FOR someone who spent years banging down the NSW Rugby League’s door, it’s ironic that Ian Millward was one of those cutting the ribbon at the opening of its new Centre of Excellence this week.
Specifically, the godfather of Illawarra rugby league was on hand to open the ‘Bob Millward Museum’ on the ground floor of the $30 million facility.
It puts him alongside the likes of Bob Fulton, Ken Arthurson, John Quayle, George Peponis and Paul Broughton who also have rooms named in their honour.
It’s recognition, first for his tireless efforts in bringing about the Illawarra Steelers entry into the world’s premier competition in 1982, and his 23 years as a NSWRL director – the longest serving member of the board.
It comes as no surprise that a bloke who’s earned the moniker ‘Bobby Steeler’ accepted the honour on the Illawarra’s behalf as much as his own.
“My argument was always that the NSW Rugby League competition was the best in the world and it was only played from Hornsby in the north and Sutherland in the south,” Millward said.
“Our catch-cry in the beginning was ‘we want to join the big league’. Eventually that changed to ‘let’s bring world class rugby league to the Illawarra’.
“That’s still happening today so I see it as an honour for the district more so than myself.
“I’ve always maintained rugby league is a team game both on and off the field, you don’t do these things on your own.
“You’ve got to have good administrators with you along the away, you’ve got to have good family support and I’ve had that.”
Having first been appointed to the NSWRL board in 1995, Millward’s tenure will continue following his recent reappointment for a further two years – taking him to 25 years.
High on his agenda will be securing the long-mooted merger between the NSWRL and the Country Rugby League who are now both housed at the Centre of Excellence.
It will be his third crack at bringing about the merger and, having had three goes to get the Steelers bid over the line – the first in 1954 and second in 1966 – he’s hoping history can repeat.
“I’m one of three NSWRL representatives along with three CRL representatives on a six-man steering committee,” he said.
“We’re making quite good progress. It might be Bob Millward third time lucky again. I was part of a similar committee in the 90s, and part of one in 2004.
“Both of those weren’t successful, I’m confident this time it will be. It’ll be one state body and I think it’ll be good for rugby league.
It would add to an already impressive legacy, a contribution as stellar and significant as any built on the park.
“I played is some very good junior sides but I was nowhere near the best player,” he said.
“I think I was tapped on the shoulder at around the age of 20 and said ‘if you love this game so much why don’t you get into administration’ so I did. It’s been wonderful.”