Diggers manager Gerard McMillan is spoilt for choice when Singleton plays Hamilton

A WINNER EITHER WAY: Gerard McMillan reflects on his long history with the Singleton Bulls and the Hamilton Hawks ahead of their Round 2 NHRU clash.
A WINNER EITHER WAY: Gerard McMillan reflects on his long history with the Singleton Bulls and the Hamilton Hawks ahead of their Round 2 NHRU clash.

When Singleton plays host to NHRU powerhouse Hamilton on Saturday local fan Gerard McMillan will have his foot in both camps.

Last year Hamilton re-wrote the history books when capturing a fourth straight premiership.

In doing so, the Hawks broke the record previously held by the Bulls since 1997.

Nevertheless McMillan recalls an even more historic victory for the club 40 years earlier.

The night Hamilton claimed its inaugural first grade premiership in 1978.

"That night was just brilliant," McMillan told the Singleton Argus.

Prior to his 40 year tenure as the general manager of the Singleton Diggers, McMillan was the licensee to the Hamilton Rugby Club.

He recalled working 16-18 hour work-days across a 20-month period which included the 1978 grand final post-match function.

"Hamilton people knew how to party and they had a fantastic song," he recalled.

"Everyone crowded inside the club; it was standing room only and there was just speech after speech as the night went on."

The Hawks had also deprived their opponent Boolaroo (now Lake Macquarie) from an inaugural title.

Boolaroo came close in 1940 only to be deprived by his father's St Patrick's side.

"Many of the players who had played in that first premiership had also been the sons of the men from that famous 1940 side so it really was like a family club," he said.

Hamilton had only been established as a junior club in 1965.

McMillan, a renowned leader at the Hamilton Amateur Athletics Club, jumped on board as a 15-year-old winger the following year bringing forth his athletic prowess.

Admittedly, he would play his best first grade footy with the Tech City Tigers in the early 1970s when facing off against the likes of Wallabies John Hipwell and Peter Horton.

But he would still bleed blue and yellow on that historic night in 1978.

THE NEW POWERHOUSE: The Hamilton Hawks won their inaugural first grade title in 1978.

THE NEW POWERHOUSE: The Hamilton Hawks won their inaugural first grade title in 1978.

Little did he know his 40-year-old Singleton journey would commence the following year.

"The opportunity came to manage the Singleton Diggers Club and I started the role on May 16, 1979 so the 40 year anniversary is coming up," he continued.

"A high figure within the Hamilton Rugby Club told me not to take the job, to 'return to accounting' and to do 'the right thing by your family'.

"But my wife (at the time) said you could do it.

"Even my brother, who lived in Singleton, questioned why I should do it but a job is a job.

"It was hard initially, it hasn't been an easy journey over the years, but it's been a great journey."

McMillan admits he's been spoilt with the friendships he's made since calling Singleton home in 1979.

Singleton Bulls legend John Halter played a vital role from the start.

"John Halter would play first grade for the Wanderers in Newcastle on a Saturday and then would back it up with Singleton on a Sunday," he reflected.

"He knew everyone in town and he used to give me the heads up about different ones.

"He was a great friend to me and I'd only drink with him in Singleton before driving back home to Newcastle.

"Then I moved to Singleton permanently in November that year."

It didn't take long for McMillan to make his way to God's Acre (also known as Singleton's Rugby Park) as a result of his friendship.

"In 1979 there was an opportunity to sponsor a trophy for the best back in first grade and it's been enjoyable to have that connection the past 40 years as well."

Though McMillan opts to play down his connections to the Bulls his list of achievements includes service as a player and as a junior team manager as well as a decade of refereeing.

By the time the Bulls entered the Newcastle based competition in 1990 he knew that the country powerhouse was destined for success.

"They won country championships and they were often knocking over talented teams in the Toohey's Cup," he recalled.

"So as far as country clubs go they were the best in the state.

"They had beaten all of the Newcastle teams in the playoffs prior so we knew they'd be a champion side."

His link to the club through the Singleton Diggers has also been admirable.

This connection ranges from the venue's red, black and grey carpet of yesteryear to hosting post-match functions with visiting New Zealand and Fijian International teams.

Ultimately, McMillan remains invested in both clubs on account of his family connections.

FAMILY BUSINESS: Gerard McMillan pictured on the phone with his family on Thursday afternoon.

FAMILY BUSINESS: Gerard McMillan pictured on the phone with his family on Thursday afternoon.

His sons Ben and Simon played their juniors with the Bulls before Ben returned to the Hawks where he is now the club's junior president.

Even his daughter Beck made history in 1992 when becoming the Bulls' first female coach by mentoring their under-8 side.

His grandson Dominic will play Nelson Bay this weekend while Joseph will take on the Bulls in the under-8 match.

Thankfully, his third grandson will still don the iconic black and red stripes.

And Gerard couldn't be prouder.

"Taylor (Lojszczyk) is eight and he's disabled but the Bulls treat him as their mascot with a jumper and all," he said.

PROUD GRANDSON: Taylor Lojszczyk pictured in his Singleton Bulls' colours.

PROUD GRANDSON: Taylor Lojszczyk pictured in his Singleton Bulls' colours.

"He's had 16 operations to date and when his parents can't take him to a game then members of the club offer to drive him down.

"They love him at the club and I can't thank them enough for the way they make him feel welcome."

Last weekend the Bulls, who were without Cooper Harris, faced defeat to Lake Macquarie; a club still in search of a maiden first grade title.

The Hawks will open their season after commencing 2019 with a bye.

When McMillan was asked for his words if he was approached by either club his response was direct.

"Play hard, play fair and enjoy the journey; just as I have," he concluded.