The Vikings clans are on the march with participation numbers in Canberra and surrounding areas maintaining a gentle upwards trajectory over the past four years.
Mark Vergano, general manager of the Canberra Region Rugby League (CRRL), believes the reasons behind the growth include the success of the NRL Canberra Raiders team plus a determination by individual clubs to be a force in their communities.
“We’re obviously closely aligned with the Raiders in the community, so there’s a bit of a halo effect around them from the 2019 grand final and the preliminary final in 2020,” Vergano said.
“We do get some of the run-off from that success, but we’d like to think it’s also our effectiveness in the community that’s helped draw people to us.
“We are consistently having our clubs doing good things and our numbers are showing an upwards trend I’m sure off the back of that.”
The CRRL comprises 35 rugby league clubs from Cootamundra in the north-west, through Canberra to Cooma in the south, incorporating towns like Goulburn and Crookwell.
In 2018 the combined Juniors/Seniors registrations stood at 4,946. By 2021 that number had jumped to 5,798.
Female registrations have been rising across the NSWRL and the Canberra region is no different.
In 2018 there were 743 Junior/Senior women signed up. The figure this year was 1,150.
It’s a commendable result considering the popularity of other football codes like soccer, Australian Rules and rugby union.
“Look we are certainly in a competitive market, with soccer very strong,” Vergano said. “We are basically in hand-to-hand combat with the other two for participation.
“But there’s a fair cross-over in the junior ranks between league and union as we play separate days on the weekends. We’re cognisant of that so our clubs have been making changes and adjustments to keep our numbers up.
“The CRRL has a centralised model where we push things out on our website or through Facebook, Instagram and our other social channels. That keeps everyone connected and word of mouth flows off that as well.”
The only way is forward and Vergano said the CRRL was pushing to attract and keep female players in Rugby League as easily as the men.
“The men have always had a clear line of sight from juniors through the Andrew Johns and Laurie Daley Cups, Harold Matthews, SG Ball, Jersey Flegg and the NSW Cup,” he said.
“So that helps the men’s game keep progressing. And we’re hoping through our Valkyrie program – our female Viking - for the girls and women, we also get that pathway through.
“The league tag from the female perspective has been a great bridge to tackle. And then getting a NRLW licence eventually will be so important.
“We’ve got a framework and a battle plan there, so people know what we’re aspiring to and that’s starting to resonate in our participation numbers.”