One free ball at a time, struggling Country Rugby League clubs are getting back on their feet.
As the Hogs For The Homeless tour continues to roll through regional NSW, the challenges facing local clubs become clear to the travelling NSW True Blues. Among them is the Guyra Super Spuds, whose efforts to halt a recent participation problem have received a major boost.
Guyra, situated 37km north of Armidale on the New England Highway, has found it difficult to attract players for some time, with no under-16s boys or first grade side taking the field in Group 19 recently. Desperate to drum up interest in the under-16s age group, Super Spuds players found an opportunity at Saturday’s OAK Nines tournament in Uralla.
“We’ve got a little team there (in Guyra) and we can’t quite get a team for the club,” Guyra player Dylan Sutton tells NSWRL.com.au. “Us boys decided to get a team again just for the Nines comp this year and have a bit of fun.
“We normally have a team but we haven’t quite been able to get ’16s in the comp for the last two years, so we decided to get the boys together who’ve been playing together our whole lives.
“I reckon we can draw more people in. We got a few at the game today and they know how much fun it is.”
The non-competitive tournament allowed the Super Spuds to join forces with the Glen Innes Magpies, a traditionally strong club missing players attending the NSW Touch Football Junior State Cup. With the support of OAK and Paladin, every player received a free ball and jersey to use in future competitions, while Brad Fittler, Steve Menzies and Kezie Apps were on hand to encourage participation.
Country Rugby League Greater Northern Regional Manager Scott Bone believes the day will prove successful in growing participation in Guyra and surrounding clubs.
“We targeted the under-14s and under-16s age groups out here in Group 19, they’re a couple of areas where usually the clubs struggle,” Bone says. “Where they couldn’t field a full side as their town, somewhere like Glen Innes and Guyra, we put them together and they’ve enjoyed playing together with someone different.
“Today there was about six or seven Guyra kids that came down. For some of them, it might be the only game of Rugby League they play except for school footy this year. Hopefully they might like it and enjoy it and transition into 13-a-side.”
Guyra will enjoy a welcome return to the Group 19 first grade competition this year, with the open-age team also playing a vital role in growing the junior levels.
“Their senior league’s just about to come back into the competition in Group 19, so it gives them something to aspire to, to play for their home town. That’s what Rugby League’s all about.
“The Game Development Officers were up there during the week and trying to drum up some players to play. What they’re hoping is that they can field teams in 14s and 16s (this year).”
Introduced in the 2017 Hogs For The Homeless tour, the OAK Nines is continuing to be used as a recruitment tool for clubs in need, with Group 19 already looking to make the Uralla tournament an annual event. There will be one more instalment in the 2018 tour, with Leeton set to welcome Brad Fittler’s crew from 4pm on Friday, 23 February.