THE 2023 version of NSW Touch Football's State Cup will be played this weekend in Port Macquarie. There'll be more than 200 teams there for the three day event in men's, women's, mixed divisions in various age groups from under 20s to over 65s. Matches, particularly in the younger age divisions and the opens will be incredibly fast and skilful. Mark Rutledge from Old Bar is a veteran of touch football in NSW. He was a member of the Port Hacking side that played in the inaugural State Cup in Port Macquarie back in 1977. Organised touch football had started in Heffron Park in South Sydney around 1968 - mainly for rugby league players to keep fit during the summer. "A lot of the Souths first grade side, like Ray Brannigan, played,'' Mark recalls. Competitions started in the Cronulla Sutherland-Port Hacking area around 1972 as the game started to mushroom around Sydney and then into the regions. And so the idea was floated to play a state cup although Mark can't remember why Port was chosen. "We were a bunch of blokes playing in different teams on a Wednesday night in Port Hacking although a few of us played elsewhere as well,'' Mark said. So they opted to send a side to Port although Mark doesn't think the selection process was too exhaustive. "They said we'd need a captain - and decided I had the job,'' he laughed. So to Port, where 32 teams, all men's open, were involved. "We played round games on Stuart Park on the Saturday and then the semi-finals on Sunday morning at another venue,'' he said. "Then we went to West Port Park (then the main ground for rugby league in Port) for the finals in the afternoon. It was a bit daunting because there was a big crowd there.'' For whatever reason the teams were split into two divisions for the final series. "Two teams went through undefeated, us and Cronulla but Cronulla had the better for and against, so they went into the Westmont State Cup and we went into the other,'' Mark said. "Cronulla played Manly in their grand final - Johnny Gibbs played for Manly as did Ken Irvine.'' Port Hacking lined up against a motley crew from Taree, bearing the unflattering moniker of Village Idiots. "Cronulla won 2-0 against Manly and we won 4-1 against Taree,'' Mark said. Future rugby league immortal Graeme Langlands - then publican of the Manning Hotel - was Taree's coach, although he wasn't seen a lot during the weekend. Port Hacking had 12 players in their squad, although two were injured and didn't play the grand final. Taree had 10. Back then there were seven players on the field at a time. The game bore little resemblance to today's touch. "It was touch rugby league,'' Mark said. "We had markers, that was the main difference and the play-the-ball. The rules didn't change until 1981 when they got rid of the marker and the game became quicker.'' There were no set positions - links or middles like today. "We did try to pick positions and stick to them as best we could,'' Mark said. Leather rugby league balls were used and shoes weren't compulsory. Mark later moved to the Taree area with his job as a police prosecutor and became heavily involved with Taree Touch. He's been to countless State Cups over the years with teams from Sydney or Taree and has seen the game develop to what it is today. "Back in 1977 I didn't expect the game to get as big as what it is now,'' he said. "The State Cup went to the Gold Coast after Port and then all round NSW. Taree hosted it in 1986,'' he said. In 1990 the cup returned to Port Macquarie and it's been there since. The pioneers of 1977 wouldn't recognise the game.