Remembering Vale Graham ‘Sleepy’ Cowan

Remembering Vale Graham ‘Sleepy’ Cowan

Integrity, respect, solidarity, passion and discipline; the core values of rugby and the key words that describe our late Vale Graham ‘Sleepy’ Cowan.

It is with great sadness we acknowledge the passing of Sleepy, who left us on Saturday morning, August 4. Sleepy’s daughter Trish was by his side, as he listened to the beach boys, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice’, one last time.

We express our deepest condolences to all who knew and loved Sleepy, especially his friends and family.

There’s not many in Newcastle Rugby whose lives were not touched by Sleepy. He was a devoted father, a loyal friend, a trusted advisor and supportive mentor to many.

Sleepy came to Newcastle in 1972, where he joined the University of Newcastle Seahorses and began his involvement with Newcastle Hunter Rugby.

His commitment and dedication to the Club saw him honoured with a Life Membership in 1978, and a University Colours Award in 1989. A quiet achiever, Sleepy was driven by his love of rugby and his devotion to growing the game we all love.

After joining the NHRU in the early 90’s, Sleepy held a multitude of roles over the next 25 years, notably that of Treasurer, Fixtures Committee Chairman, Vice-President, Senior Vice President and Final Series Ground Manager. Outside of his formal duties, Sleepy helped develop the next generation of local rugby leaders by advising and supporting countless volunteers from all different clubs in various roles. He was afforded Life Membership of the NHRU in 1996.

Sleepy had a no fuss attitude and a wicked sense of humour. He made his love of St George and Sydney Swans well known, and could often be found in a board meeting, with his iPad out, live streaming the game so he didn’t miss a minute of the action.

He shared his passion of rugby with his daughter Trish, who has helped out at the NHRU around finals right alongside her father.

Countless tributes, condolences and memories have been shared by the NHRU community over the passed few days, paying respects to a man so well known and loved

A rugby man through and through, Sleepy will be remembered by all of us as one of our own, regardless of our club association or the colour of our jerseys.

The funeral will be held on Monday 13th of August at 12 noon. The service will take place at West Newcastle (formerly the Newcastle Workers Club) corner of King and Union Streets.


Sleepy’s dear friends Andrew Walker and Phil Payne shared the following words:

‘Graham served as NHRU Vice President during my 15 years as President of the NHRU & was truly a loyal Lieutenant.

Graham always had the NHRU interests at heart & was always open to how we could improve the code of Rugby in Newcastle & Hunter region. 

His knowledge of the rules & regulations was impeccable along with his uncanny ability to knock up a competition draw at them drop of a hat.

Sleepy was always prepared to listen to ideas & suggestions on competition structure, governance & all things Rugby.

 While Graham played Rugby in an era which could be considered “Old Fashioned”, along with his dress sense, his adaption towards new technology was legendary, he was always ahead of the field.

A great Rugby Man, a quiet achiever & a good friend’.

-Phil Payne


‘Sleepy was one nature’s quiet achievers who had a great passion for sport and in particular Rugby. He played in the engine room as Hooker and tasted success with University 3rd grade in 1975, then again with 2nd Grade in 1977 & 1978 under the watchful eye of coach Bruce Wilson. Little did they both know that they would team up in 1986, Bruce as coach and Sleepy as manager, and guide the first grade team to Minor and Major Premierships.

Graham was an organiser and discovered sport administration holding a number of official positions with Uni Rugby and delivering a degree of excellence that saw him awarded a University Colour in recognition of his efforts.

He wasn’t quite finished with administration and found himself elected to the Board of the NRU in 1992. He held the positions of Treasurer, Registrar, Junior and Senior Vice President and Co-ordinated the final series for a number of years.

His preferred position during the finals was roaming the sidelines as the Ground Manager so he was amongst the action. He knew all the players and club officials and of course they all knew him.

I do recall one NHRU director questioning Sleepy as to why he stayed on one side of the field and never chose to go to the other side to keep spectators from jumping the fence. His answer was typically Sleepy….. “when they see me coming they just jump back. I know who they are anyway.”

Sleepy always maintained the view that Rugby Clubs were precisely that ‘a Rugby club’.

It was the colours and values that varied from club to club , players simply wanted to have a run on a Saturday. He treated all Clubs fairly and equally…. if they abided by the by-laws he had no cause to penalise , and he was always prepared to accept genuine mistakes and oversights. Sleepy was a strong supporter of Divisional Rugby because it provided players with the opportunity to enjoy the sport he loved.

What many people will not be aware of is that Graham was instrumental in helping me introduce a woman’s competition in 1999, following strong advocacy from Phil Greentree and his committee. “It is inevitable so why would we not encourage this” was Sleepy’s comment and rather prophetically he then said, “it will be women’s 7s where they will ultimately excel”.

 Over time the Constitution rules and By-Laws became Sleepy’s Bible. He understood, amended, rewrote and created many sections over his time with the NHRU. He could quote the appropriate section when issues arose at the drop of a hat. Famously when challenged regarding whether a change analysis had been undertaken when the By-Laws were being amended he simply answered “yes”. Afterwards, when asked where the analysis was he tapped his head and said “it’s in here”.

That was Graham Cowan’.

 – Andrew Walker


Sleepy will be truly missed, and always remembered.