BROTHERS IN ARMS
60 years of tying up the laces and running onto the field for the Brothers Rugby League Football Club
THERE’S not a hint of hesitation after John Adams is asked what makes Darwin Brothers unique. “Once a Brother, always a Brother,” the long-serving club president fires back.
“My father played, I played, my son played and now my grandson is playing and it’s the same for so many other families.”
2018 is the Brethren’s 60th year. They are the oldest rugby league entity in the Top End to never have changed their name, and hold the most firstgrade premierships along with Nightcliff on 15 — a statistic that immediately attracts the attention of life member Mick Palmer. “Once you’re in, you’re not allowed to leave. You’re definitely not allowed to go to Nightcliff,” the former player, coach and administrator says wryly.
From the stars of the early years such as Dave Napia, Stewie Thompson and Pierce Hegarty, to William ‘Nungah’ and Frank ‘Doodles’ Ah Mat in the early 70s, Brothers have always played electric, attacking-minded rugby league.
In the 1980s, it was Bob Hanna and in more recent times, Moses Wigness and current captain and two-time Frank Johnson Medallist Leon Rotumah.
Former club treasurer Alan Bradbury remembers coming to the club as a 21-year-old from Brisbane in 1967.
“My first impression was that they were just one big happy mob,” Bradbury recalls.
“I worked for the bank in Brisbane and got transferred to Darwin and was actually offered to go to Waratahs (now Litchfield).
“But I couldn’t find where they were training so I went to Brothers. That was it, I went there once and I never left.
“We’ve always been that way, we’ve all been in the same group. People have become related through marriages over the years, and we are all good mates. Some blokes you don’t see for 10 or 12 years but nothing changes
when you see them.”
The club’s most successful period came undoubtedly between 1988 and 1991, four straight first-grade premierships with a squad packed with talent, as Adams recalls.
“There were a few guns in that team. You had players like Steven Stokes, Kevin Quall, Ninny Briston, Paul Witherspoon, Scott Claridge, Fred Smith and Tony Morris — a big white fella who was six foot, four inches and drove a Harley, that was a bit different,” Adams says.
“Paul Witherspoon, we called him Clark Kent because he wore the glasses and was a pharmacist but when he played rugby, he was a gun. He had legs like tree trunks and just killed it all the time. Sean Good (the father of current Brothers A-grader Daniel Good) was a legend, he was probably one of the best fullbacks running around, the bony, skinny-arse thing he is.
“It was basically the same side over those four years. We had a few slight changes, Peter Dangerfield came into it.”
Adams believes the Brethren were then at their strongest.
“Through the era of the 1980s and 90s, that was probably the best team going around. I can’t say much for the 1960s and 70s, but it was the first time the club had won four A-grade and reserve grade premierships in a row,” he says.
“There were really good numbers at the club through that point and it showed in winning those reserve grade competitions as well.”
Unlike anywhere else in the country, Darwin locals have the best of both worlds when it comes to football.
Australian Rules in the wet, rugby league in the dry. And if you’re a Brother, then you’re also a Darwin Buffalo — a tradition that is still held to this day, with Josh Saveka and Liam Philpott playing grand finals for both clubs over the past 12 months.
“Most of the families from the Buffaloes are also with Brothers,” Adams says.
“The Ah Kits, the Ah Mats, the Stokes, the Raymonds. You play for Buffaloes, you play for Brothers.”
For Mick Adams, John’s father, a foreign sport quickly became a cornerstone of his life as a teenager.
“I played Aussie rules but the blokes I knocked around with told me to come and try rugby league. I didn’t know much about it but I ended up playing until 1996. It becomes your family,” Adams says.
“When you get into Brothers, you don’t only become part of the team, you become a part of the club. On and off the field, the people look after you.
“We not only look after players but their families as well, I think that’s why our juniors are strong, following that tradition.”
The Brethren have altered their ways throughout the years, as times have changed. But one thing that will never waiver is their passion for beating Nightcliff.
“We’ve had to move with the times. Minutes were taken on bar coasters from many years ago, that’s all changed. The old times were pretty lax to say the least,” John Adams says.
“The days of just rocking up and getting dressed under the old mango tree at Richardson Park, which Brothers were renowned for, are long gone.
“Nightcliff used to call us monkeys for hanging off that mango tree, it’s probably why we had so many battles. We were two very proud clubs who both had a lot of local players playing.”
Palmer remembers the antagonism between the two foes starting as soon as the Dragons were admitted into the Darwin Rugby League in 1971.
“It started with Nightcliff trying to emulate Brothers, trying to be everything Brothers were about, without having the ability or the nous to do so,” Palmer says with a smile.
The two clubs will celebrate Brothers’ milestone with a Friday fixture under lights at Rugby Park on July 20 before a gala ball is held the following night at Sky City.
As good as those celebrations will be, there is one thing that would cap off a perfect year.
“A grand final against Nightcliff, with a Brothers win,” Adams says.
Brothers’ first-grade celebrating at Richardson Park after their 14-10 grand final victory over RSL in 1973
Coach Frank 'Doodles' Ah Mat and Robbie Cooper celebrate Brothers’ 1988 Darwin Rugby League grand final win against Casuarina
William 'Nungah' Ah Mat was the first recipent of the Frank Johnson Medal in 1973. Pictured here with the Australian Sportsman Association trophy
Leon Rotumah is picked up after scoring a try in the 2009 grand final. Brothers beat University 44-10
Brothers’ Brothe ers’ 1989 premiership premie ership winning side
Brothers’ first A-grade side in 1958