The club was formed in 1949 with the amalgamation of the district’s small local clubs into a strong combined force. With a home base at Figtree Oval, Wests were soon making their mark in the strong Illawarra competition.
The football club was the catalyst for the establishment of the Leagues Club, and a year after the licensed club opened in 1956 the Red Devils won their first Illawarra premiership with a 22-6 win over Wollongong in the 1957 grand final.
Another premiership followed in 1959, with a 12-6 victory over Northern Suburbs. However, while the Sixties promised much they proved to be a lean period until the appointment of former international fullback and winger Don Parish as captain-coach in 1968. Parish took the club to back to back premierships in 1969-70. Wests beat Port Kembla 11-2 in Parish’s first premiership year, backing up with a 12-4 win over Dapto in the 1970 grand final.
Warren Ryan, who went on to become one of the most respected coaches in the game, took over from Parish as captain-coach in 1971 and maintained the winning run with victory in the 1971 grand final (18-11 against Thirroul) and in 1972 (23-9 against Thirroul).
Two of the club’s young guns in this winning era were John Dorahy and David Waite. Both went on to play for their country, with Waite also coaching at international level with Great Britain, most notably in the 2004 series against Australia.
Wests’ four-title run coincided with what was arguably the golden era in Illawarra rugby league, with huge crowds (13,500 attended the 1969 grand final) and an extremely high standard with the district’s clubs bristling with players who had either played in the Sydney competition and at representative level or who were destined to do so.
It took another special coach to guide the Red Devils to their next premiership in 1978. This time former Great Britain half-back, the legendary Tommy Bishop, guided a team of old hard heads like Harry Eden and talented youngsters like captain Keith Rugg and Rod Henniker to a 17-13 grand final win over Port Kembla.
Another international, former South Sydney star Paul Sait, coached the Red Devils to the two premierships at the start of the Eighties. Sait’s 1980 side, which beat Port Kembla 6-0 in the grand final, contained another local junior destined for Australian honours – fullback Garry Jack who was to go on to a stellar career with Balmain, NSW and Australia.
But the winds of change were blowing through Illawarra rugby league. The district was preparing to enter a team in the Sydney competition, which would relegate the local competition to a role of feeder to the Illawarra Steelers, Fittingly, Wests won the final Illawarra premiership contested before the Steelers era began.
The 1981 side, which beat Corrimal 22-0 in the grand final, contained a number of players who would move across to the Illawarra Steelers when the district entered the Sydney premiership. That first Steelers team of 1982 had a distinct Red Devils flavour, with Michael Bolt, Steve Topper, Paul Thompson, Mitchell Jones, John Sparks, Rod Henniker, Peter Kirkland, Craig Purcell, Phil McKenzie and Kendall Thurgate all wearing the scarlet and white. Two of the Red Devils’ favourite sons, John Dorahy (Manly) and Brian Hetherington (Newtown), returned from their Sydney clubs to spearhead Illawarra’s new team. Dorahy, fittingly, was Illawarra’s first captain.
Proud as the club was of its contribution to the Steelers, losing so many players made it hard for the Red Devils in the 1982 Illawarra competition. However, by 1984 the Red Devils were back on top – winning that year’s grand final 24-4 over Helensburgh under coach Mal Creevey. The club was victorious again in the 1989 grand final (13-12 over Corrimal) under Brian Hetherington and again in 1991 (14-12 over Dapto) under Terry Westblade. It made history by claiming premierships in all three grades for the first time.
Unfortunately the Red Devils struggled to win a first grade premiership after 1991, although the 2005 side under Coach Brendan Reeves went agonizingly close, going down 16-14 to Collegians who scored a late try to clinch victory. The club had been on track to emulate the grand final feats of 1991 after the reserve grade side had won its grand final 28-20 over Collegians and the Under 18s beat Dapto 12-10. Disappointing as the first grade loss was, having three sides in grand finals (for two premierships) in 2005 was a magnificent achievement.
2008 saw first grade bundled out in the semis after injuries at the wrong end of the season. Reserve grade went on to win the premiership again which took the tally to six out of the last seven premierships.
Our struggle to secure a first grade premiership was rectified in 2009, a massive year for the club both on and off the field. First grade secured both the Minor and Major Premierships, reserve grade took out the minor premierships and were grand finalists and the VB Club also made it to the grand final in their first year back in the competition. Wests also took out the majority of the awards at the annual Illawarra Presentation Dinner.
This was a fitting end to a stellar year for the Red Devils in 2009 and a sign of things to come in the future.
2010 again proved to be a very successful season nearly emulating all the feasts of the 2009 season. The first grade side again won both the Minor and Major Premierships. Our club again took out the majority of the awards at the annual Illawarra Presentation Dinner.
Along with a successful season on the field the club was also progressing very well off the field. Wests intends to keep our club, players and facilities at the forefront of the Illawarra League every year. Once again time and money was spent in upgrading our facilities.
2011 again proved to be a very successful season adding to the achievements of the 2009 and 2010 seasons. The first grade side again won both the Minor and Major Premierships. Second grade took out the Major Premiership and under 18s won both the Minor and Major Premierships .For the third year running, Wests won the Club Premiership.
The third grade side just missed out on the semi-finals and 2011 saw the formation of the Women’s side into a newly created competition.
The 2012 season saw the Devils take out the Club Championship for the fourth year running, with First Grade, Reserve Grade, 18’s and the Womens sides all winning the Minor Premiership and on to compete in the Grand Finals.
Unfortunately we were defeated in all grades, but with a Club Championship under our belt, 2012 was still a successful season for the Wests Devils.
2013 was an eventful season for the Devils, with an exciting announcement of a changing of the guard, as Jason Ryles returns to the Red and Blue as Captain Coach for 2014, assisted by Mark ‘Piggy’ Riddell.
We didn’t get the results that we were hoping for, although all 5 grades qualified for the Finals series. First Grade went down in the finals to Helensburgh, Reserve Grade went out in the Grand Final to Helensburgh, whilst the 18’s were defeated in extra time in the Grand Final by Shellharbour. Shield had a good year, ending their season in the elimination final against the Northern Suburbs and the Women’s side missing out on a Grand Final spot after going down to Corrimal in the Final.
The 2014 Illawarra Coal season was another successful year for the Red Devils with the highlight for the club winning a 5th Illawarra Coastline club championship. With all three teams finishing the regular season and qualifying for semi-final football the club had high hopes for premiership glory. Eventually we had U19’s and Reserve Grade playing on another exciting Grand final day. U19’s won their match in a very dominant display defeating Collies 26-10. Whilst Reserve Grade won their nail biting match in extra time with a Josh Dean penalty goal sealing the victory. However, the strength of the Illawarra Coal Competition was on display that day with four different clubs contesting for a premiership across the three grades.
The 2015 Illawarra Coal season was another successful year for the Wests Devils with the highlight for the club was that all three graded teams and our U/17 side qualifying for semi-final football after the regular season with the club having high hopes for premiership glory. Eventually we had our U/17’s, Shield and First Grade playing on their respective Grand Final day, with the Reserve Grade making the Final. Unfortunately we weren’t able to come away with a Wests Devils win but I’m sure it will be a different story next year. However, the strength of the Illawarra Coal Competition was on display that day with four different clubs contesting for a premiership across the three grades. Congratulations to all the 2015 Premiers.
It is with great pleasure that we can announce that Brett Kimmorley will be joining the Devils as Head Coach in 2016.
The Devils continue to strive to be the best club in the competition both on and off the field.
Western Suburbs Junior Rugby League Football Club was established in 1965 to foster junior rugby league and provide a feeder for the senior football club.
It has succeeded admirably in both aims, ensuring the popularity of rugby league in Wollongong’s western suburbs and providing an endless stream of leading players to the Red Devils senior teams, National Rugby League sides and NSW and Australian representative teams.
NRL, NSW and Australian star Jason Ryles is one player in a long line of Wests juniors who have made their mark in the game. He is following in the footsteps of other Wests juniors who have gone on to play representative football at Country, City, NSW and Australian level including the Rugby League Immortal Bob Fulton, John Dorahy, Garry Jack, Alan Maddalena, Brian Hetherinton, Max Powell, Brett Rodwell, Graeme Lye, Royce Ayliffe and Steve Roach.
Players of the calibre of Andrew Hart, Keith Rugg, Rod Henniker, Brett Stewart, Glenn Stewart and Rhys Hanbury have played leading roles at first grade level with a variety of clubs including the Illawarra Steelers, St George Illawarra Dragons, North Sydney, South Sydney and Manly.
Current Wests players like Justin Leigh, Dylan Collie, Brock Andrews, Wade Stanford, Rhys Cochrane and Josh Cochrane have been been recognised by junior representative selectors, showing that the Wests
“production line” is still thriving.
Wests Illawarra is the junior football club’s major sponsor, helping the juniors to provide jerseys, shorts and socks to every player. Wests Illawarra also helps the club to purchase training equipment, hold annual presentations and meet a variety of other expenses. The junior club also uses Wests Illawarra’s facilities at Sid Parrish Park as its home ground.
In 2005 Wests Juniors had 247 registered players and fielded 17 teams from Under 6 to Under 16. Parrish Park is a hive of activity during winter weekday afternoons and evenings for training, and match days on Saturdays.
Every season the junior club conducts a “Kids to Kangaroos” program in liaison with the St George Illawarra Dragons. Sessions are run over 3-4 weeks to introduce children of all ages to rugby league. They participate in training drills and non-contact games and get to meet Dragons stars. The sessions
have proved a popular recruitment initiative. The club is also involved with schools in the area,
promoting rugby league and assisting with uniforms and other equipment for school teams.
The Western Suburbs Junior Red Devils had a successful 2014 season and saw the club winning the Illawarra club championships. The Junior Red Devils had large membership of players, enabling the club to field 21 teams in the Illawarra and Illawarra/South Coast merged competitions.
Congratulations to all our 21 teams for representing our club so proudly not only during the semi-finals series but throughout the entire season.