The University of Canberra Vikings (formerly the Canberra Vikings and Canberra Kookaburras) is an Australian rugby union football team that competes in the National Rugby Championship (NRC). The team is based at Viking Park in Wanniassa, and is backed by a three-way partnership between Tuggeranong Vikings Group, the Brumbies and University of Canberra.
The coaching and training programs used by the Brumbies for Super Rugby are extended to players joining the NRC team from the Brumbies, the local ACTRU Premier Division club competition, and the ACT and Southern NSW Rugby Union catchment area.
The present NRC team is descended from the ACT representative side known as the Canberra Kookaburras. That name was adopted by the Canberra Kookaburra Rugby Club for the ACT Rugby Union's entry into the NSW Premiership in 1995. Ownership of the Kookaburras was transferred to the Tuggeranong Vikings RUC for the 1999 season and the team was renamed the Canberra Vikings.
The Vikings played in the QRU Premiership (2001 to 2003, winning three titles), Tooheys New Cup (2004 and 2005) and Australian Rugby Shield (winning in 2006), before entering the Australian Rugby Championship (2007). That competition did not continue after the inaugural season and the Canberra Vikings team was disbanded at the end of 2007. After a six-year absence, the team was revived as the University of Canberra Vikings for the national competition relaunch as the NRC in 2014.
Rugby union was played in and around what is now the Australian Capital Territory well before it separated from New South Wales on 1 January 1911. Goulburn Rugby Union Club was formed in 1872 and became a founding member of the Southern Rugby Union in 1874. Teams from Hall and the Royal Military College, Duntroon played rugby union matches prior to the First World War. The Federal Capital Territory Rugby Union was established and re-established several times in the 1920s and 30s, before the First Grade competition was finally started in 1938 with four clubs playing in the inaugural season.
The Territory's representative team hosted the All Blacks at Manuka Oval in the winter of 1938. The Canberra side managed to score a try before the interval and trailed the visitors at half time by 24–5 before the New Zealanders went on to win by 57–5. Coached by Frank O'Rourke, the home team had played its inaugural match only three months earlier.
The original strip for the FCTRU featured an all gold jersey with two green bands. The team defeated the Hawkesbury College at the Country Carnival earlier in 1938, and later that season won against the Bathurst side. Three players from the Territory side were selected for the NSW Combined Country team to play Sydney that year. The Federal Capital Territory Rugby Union was renamed the Australian Capital Territory Rugby Union in 1939.
Rugby union expanded quickly after World War II, particularly in New South Wales. The ACT representative team, often referred to simply as "Canberra", grew in stature through the 1950s and 1960s as part of the NSW Country Rugby Union. ACT won the Caldwell Cup for the Country Championship for the first time in 1964 and went on to win it three times in a row. In 1966, five Canberra players were chosen in the squad for the Combined NSW Country team to face the touring British Lions, and played a tough, physical match before losing narrowly to the visitors by 6–3 in front of a record crowd at Manuka Oval.
The 1970s was a breakthrough decade. ACT scored a 17–11 away win over Queensland in 1972, and then had their first win over a national side, defeating Tonga by 17–6 in 1973. The ACT separated from NSW Country after the 1974 season and became directly affiliated to the Australian Rugby Football Union. In 1975, ACT won promotion for the following season to the top division of the Wallaby Trophy, Australia's provincial championship at that time. The triumph was short-lived, however, because the planned tournament for 1976 was officially cancelled. When Wales toured Australia in 1978, the ACT defeated them in a rousing 21–20 come-from-behind victory. The win over the reigning Five Nations champions showed that ACT could compete against the top tier of rugby players in the world.
The name "Canberra Kookaburras" was used for the ACT representative team from 1989, but it was to be a further five years before the Canberra Kookaburra club was officially founded. After the ACT had comprehensively beaten New South Wales by 44–28 in 1994, an invitation was issued for a Canberra club to play in the expanded 14-team NSWRU Premiership sponsored by AAMI for the following season.
The ACT Rugby Union formed the Canberra Kookaburra Rugby Club in August 1994, with Tuggeranong Vikings RUC as underwriter. For the 1995 AAMI Cup, the Canberra Kookaburras played their home games at Manuka Oval and had to travel to Sydney on most other weekends. The club fielded teams in first grade, reserve grade and colts. The Canberra Kookaburras played in a white and black strip, separated by a band of blue and gold (ACT's traditional colours) around the centre of the jersey.
Canberra's reserve grade team won their grand final in the first season. The first grade team, coached by Geoff Stokes, also made the grand final in their first season but lost to Gordon by 24–11 to finish as runner-up in 1995. The advent of the ACT Brumbies and Super 12 in 1996 affected the Kookaburras' playing strength, with only one man from the previous grand final team available for the start of the 1996 season. Canberra were placed fifth in the regular season that year, but lost to Randwick in the elimination final.
The Kookaburras were coached by Kim Thurbon in 1997, and by Ian Snook in 1998. The first grade team did not make the finals in either year. Travelling had caused a heavy financial drain on the club by 1998. Ownership of the Canberra Kookaburras was transferred to Tuggerannong Vikings RUC in 1998 and the team's name was changed to the Canberra Vikings for the 1999 season.
The Canberra Vikings adopted the red and white colours of Tuggeranong Vikings RUC with black detailing on the jersey and black shorts.
Ian Snook was retained as the team's first grade coach after the club's changeover of colours and name to the Canberra Vikings. The NSW Premiership was sponsored as the Citibank MasterCard Cup in 1999, and Canberra just missed out on making the finals. Despite the Vikings playing in the semifinals in 2000, both Canberra and Newcastle were dropped from the competition for the 2001 season. The Vikings then made arrangements to play in Queensland.
The Canberra Vikings played in the QRU's Premiership from 2001 to 2003 and won the grand final each year to take three consecutive titles. Canberra's entry increased the number of clubs from nine to ten and brought an added professionalism to the competition that was sponsored as the XXXX Premiership in 2001. With Terry Burkett as coach, the Vikings finished second in the 18-round regular season behind GPS Old Boys, but comfortably beat the Gold Coast Breakers by 32–10 in the grand final to win the Hospitals Cup.
The Queensland Premier Rugby competition was introduced in 2002, using additional funding from the ARU's program to strengthen the top tier of Australian clubs in a transition to semi-pro rugby. Played in the second half of the season to allow Super 12 players to compete, the Premier Rugby competition spanned nine rounds that were then followed by a finals series for the Hospitals Cup. For the first half of the season the clubs played for the Welsby Cup, which was won by Sunnybank in 2002.
Laurie Fisher stepped up from the assistant coaching role the previous season to become the Vikings' head coach, and his team took out the double in the 2002 Premier Rugby competition. The Vikings won the minor premiership with an 8–1 season before defeating Easts Tigers in the grand final, avenging a regular round loss to the Tigers with a 45–3 win. Fisher was the head coach again in 2003 when Canberra finished second behind University of Queensland in the minor premiership, but his team went on to beat the Gold Coast Breakers in the grand final by 29–16 to win their third title in a row.
After nine seasons of Canberra teams playing in interstate competitions, the Vikings' relations with the premier clubs in Sydney and Brisbane had become strained. This was reportedly due to a view that the Vikings were being given the opportunity every week of poaching talented young players and that the team was being run as a shadow ACT Brumbies development side. Nevertheless, possibly due to the ARU's intervention, Canberra was granted approval to play in Sydney or Brisbane for 2004. The Vikings took the option closer to home and went to Sydney for their tenth season on the road.
Nick Scrivener was the coach of the Canberra Vikings in the Tooheys New Cup for 2004. He led the team to a qualifying final after they had finished fourth in the regular season and won seven matches from twelve. The Vikings lost to Sydney University in the qualifier by 44–14. In 2005, the team was coached by John Ross. He also guided the side to seven wins from twelve matches in the regular season, but the Vikings finished sixth that year and did not play in the finals. Canberra was kicked out of the NSW Premiership for a second time ahead of the 2006 season, ostensibly to streamline the Sydney competition and allow the NSWRU to make more room in their calendar for the proposed Australian Provincial Championship.
The Vikings entered the Australian Rugby Shield in 2006, playing as the "ACT & Southern NSW Vikings" following the renaming of the ACT Rugby Union after its expansion into Southern New South Wales the previous season. The team had two close matches against NSW Country and Perth Gold during the season, but managed to progress undefeated through the three pool games, semifinal and final to win the competition and claim the shield. The Vikings beat the Melbourne Axemen 36-10 in the grand final played at Viking Park and never looked back after the third minute when inside centre Josh Staniforth scored the first of the side's five tries for the match.
The Canberra Vikings played in the Australian Rugby Championship, known as the ARC, in 2007. Nick Scrivener returned as coach. The Vikings failed to progress beyond the robin-round stages after just three wins from eight matches; 17–8 against Perth Spirit, 53–8 over the Ballymore Tornadoes and a 29–6 win away against Sydney Fleet. The ARC was terminated at the end of 2007 after only one season of competition, with the Australian Rugby Union citing higher costs than budgeted and further projected financial losses. The Canberra Vikings team was disbanded with the end of the ARC competition.
In late 2013, the ARU announced the national competition would be relaunched as the National Rugby Championship in 2014. The expressions of interest were open to all parties and tenders were finalised in early 2014. A three-way partnership between the Brumbies, Tuggeranong Vikings and University of Canberra was granted a licence for a revived Canberra Vikings team, named as the University of Canberra Vikings.
Dan McKellar was appointed as head coach for 2014, and the University of Canberra Vikings (UC Vikings) played their home matches at Viking Park. The team finished sixth in the regular season and did not compete in the finals.
The Brumbies chief executive, Michael Jones, suggested that the "Canberra Kookaburras" name might be reinstated for the team to play in the 2016 NRC season. Reverting to the ACT's traditional blue and gold colours was also canvassed, but it was likely that a voting process would be used for any change. Due to financial considerations, however, the change was postponed until at least the 2017 season.
The UC Vikings currently play at Viking Park. Many rugby union matches have been played at the stadium including two women's tests for Australia against New Zealand.
In the 2007 Australian Rugby Championship, the Canberra Vikings played at two locations; Manuka Oval and Canberra Stadium. Manuka Oval was constructed in 1929 and hosts the annual Prime Ministers XI cricket match, as well as senior club AFL and cricket. Originally Manuka Oval was not just a cricket ground, but was also used for international rugby matches, mainly between a Canberra team and the touring international side. Canberra Stadium (originally Bruce Stadium) was constructed in 1977 and is the home of the ACT Brumbies and Canberra Raiders.
The squad for the 2016 National Rugby Championship season:
(c) Denotes team captain, Bold denotes player is internationally capped, 1 denotes allocated national player additional to the contracted squad.National Rugby Championship
Australian Rugby Shield
Winners: 2001, 2002, 2003
New South Wales Premiership
Runners-up: 1995 (as Canberra Kookaburras)
National Rugby Championship
Australian Rugby Championship