Australia’s regional sporting capital: Queanbeyan or Wagga Wagga? The case for Wagga

Tim Gavel 24 September 2021 61
Aerial view of Central Wagga Wagga

Aerial view of Central Wagga Wagga. What makes this town a producer of sports champions? Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

When I started looking at Australia’s top sporting cities per head of population, I felt it would be hard to go past Queanbeyan.

That is, until I took a closer look at Wagga Wagga.

I discovered that it’s daylight between Wagga and every other city region of comparable size, not just in Australia, but potentially globally.


READ MORE: Australia’s regional sporting capital: Queanbeyan or Wagga Wagga? The case for Queanbo


I well remember a study conducted by the AIS in 2005 which looked at the reasons why Wagga Wagga produced so many champions.

The exposure to many sports was one of the reasons given as to why Wagga has produced champion sportspeople.

A number of sportspeople associated with Wagga Wagga were born elsewhere but had their formative years in the city. In many ways, Wagga’s success is due to the high level of sport and coaching, along with the support for sport in the city.

Mark Taylor, Geoff Lawson and Michael Slater

Mark Taylor, Geoff Lawson and Michael Slater in 2016. Photo: Cricket NSW.

Former Australian test cricket captain Mark Taylor was born in Leeton, but his formative years were in Wagga. Taylor captained Australia in 50 tests.

His opening partner in 78 test innings was fellow Wagga product Michael Slater, and fast bowler Geoff Lawson started at Wagga Wagga Public School before playing 46 tests.

Melanie Wells (nee Twitt). Photo: Museum of the Riverina.

Melanie Wells was the world’s best player in the early2000s. Photo: Museum of the Riverina.

Wagga’s Melanie Wells (née Twitt) was named the World Women’s Hockey Player of the Year between 2002 and 2004. Fellow Wagga Wagga hockey player Adam Commens played 143 internationals for the Kookaburras before going on to coach a number of national teams, including the Hockeyroos.

Alicia Lucas (née Quirk) won gold at the Rio Olympics in the women’s 7s while fellow Wagga athlete Sally Shipard made her debut with the Matilda’s at just 16 years of age before going on to become one of Australia’s greatest women’s soccer players with 57 games.

Tony Roche

Tony Roche (2009) was not only a great player but coached and mentored greats, including Roger Federer. Photo: Naparazzi.

Tony Roche was born in Tarcutta, just down the road from Wagga. He joined the Wagga Wagga Tennis Club when he was 13 years old.

Roche won the French Open in 1966 as well as making the finals another five times. He and John Newcombe formed one of the greatest tennis doubles combinations of all time, winning 12 grand slam titles.

Roche then went on to coach Rafter, Lendl, Federer and Hewitt.

AFL champion Paul Kelly was born in West Wyalong before his family moved to Wagga where he played rugby league before switching to Australian Rules at 15 years of age.

Kelly went on to become one of the all-time great players winning the Brownlow in 1995, playing 234 games for the Swans, and he captained the All-Australian team twice.

Wayne Carey

Wayne Carey was named an All-Australian seven times. Photo: Gnangarra.

Not to be outdone, Wagga-born Wayne Carey also played rugby league before switching to AFL. At 21 years of age, Carey became the second-youngest captain in VFL/AFL history when appointed to lead North Melbourne. Carey played 272 AFL games and was named in the All-Australian team seven times.

Cameron Mooney started his football career with Turvey Park, an inner-southern suburb of Wagga, before going on to win three premierships with Geelong.

Another Wagga Wagga product is Harrison Himmelberg who plays for GWS while his brother Elliott is with the Adelaide Crows.

Many years before the Kellys, Careys, Mooneys and Himmelbergs came onto the scene, there was the legendary Wagga-born St Kilda full-forward Billy Mohr. He was one of the leading goal kickers in the VFL. Billy represented Victoria 18 times.

Then there’s the plethora of great rugby league and union players who emerged from Wagga.

The Mortimers of rugby league fame – Steve, Chris, Peter and Glen – hailed from Wagga. One of rugby league’s greatest players, Steve played 272 games for Canterbury.

Although born in Toowoomba, Eels legend Peter Sterling began his football career in Wagga. He went on to win the Golden Boot award for the world’s top player in 1987.

Tommy Raudonikis

Tommy Raudonikis – a league legend on and off the field. Photo: tommyraudonikis.com.

The list of great rugby league players to come out of the Wagga Wagga region is seemingly endless with players such as Greg Brentnall, Tom Raudonikis and Steve Martin having played their formative years in the city, while South’s premiership-winning player Greg Hawick and Australian captain-coach Arthur Summons made an enormous contribution when they relocated to Wagga.

Eric Weissel played his rugby league career in the Riverina with five clubs including the Wagga Magpies. He was selected to represent NSW and Australia.

Jim Lenehan played 23 tests for the Wallabies stretching from 1957 to 1967. Beres Elwood played 20 tests, and in 1959, was regarded as the best back in the world. Other Wallabies developed in the Wagga Wagga region include Nick Henderson, John Langford, Ken McMullen and Arthur Tonkin.

Steve Elkington

Steve Elkington won the US PGA in 1995. Photo: Secret Golf screenshot.

Golfer Steve Ellington was born in Inverell but grew up in Wagga. Ellington won the US PGA title in 1995 and spent more than 50 weeks in the world top ten list.

Wagga isn’t confined to producing great footballers, cricketers, tennis players, hockey players and golfers.

Temora-born but Wagga-raised Brad Kahlefeldt won gold in the triathlon at the 2006 Commonwealth Games while Raeleigh Rogers (née Tennant) was also a dominant force nationally in the sport.

Raeleigh Tennant. Photo: Museum of the Riverina.

Raeleigh Tennant was ACT Triathlete of the Year from 1997 to 2001. Photo: Museum of the Riverina.

Other Wagga Wagga sporting champions include jockey Scobie Beasley, snooker player Quinten Hann, Olympic silver track medallist Patrick Dwyer, NBL All Star Greg Hubbard, motorcyclist Terry McDonald, Australian softballers Amanda Gooden (née Wheeler), Brooke Baverstock (nee Frauenfelder) and Kim Horne, shooters Barney Rooke, Maree Schuster (nee Rooke), Ken Cooke, Philip Bain and Grahame Crowe, volleyballer Bruce McKinnon, and Australian indoor hockey representative, Graeme McLennan.

Maree Schuster. Photo: Museum of the Riverina.

Maree started in competitive shooting after growing tired of being carted around to gun clubs with her father. The rest is history. Photo: Museum of the Riverina.

Other significant Wagga sportspeople include Australian lawn bowlers Norma Richardson and Joyce McKee, Australian orienteering champion Allison Jones, Australian diving representative Kate Henderson. And there are many more including cyclists, sailing champions and dance champions.

If there is a greater range and quality of sporting champions to emerge from a population of people anywhere in the world I am yet to see it. Wagga Wagga is Australia’s greatest sporting city by a country mile.


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61 Responses to Australia’s regional sporting capital: Queanbeyan or Wagga Wagga? The case for Wagga
Josh Habel Josh Habel 10:10 am 01 Oct 21

Harry Grant Wagga by a mile boi

    Harry Grant Harry Grant 10:11 am 01 Oct 21

    Josh Habel you’re dreaming mate. Queanbeyan is gods country

Belle Holmes Belle Holmes 11:03 pm 28 Sep 21

Tilly Adamson thoughts?

Lewis McLennan Lewis McLennan 7:45 am 28 Sep 21

Graeme McLennan they didn’t mention your statue on the Main Street?

    Graeme McLennan Graeme McLennan 7:46 am 28 Sep 21

    Lewis McLennan only comes up at night !😂

    Andrew Aldons Andrew Aldons 4:14 pm 28 Sep 21

    Graeme McLennan Thats only after the little blue pill gets taken?

Paul Morshead Paul Morshead 9:11 pm 27 Sep 21

Graeme McLennan you finally made a “list”

Mark Flack Mark Flack 2:09 pm 27 Sep 21

Compare it to a little place call Crookwell in southern NSW !

Sahibjeet Bains Sahibjeet Bains 1:03 pm 27 Sep 21

Peter Naumann Riley Smithers Casper Sundin this is beyond lit

Samuel Hays Samuel Hays 12:55 pm 27 Sep 21

Steve Zaal should whip us on that list

Patrick Moody Patrick Moody 12:54 pm 27 Sep 21

Narrabri have a sign as you enter town claiming the title I think

Ben Lienert Ben Lienert 12:16 pm 27 Sep 21

Tariku Fitzgerald-Holmes Kieran Organ clash of the titans

    Tariku Fitzgerald-Holmes Tariku Fitzgerald-Holmes 1:26 pm 27 Sep 21

    Ben Lienert the river takes all

    Liam Timothy-Nesbitt Liam Timothy-Nesbitt 3:29 pm 27 Sep 21

    Tariku Fitzgerald-Holmes We’re up there

Otis Connor Otis Connor 12:05 pm 27 Sep 21

Patrick Mason so keen for a Saturday night night in Wagga

    Patrick Mason Patrick Mason 12:39 pm 27 Sep 21

    Otis Connor mate I’m not sure you’ll be able to handle it personally

Dave N Ange Greer Dave N Ange Greer 10:47 pm 26 Sep 21

Why is there no comparable list of Queanbeyan region sports stars....? Also how many James Bonds have come from Wagga 🤣

    Nichole Overall Nichole Overall 10:07 am 27 Sep 21

    Dave N Ange Greer careful, Goulburn tries to claim Qbn’s George Lazenby 😂

    Mark Schweikert

    Dave N Ange Greer Dave N Ange Greer 10:15 am 27 Sep 21

    Nichole Overall happy to share him with Goulburn but we got the famous half 😂

    Michael Larkin Michael Larkin 10:16 am 29 Sep 21

    Dave N Ange Greer not sure Lazenby is that much to crow about is he?

    Dave N Ange Greer Dave N Ange Greer 10:42 am 29 Sep 21

    Michael Larkin he may

    not be as big as John Wayne but if your a Bond fan it's hard to say he was the least interesting. 🙂

    Michael Larkin Michael Larkin 10:43 am 29 Sep 21

    The Bond itself was great, he not so much

    Dave N Ange Greer Dave N Ange Greer 11:15 am 29 Sep 21

    Michael Larkin I think I just like the fact his first acting gig is James Bond, not home n away or cop shop then co star etc, that's gutsy.....no self doubt 😎

Dong Wong Dong Wong 10:16 pm 26 Sep 21

look at the face on the dog hahaha

Brendan Flanagan Brendan Flanagan 8:36 pm 26 Sep 21

AFL Premiership winner Matt Suckling also hails from Wagga Wagga. Pretty sure Craig Bellamy also started his Rugby League coaching career in Wagga.

Chris DeVoy Chris DeVoy 8:15 pm 26 Sep 21

Tingha beats both Wagga and Queanbeyan, but I think Wagga just pips Queanbeyan. Being a twin of like 300 with 4 rep NRL players.

    Michael Larkin Michael Larkin 10:23 am 29 Sep 21

    Chris DeVoy thats merely 1 sport though

    Chris DeVoy Chris DeVoy 10:28 am 29 Sep 21

    Michael Larkin yes true, and it’s more the last 25 years where as QBN and Wagga go back a long time.

    I think internationally QBN have it, domestically Wagga.

Kristy Morton Kristy Morton 7:13 pm 26 Sep 21

I can't choose as we have family history big time with Temora and Wagga .

Dom Stramandinoli Dom Stramandinoli 7:12 pm 26 Sep 21

Nuff said.

Keni Kawaleva Keni Kawaleva 6:59 pm 26 Sep 21

2620 alllll day

Shane Tipa Shane Tipa 6:54 pm 26 Sep 21

2️⃣6️⃣2️⃣0️⃣

Nichole Overall Nichole Overall 6:19 pm 26 Sep 21

2 words: Heather McKay.

& Queanbeyan superior per capita!

Tim Overall

    Brent Hunter Brent Hunter 7:04 pm 26 Sep 21

    Nichole Overall would you say Queanbeyan is a city of champions?

    Siân Victoria Siân Victoria 7:21 pm 26 Sep 21

    Brent Hunter I'd go further and say it's demonstrably true? 💁🏻‍♀️

    Greg Cummins Greg Cummins 8:11 pm 26 Sep 21

    Nichole Overall is it too late to rename the book?

    Greg Cummins Greg Cummins 8:25 pm 26 Sep 21

    Nichole Overall even Macca got a mention for Wagga 😂

    Siân Victoria Siân Victoria 9:15 pm 26 Sep 21

    Nichole Overall too true! Based on empirical evidence!

Ashley Gleeson Ashley Gleeson 6:17 pm 26 Sep 21

Kelly Maher this explains why I’m such an athlete.

    Kelly Maher Kelly Maher 7:13 pm 26 Sep 21

    Ashley Gleeson sure sure odd your not mentioned in the article

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