Did someone say Déjà vu? Yes, unbelievably for the second year in a row, COVID-19 has had another massive impact on our rugby season. In some ways it was more of the same pain, with many of our key events getting cancelled completely for the consecutive years. Whilst our main competitions across SJRU, NSW Country and NSW Schools were all curtailed when lockdowns kicked, in bringing a premature end to their seasons.
I suppose we could kick the can and dwell on the negatives here, but there was still a lot of positives in 2021 that we can focus upon. Player numbers were good, probably as the community was desperate to get back to normality after the disjointed 2020 season (who knew what was to come!). SJRU saw a big increase in teams in their 7s competitions (Spring, Frosty, Sizzling) as well as their regular XV’s competitions. NSW Country junior’s competitions were strong across all Zones, and many got the chance to continue well into the season before the Regional Lockdowns. NSW Schools Associations got all the preseason trial games completed but lost some competition rounds.
The Representative season again took a big hit by the various lockdowns. Events like the Positive Rugby Foundation NSWJRU City vs Country Carnival, Australian Schools Championships, Positive Rugby Foundation NSWJRU Regionals, Australian Schools& U18s program, Positive Rugby Foundation NSW Junior U10 & U11 State Gala, RA U16 Nationals and Junior Gold Cup were all cancelled for the second year in a row. But in hindsight we were probably lucky that we did get to run other events such as the Positive Rugby Foundation NSW Junior State Championships, NSW Country Championships & NSW All Schools Trials.
So we managed to get to the pathway stage where SJRU, NSW Country and School Association Rep teams were selected and played – meaning we also managed to select some of the various NSW teams (U18 Gen Blue, NSW Schools, NSW Juniors & Barbarians).Unfortunately, lockdowns meant these teams never actually got to play games, but at least this cohort were able to achieve selections if nothing more.
Although we lost much of the season on the field, there was plenty going on off the field as well. NSW Country moved into their new governance model (with Juniors and Seniors combined in a NSW Country Board). NSW Juniors has rewritten our constitution to include NSW Schools (following their vote to affiliate in 2020) – the adoption of such was unanimously voted in at a Special General meeting last month. Plus, SJRU has been working hard on increasing their resources as their competitions grow in size and scope (to all year round).
We also launched the NSWJRU Archive project which was aimed at recording the history of NSW Juniors (results and committees) and uploading these to our website, so this information is not lost. I am very pleased to say this is now up and ready for viewing at www.nswjuniors.rugby.We also updated and replaced all our City vs Country Trophies and State Championship Shields. A sub-committee was formed to dedicate a number of the vacant Age group Shields to NSWJRU people who have had a major impact on State Champs history – a fitting way to honour their contribution. The Trophies are now known as;
o U10 Boys – The A.E.Fisher ‘Spirit of Rugby’ Shield
o U11 Boys – The G.R.Paton ‘Spirit of Rugby’ Shield
o U12 Boys – The J.C.Degotardi Trophy
o U13 Boys – The B.J.Gregory Shield
o U14 Girls – The Phil Warner Trophy
o U14 Boys – The Hawton Trophy
o U15 Boys – The John Goddard Shield
o U16 Girls – The Kerry Brady Shield
o U16 Boys – The Chas Hansen Trophy
o U18 Girls – The J.B.Carroll Shield
o U18 Boys – The N.S.W.J.R.U Shield
o U14 Boys – The Tim Gavin Shield
o U14 Girls – The N.S.W.J.R.U Sponsors Plate
o U15 Boys – The Steve Tuynman Cup
o U16 Boys – The Ella Cup
o U16 Girls – The Mahalia Murphy Shield
o U18 Boys – The Michael Brial Cup
o U18 Girls – The Grace Hamilton Shield
There is also the Dave McCormack Memorial Shield awarded to the best NSW Country player at the U14 City vs Country game.
The Archive Project also addressed the major omissions we have seen over the past 20 years in acknowledging our volunteers who have shown exceptional service with Life Membership. As such we will have FOUR nominees that we will take to the AGM for induction as Honorary Life Members of NSW Juniors. These dedicated volunteers are P.C.Warner, C.J.McCarthy, D.Lambert & A.E.Fisher. Congratulations on the nominations, for more information on these fantastic rugby folk go to https://www.nswjuniors.com.au/post/nswjru-nominates-four-new-life-members
One of the highlights of the year was our signature event in the Positive Rugby Foundation NSW Junior State Championships, held on the long weekend in June. This year was the largest ever participation on record and was held across six wonderful host venues. I must thank all the hosts venues and their volunteers for their efforts in making the weekend such a success – I was able to get to every venue over the weekend and can attest to the positive rugby vibes amongst those in attendance at each site.
For the record the State Champions in 2021 were;
· U12 Boys – Warringah (Camden Rugby Park, Camden)
· U13 Boys – Western Sydney Two Blues (Apex Oval, Dubbo)
· U14 Girls - Western Sydney Two Blues (Boronia Park, Hunters Hill)
· U14 Boys – Penrith (Endeavour Oval, Orange)
· U15 Boys – Manly (St Lukes Oval, Concord)
· U16 Girls – Penrith & Gold Coast Coomera (Boronia Park, Hunters Hill)
· U16 Boys – Gordon (Rat Park, Narrabeen)
· U18 Girls – Sydney University (Boronia Park, Hunters Hill)
· U18 Boys – Randwick (Rat Park, Narrabeen)
The 2022 version of the State Championships will see the inclusion of the Country Champs and a NEW SJRU "Sydney" Championship to be held within the State Champs format over the June long weekend. A very exciting addition for the U14 and older age groups. Stay tuned.
We continue to develop the Rep pathways across the Boys and Girls games – of particular note in 2021 was the effects of this in the U18 Boys space. The Boys U18 State Champs had a massive 11 teams compete in 2021, which is more than we have had in the past 3 years combined. And with a NSW Barbarians Rep team selected only from players that compete at the State Champs, we expect that this trend will continue.
I must thank the NSW Rugby Gen Blue team of Andrew Cleverley and Matt Evrard for all their work in supporting the pathways for our juniors. We have collaborated a lot over the past few years and have been able to effect positive change across club and school rugby programs for the mutual benefit of all. I’d also include Mark Green and Paul Doorn from NSW Rugby both of whom have been incredibly supportive of Juniors.
There are plenty of people across all the affiliates that make our rugby season work. These wonderful volunteers also sit as representatives on the NSWJRU Board, and I’d like to thank them for their contributions in 2021 – Anthony Hunt and Paul Rathborne (Sydney Juniors), Mick Melino and Renee Park (NSW Country) & Chuck Ardron and Craig Howe (NSW Schools). I must also thank the NSWJRU executive of Tony Fisher, Sal Tremlett and Gary Paton plus our Secretary (and Life Member) Kerry Brady & Assistant Ben Kooyman. As well as the members of the Girls, Sevens and State Champs Sub-committees, without all your efforts we could not have the various competitions and programs that our rugby community enjoys. I’d also like to thank Grace Hamilton who has been the Patron of NSW Juniors in 2021, continuing a family history of involvement with NSWJRU.
I must also thank our sponsors and partners for their continued support in difficult circumstances. The Positive Rugby Foundation & Peter Murphy have remained our naming rights partners and we thank them for their programs that give back to our game. Rugby 1st (Angus Stewart & Alex Lyus) have continued to support the juniors and in particular the girl’s part of the game. Genesis Proprietary Trading and Estilo Travel both were affected by Covid – unfortunately after 5 years of supporting junior rugby Genesis is no longer, but hopefully Estilo will resume our relationship when life resumes normality.
A special thanks must go to The Rugby Club Foundation for their hugely generous support of NSW Juniors in 2021. Angus Bruxner, Peter Whittington & Lisa Kane and the rest of the team at the Foundation chose to support the NSW State Championships by covering the entry fee for all NSW based teams – a massive show of support for grassroots rugby and something we are most thankful for. They are truly fantastic supporters of NSW Juniors and we value our relationship with the Foundation greatly.
After 5 years in the NSWJRU Chair (and 3 years prior as VP Representative), 2021 will be my last season as President of NSW Juniors. I will be stepping down as President and as Director of NSW Rugby & Waratahs. I am very proud of what I have been a part of achieving with NSW Juniors over the past 8 years having helped grow the game, increase the pathway opportunities and bringing the various affiliates back to a united purpose. Thank you to all those that have been a part of this journey.
But I won’t be lost to the game as I am starting another chapter of my rugby journey and move into the fulltime GM role at Sydney Juniors. I’ll also be active with NSW Juniors ensuring that the progress we have made over the past few years continues to develop. So exciting times are ahead.
As I sign off for2021, I am buoyed by what the future holds for junior rugby. We have a united front across all the affiliates and can now focus on growing the game together. Well done and good luck.
Time to punt high and follow through.
Yours in Rugby
Director NSWRU& Waratahs