.”

When awarded his OAM for services to rugby in 2016, Thomson was quick to acknowledge the contribution of wife Pam, who ran the canteen for pretty much every one of Larry’s 301 club matches for Gosford.

“I couldn’t have done what I’ve done without Pam. She was involved with Gosford Rugby and isn’t a life member, but should have been, and she’s been involved with the management of NSW Country teams since forever,” he says. “I do mainly the paperwork, and Pam keeps the girls happy. It’s been happening now for 20-odd years or more.”

Larry Thomson with wife Pam and grandson Archie at Gosford Showground. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyThe work of volunteers in all sporting organisations tends to be of the thankless variety, but rugby seems to be unique in that it repays much of that hard graft.

“That camaraderie is a big thing, the social side of rugby is better than any other sport,” Kate Thomson says. “You train twice a week, you play on a Saturday; that’s a lot of time you spent with those people and you get to know them quite well.

“I haven’t played now in 10 years, but I think with rugby the friends you make tend to be some of the better friends you have because you’ve also been teammates.”

Young Terrigal fans Matilda and Oscar, niece and nephew of first-grader Alex Brewin. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyThe Thomsons arrived in Warren on Thursday ahead of this weekend’s NSW Country Championships, the first time in its 65-year history the event has been held in Western Plains zone.

The influx of teams and supporters will almost double the population of the tiny farming town 115km north west of Dubbo, and a text message from Kate revealed all you need to know about why the Thomsons do what they do.

“Arrived in Warren this afternoon, the town is abuzz with rugby!”

Larry’s life of rugby

Central Coast zone

 Central Coast Rugby Union president 2007 – 2018

Director/executive/committee of Central Coast Rugby Union for over 30 years

Central Coast Rugby Union life member 

Club rugby

Gosford Rugby Club president for 12 years

Gosford Rugby Club executive/committee every year from 1976 until 2017

Gosford Rugby Club life member

Played 301 club games, including 149 in first grade

Schools rugby

Central Coast Schools rugby convener 1991 - 2014

Life member of Combined High Schools Rugby

Life member of Sydney North Regional Sport

Life member of Central Coast Schools Rugby

NSW CHS selector 1997 – 2009

Sydney North Schools Regional Rugby Convener 2004-2011

Central Coast Schools coach/manager 1991 - 2005

NSW CHS Schoolgirl coach 2002 - 2011

NSW All Schools Girls Rugby coach - England Tour 2002

NSW Country rugby

Board Member 2014 - 2018

Women's rugby

NSW Country Women’s chairperson/delegate since 2001

NSW Country Team manager for many years up to 2017

NSW Team manager New Zealand tour 2001

Director on the board of NSW Women’s Rugby 2011-2018