In 1889 the New Zealand rugby team, colloquially referred to as ‘The Maoris’, probably to add some flavour to their side, played a game against a Combined Sydney Australian football team at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
The New Zealanders were returning home after an ultra-extensive 70 match tour of Britain.
They landed in Adelaide played then to Melbourne where they pitted themselves against several clubs including St Kilda and Essendon under the Australian rules of football and then a quick tour of Victoria country where, in one game, they were defeated by the Maryborough Club 6.9 to 1.2.
The team then made their way to Sydney where they played a number of rugby games against local sides. Apparently because they had experience in the Victorian game a match was arranged against the NSW Football Association.
A crowd of 3,ooo turned up paying one shilling (10c) entry to the ground and if they wanted a bit of comfort, an additional one shilling to the stand. Children were admitted at half price.
The Maoris were aided by the inclusion of four leading local Australian football players from the Waratah Club and naturally enough these were identified as the four best on the visitor’ s team. The inclusion of these players was necessitated, it was said, because the New Zealand side “were short.”
The match finished in a draw: Sydney 4.10 to the Maori side’s 4.6. The fact that it did, highlighted that the standard of the game in Sydney, which did not go unnoticed by the local commentators. In a game the following week, the ‘Maori’ team travelled to Maitland where they were defeated by the Northumberland Club 6-7 to 3-4 before a crowd of 500. Again the New Zealand team were three players short and had to be supplemented by some locals.
In June of the previous year, the visiting English rugby team were fixtured to play a game against the then VFA club, Fitzroy, on the Sydney Cricket Ground when the ‘Roys were in Sydney during a rep period in the VFL. This game was in preparation to their tour of Victoria but the Brits. gracefully withdrew from the contest when it was realised that should they get a thrashing it could well affect crowds at the pending games in the southern colony.
Both the New Zealand and English teams played Australian football on their tours in an effort to gain revenue from admission fees (gate money) to fund their visit. Twenty five thousand attended the Englishmen’s game v Carlton, ten thousand were at their South Melbourne encounter and even five thousand turned out for a match against country side, Maryborough. So it was quite within their interests to play games in Victoria.