The NSW Blues are blessed to have thousands of fans supporting from afar, but Janelle and Philip Saunderson have taken their commitment to another level.
Janelle and nine-year-old son Philip, who attended yesterday’s Junior Blatchys Blues Coaching Clinic in Baulkham Hills, were thoroughly impressed with the proceedings at Crestwood Reserve – which is lucky, considering they’d travelled all the way from Perth.
Originally from Sydney, the Saunderson family is one of many which has made the move to Perth from Australia’s eastern states, taking a love for Rugby League with them. Philip, who has played for the Kalamunda Bulldogs since their move three years ago, was all too willing to hone his skills alongside retired stars Steve ‘Blocker’ Roach, Josh Perry and Luke Burt.
“We’ve come to visit friends and family as well,” Janelle Saunderson explains. “We’ve come back and when we saw that this was on, my son jumped at the chance to join in.
“He’s loving it. He plays league in WA so he takes any chance he gets back in Sydney to have a go.”
With growing numbers of Far Away Fans – a membership package dedicated to those supporters living away from Sydney – it has become clear that support for the NSW Blues is not limited to the state’s borders. Philip, however, signed up as a Junior Blatchys Blue to take part in the first clinic of 2017 – and he is already keen to attend the next instalment in July.
“After today, as soon as once my son learns that it’s on, there will be no stopping him coming back,” Janelle adds. “It’s really well organised, it’s great that all the kids get a go and it’s great to see some of the old players involved as well.”
With their exposure to the work NRL WA has been conducting in the country’s west, Saunderson has also experienced first-hand the growing popularity of Rugby League in and around Perth in recent years. With the city set to host a State of Origin fixture in 2019, the construction of a new, state-of-the art stadium and the success of the West Coast Pirates in the NSWRL’s SG Ball competition, the game is growing rapidly.
“It’s come a long way in the three years that we’ve been there,” Saunderson says. “There’s always been a lot of kids involved, but I think the numbers have tripled in the last couple of years so there’s a big call for it.
“A lot of people from Sydney and Queensland live over there – a lot of New Zealanders – so the game is definitely becoming more and more popular.”
For more information on Blatchys Blues membership packages, visit BlatchysBlues.com.au.