East Wagga-Kooringal will celebrate their most famous premiership as part of a big day of reunions at Gumly Oval on Saturday.
When Neville Lyons signed on as coach of the Hawks for the 1982 season, he was of the understanding he was coaching in the Farrer League.
He had just spent the 1981 season in the Ovens and Murray League as assistant coach of North Albury and jumped at the chance to become a senior coach for the first time when the Hawks came knocking.
"I had always aspired to be a senior coach," Lyons recalls.
"I'd had experience at Geelong and South Adelaide and it was always a dream of mine to do it. Terry McMillan and Ken Reynolds came and offered me the coaching job for East Wagga and they were in the Farrer League."
In a somewhat topical turn of events given the current climate, the Victorian Country Football League (VCFL) was undergoing a restructure at the time and an opportunity came knocking for the Hawks.
"The VCFL were restructuring the whole region and that was the Northern Riverina, the old South West and the Farrer League and they were going to make one power league, so there were a lot of changes happening after 81 leading into 82," Lyons said.
"I was always coaching in the second division, which was the Farrer.
"Mangoplah-Cookardinia United were going to play in the Riverina, anyway, they were told they had to play a few Sunday games, anyway, their supporters and players weren't keen on playing Sunday games at all so they came to Bill Ankers, who was the president at the time and said there is an opportunity for East Wagga to come into the main league, the Riverina.
"So Bill came and saw me and said look, we've got this opportunity, the league have asked us if we want to go into the Riverina, which was the main league and said what are your views? I was always keen to play in the best possible footy so I said yeah, look, you're mad not to.
"We more or less scraped in because Mangoplah didn't want to participate."
That sliding doors moment was the beginning of what would be the story of the first, and arguably most famous, Riverina League premiership.
Lyons recalls how the Hawks went from being the team elevated purely to make up the numbers to a premiership force.
"We had a good young list of players. I didn't know much about the other sides, I knew some of the players that were at East Wagga so I knew we didn't have too bad of a list," Lyons said.
"Everyone more or less in the whole region thought we were there just to make the numbers up because Mangoplah didn't want to come in.
"It was more or less like coaching an under 23 side, apart from a couple of guys like Steve Smith who would have bumped the average age up but more or less I was coaching an under 23 side."
EWK went on to win 16 of their 22 games for the home and away season to finish season in third spot of 12 clubs.
"We went on and won 16 home and away games. We never lost a game at home," Lyons said.
"We went into the finals series, again, because we were supposedly in the second division, we were supposed to fall over against the old powerful South West sides so we went through and cleaned them all up in the finals."
The Hawks kicked off the finals series with a six-goal win over Coolamon in the qualifying final.
A late goal to Lyons, against his old club and minor premiers, Ariah Park-Mirrool, helped them to a two-point second semi-final win at Ganmain Sportsground.
Coolamon sent out the Brown Bombers in straight sets the following week and the stage was set for the inaugural Riverina League decider.
The Hawks then went on to complete the fairytale with a thrilling five-point win, 12.8 (80) to 10.15 (75), in front of a huge crowd at Narrandera Sportsground.
The Hawks trailed by 21 points at quarter time, 16 at half-time and then swept to the lead with a four-goal third term.
"I honestly think, without being biased, from lucky to be even in the competition, it's probably the biggest win and I defy anyone to say any different, the biggest win in the whole Riverina," Lyons said.
"We went on and beat all your Turvey Parks, Wagga Tigers, all the power sides of the time.
"Some of the kids that I coached that year went on to become some of the biggest names in East Wagga's history. Your Barry Sucklings, Mark Hulls, George Galvin, Richie Robinsons. They were only kids when I had them, but they went on to finish with a big profile for themselves once they finished their footy.
"I was very lucky that I had a real good young list. When you win 16 games for the year, and never lose a game at home, the whole place was rocking and it was a bit of a fairytale for the club.
"Most people every week thought we were going to fall over purely because they thought we were inferior and we weren't."
Lyons went on to coach Tooleybuc, Donald, Golden Square and Union before going on to be an inaugural board member of the Central Murray League.
Now living and working in Geelong, Lyons can't wait to catch up with former teammates at Gumly Oval on Saturday.
"They gave me a lot of joy, the club," Lyons said.
"Socially we were probably the best in the competition. The Farrer Hotel that sponsored us, we were in with the Wagga Magpies, and we had players from other clubs coming to the Farrer purely because they knew socially we were the best, plus we were winning, so we would have the whole place rocking. They were memorable times.
"You have your periods that you dominate and East Wagga dropped away for various reasons, lost a bit of their mojo, which always disappointed me because I used to come back and watch a game because they gave me a lot of pleasure.
"They've had a bit of success in the minor competition, which is pleasing, but the 82 one, again, I would defy anyone to say if there is any better grand final win in the whole Riverina, any year, because we weren't even supposed to be in it."
The 1972 season was also a special one for East Wagga, as it enjoyed its first double premiership in the club's history.
Max Sanbrook, in his first coaching job, led the Hawks to just the club's second premiership with a 36-point win over Army in the Central Riverina grand final.
The club also won the reserve grade premiership on the same day, with a seven-point win over RAAF.
It was Sanbrook's one and only year at the Hawks but it was a season he has nothing but fond memories of.
"When I got the opportunity I thought I'd have a crack at it and loved it," Sanbrook recalled.
"It went really well, actually. I think we finished on top of the ladder. We might have got beaten once. We played in Army in the grand final, who had won the last three grand finals, which I didn't realise. I was only a newcomer to the Central Riverina and didn't have a clue what was going on until after. They said well done, they hadn't been beaten for three years, or something."
One memory that remains clear to Sanbrook is how tough the grand final was.
"It was a tough game, I know that. There was a few incidents happen," he said.
"I think we won by about 36 points, it felt like a convincing win at the finish. All our guys played exceptionally well, which was good.
"It was good. I can remember the fight they had and I can remember getting chaired off at the end of the game, everything else was just a blur.
"It didn't mean much to me at the time because I was brand new at the game. I think it was a big deal to the East Wagga guys because they had been in the wilderness for a fair while. I think they'd won one premiership before so it was a big deal.
"It will be great to see all the guys back, all the ones that are still standing. It will be excellent. I'm looking forward to it."
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Maurice Burbidge kicked six goals in the grand final, while Terry McGee was awarded best-on-ground.
Sanbrook had high praise for the role Peter Alford played quelling Army's Murray Hill, while Neville George, Alastair Caldwell, Jim Absolum, Jim Bourne and Terry McMillan all played big games.
1972 grand final
East Wagga 2.1 6.7 11.10 16.14 (110)
Army 3.7 5.13 7.18 9.20 (74)
Goals: (East Wagga) M Burbidge 6.2, M Sanbrook 3.2, C Raufers 3.1, R Hilton 2.3, A Caldwell 1.2, N Hewitt 1.1, J Bourne 0.1, rushed behinds 3; (Army) T Whelan 2.4, M Butler 2.2, B Simmons 2.2, M Hill 1.2, M Hansen 1.0, J Renn 1.0.
Best: (East Wagga) T McGee, J Absolum, M Sanbrook, M Burbidge, T McMillan, C Raufers, N George, G Piltz; (Army) M Hill, A Sweeney, T Whelan, M Hanson, T Jones, G de Bour, K Butler.
1982 grand final
East Wagga-Kooringal 2.2 5.5 9.8 12.8 (80)
Coolamon 5.5 7.9 8.11 10.15 (75)
Goals: (EWK) T Gooden 4, N Lyons 2, G Hill 2, D McGee, G Galvin, S Allen, P Butterworth; (Coolamon) R McKenzie 3, G Carroll 2, S Bredin 2, G Buchanan, A Suidgeest, D Breust.
Best: (EWK) M Hull, S Allen, T Pledger, B Suckling, P Butterworth, S Smith, T Turner, N Lyons; (Coolamon) S Bredin, J Chamberlain, B Allen, L Nugent, D Hilton, C Beven, N Pleming.
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