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The rugby league community in Tathra.

Rugby league spirit has helped the tough Tathra community rise from the ashes of a terrible bushfire.

Less than two years after the March 2018 inferno that destroyed over 70 homes in the seaside town on NSW's Sapphire Coast, the Tathra Sea Eagles have been named the NRL Grassroots Club of the Year.

"The club has been a really important part of the healing process for the whole community," said ex-NRL player Alan Tongue, who recently presented the Sea Eagles with the award.

"The devastation the bushfires had on the community was [still] visible. To see them all rally behind each other and also their footy team was quite remarkable."

When the bushfire struck, the Sea Eagles were in the process of fielding senior teams for the first time in four years in the reserve grade and league tag competitions.

Elliott's junior club rebuilds from the bushfires

They nearly had to pull out amid the disaster.

"The season was about to kick off a week or so after the fire started," said Sea Eagles president Peter Finucane, the uncle of Melbourne Storm star Dale.

"We sort of said, 'We can't go around hitting up people for sponsorships. Some of them have just lost half their businesses and houses. I don't know how we're going to survive'.

"But everyone got behind us and said, 'We want to sponsor you. We need to get this going, we need to get something back in the community because we lost so much out of it'."

Training at the Tathra Sea Eagles.
Training at the Tathra Sea Eagles. ©Supplied

As just reward for the town's resilience and commitment to the club, the first grade team won their first Group 16 grand final in 66 years this season.

Bulldogs NRL player Adam Elliott and former top-10 in the world surfer Kai Otton, both Tathra locals, gave pre-match speeches.

"It was just one of those fairytale seasons for them, to go from the depths of devastation to the highs of the community all coming together," said Tongue.

Added Finucane: "It's given the whole town a bit of a lift, showing you can stand up against a bit of adversity."

A spate of trade jobs to assist the town's rebuild brought back many young people who had moved, with almost 80 per cent of the club's senior pool being former junior players.

The Sea Eagles now boast teams in first and reserve grade, while their closely-connected but separate junior club had sides in every male and female junior age-group except for the under-18s this year - winning the boys 16s premiership.

Alan Tongue, Adam Elliott and members of the Tathra rugby league community.
Alan Tongue, Adam Elliott and members of the Tathra rugby league community. ©Supplied

"We figure we're doing something right," said Finucane, detailing the family vibe around the linked clubs.

"There's some really good people in the background and some really good players on the field.

"We had a couple of combined days on Saturdays with the juniors when they only had a few games. We got the two clubs together a bit more."

Award sponsor Youi commended the Sea Eagles on their achievements on and off the paddock.

It's given the whole town a bit of a lift, showing you can stand up against adversity

Tathra Sea Eagles president Peter Finucane

"At Youi we’re proud to support the NRL and delighted to sponsor this year’s NRL Community Awards," said Youi chief brand officer Lukas Temple.

"Community is extremely important to Youi and it’s heartwarming to see a community like Tathra, who’ve experienced the devastation of bushfires, galvanise around grassroots sport.

"A big congratulations to the first grade team for the grand final victory and we wish the Tathra junior and senior rugby league teams the best of luck for the 2020 season ahead."

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New South Wales Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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