I always tend to wax lyrical about our NSW Juniors events –and why not? Juniors Rugby in NSW has been terrific this year with State Champs,Regionals, U18s Rep Pathway, Tour matches and City v Country to come.
But I may have a NEW favourite event which is the NSW Positive Rugby Foundation 2019 U10/U11 State Development Gala.. What a weekend it was! A HUGE Success and a great Advertisement for our game.
The NSW Juniors Committee made the decision mid-last year that we would move the U11 State Gala away from the long weekend in June and to merge it with the U10 State Gala on the last weekend of the July school holidays. The reasoning was twofold to alleviate the pressures on venues, clubs, districts and referees on the June long weekend and to give the “Pathways” age groups their OWN weekend to experience what Junior Rep rugby is all about.This also enabled us to expand the Gala format to a two day event and really make a spectacle of it.
But with 48 teams competing we needed a large venue with multiple fields that could handle such a big tournament as well as have the available resources (accommodation etc) close by. It so happened that we were informed by the NSWRU Development Officer on the Central Coast (Michael Burgess) that a new facility was being built at Tuggerah and would be ideal for our needs. I met with Michael and Karen Lightfoot from Central Coast Council and all agreed it would be a fantastic event to bring to the Central Coast – and the centre was due to open in April 2019 which was a perfect time frame for us. Over the next few months with fantastic support from Central Coast Council and our hosts for the weekend in Central Coast Junior Rugby Union, we locked in the carnival – and the rest is history.
The weekend was nothing short of superb – all the teams were there in large numbers with nearly 1000 players and team staff plus massive support crews of family and friends making the crowd somewhere near 4500 - 5000 at its’ peak. All the Sydney Districts were represented with most having two teams in each age group. We also had most NSW Country Zones represented from Central Coast, Hunter, Illawarra, Central North to Mid North Coast. Most of them were all staying at venues around the Central Coast and I am sure there was a significant boost to the local economy for the weekend. I did hear one story of a district ringing a restaurant/club and booking Saturday night dinner for 240 – great stuff.
The Central Coast Juniors guys had organized food trucks, BBQ’s, 1st Aid from St John’s and they had a team of volunteers looking after traffic, ground marshalling and anything else that needed doing. Central Coast Council had their main man Scott Arnold at the venue all weekend as well as a team of cleaners making sure all the amenities were clean and working as well as looking after the ever-filling bins that are always full with such a big crowd. Kerry Brady, Gary Paton, Tricia Waters and myself were left to the task of managing the competition which is a fair task within itself.
The spirit with which all the teams took to the tournament was outstanding. Everyone embraced the festival spirit and just added to the wonderful atmosphere that permeated the complex. The kids picked up on this and reflected this on the park – great rugby played in the right spirit.. This included the NSWJRU Barbarians teams that we created to fill a void in the draw – I think everyone involved bought into the Baa Baa’s concept and it was a hit. I also need to thank the Anthony Furey and his team of referees for their part in ensuring the games stuck to the schedule and kept things moving along nicely – with SEVEN full fields running ALL DAY, they did a great job and the mood of the crowd is always a reflection of what happens on the field.
To give you two small examples of this spirit of comradery (and they both happened in the same game), I was called in late to referee a game near the end of day two between Penrith and Eastwood U11s. There had a been a mix-up with the replacement for a sick referee and the Eastwood manager had run over from field 7 to let us know there was no referee and the teams were waiting. I ran over to assume the role of referee and as I arrived the cheers from the players and the crowd was amazing. I was getting pats on the back from the crowd and the players and I hadn’t even started the game – there was genuine good will amongst the rugby brethren.
To top things off it was a great game was well. Midway through the second half a Penrith lad made a break and lunged over the try line right next to the posts with two Eastwood defenders all over him. My view was obscured by the goal post pad and neither of my AR’s had a clear view of any grounding of the ball and potential try – it was then that I witnessed a fantastic show of sportsmanship when the Eastwood Captain approached me and said “Sir, he scored the try, he got it down”. This from an 11 year old boy – I was utterly impressed. He easily was the player of the tournament in my book. Rugby really does make better people.
As with any large event there are always many people to thank. Shane Orr, Steve Keiler and their team from Central Coast Juniors were awesome in hosting and we truly appreciate your efforts. Karen Lightfoot and Scott Arnold from Central Coast Council – we could not have run this event without your generous support. Gary Paton from NSW Juniors did the draws and I think he did a wonderful job. Kerry Brady and Tricia Waters were there for gameday support. Luke Mack (NSWRU Development officer for Central Coast) and Tahman. Anthony Furey and his team of referees and referee coaches. The wonderful people from St John’s Ambulance. And lastly Jock Gregory for helping me with Hoodie sales, refereeing and helping with the Barbarians teams.
The final scores are up on the website – https://www.nswjuniors.com.au/#draw-div There are photos a plenty here and on Facebook.. I hope you all had a great experience and look forward to doing it all again next year.