Top of the morning to you all Cobbers.
A reminder that this is a volunteer site. It’s for love, not money, stuff. So to that end, feel free to submit a story , or drop me a line on firstname.lastname@example.org if you have an idea, a pic or just want to clue me in on something to look at, especially if it’s bush rugby related.
Last Friday, Hoss signed off on 2023 for most of us. And that included for me. But then I attended the Pasifika Youth Cup Rugby Festival over the weekend and I just couldn’t let it go without getting some pics and thoughts out there. And then that mutated into a full blown Chew anyway. So here goes, for one last time in 2023 (sorry Hoss).
Word around the Campfires… Pasifika Youth Cup Rugby festival
Firstly, I was really excited to attend the Pasifika Youth Cup Rugby festival in Mount Druitt, Sydney’s west, over the weekend just gone. It was a three day tourney (Friday to Sunday) wherein the best of Sydney’s Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Cook Islands, NSW Maori, Koori and even some Barbarian/Harlequin/Scratch teams competed across U14, 16 & 18 girls and boys in an absolute smorgasboard of junior rugby out at Whalan Reserve.
I was there Saturday, and during the day I spotted the odd ex-Wallaby about the place, eg Dave Dennis helping out with the Tongan contingent. And to be fair, the Waratahs had the marquee tent up and apparently had some squaddies signing autographs until midday on Saturday (so said the PA system between UB40 and reggae-pop songs). But I was a little sorry to not see more of a really solid showing from RA, Waratahs and NSWRU overall. Particularly in the light of the most recent implosion of what little rugby there is in western Sydney with Penrith Emus being booted from the Canberra John I Dent competition, it was such a great opportunity to be out and among what is surely the greatest reservoir of rugby talent in all of Australia, and staking a claim on it.
Unfortunately what I did see plenty of what were clearly mungo scouts. The parasites were distinctly visible. But hey, it is western Sydney, and the leaguies recognise its potential no doubt, even if others don’t.
But whatever my misgivings of missed opportunities, the weekend must still be acknowledged for the great event it was. And so I’m not going to list the results as I don’t want to detract from anyone’s showing. I just want to say what a fantastic community effort it was, and also acknowledge that the talent of the footy and the calibre of the players was only bested by the spread of the food on offer and the SIZE of some of those kids. Across the whole park, there were over 1000 kids showing their wares. And they were big, they were fast, they were skilful and best of all was that they were smiling as they represented their communities and heritage. It was just something so fantastic to be part of.
I’m tired of talking about RA, its governance, its lack of a clear and communicated strategic direction for MARGA (Make Australian Rugby Great Again – link HERE) and, most of all, about the composition and behaviour of its board of directors. However it just won’t leave us alone.
We have all by now seen the recriminatory dummy-spitting of the last 10 days in its full glory. It’s nothing if not unedifying. And it’s grossly unprofessional. But it is yet still illuminating as it demonstrates in full resplendent neon clarity how, while sponsors exit and the game struggles, those who seek to lead would rather behave in clearly self-serving ways and hold themselves to different expectations than the rest of us.
For instance, it amuses me how folk expect coaches to be gracious (aka silent) on exit, and to smile as they get shanked or even outright insulted on national radio (‘Kumbaya Dave’), yet somehow it’s acceptable for folk who were supposed to be the embodied head of an elite organisation to gob-off all over kingdom come to anyone with a microphone who’s pretending to listen. Bugger me, I’m over it.
But my dislike for the antics among our apparent leadership ranks doesn’t mean I’m ready to go back to sticking my head in the sand. I think the recent focus on our game’s obvious preference for self-congratulatory shindigs, alongside the displays of seemingly bottomless petulance from our leaders, demonstrate it is incumbent on us – the ‘grassrooters’ – to pay more attention in future and demand better for our Bill Pulver levy (let’s not talk about his salary or his bonus he was collecting though).
Us assuming the role of the laconic, laid-back Aussies and thinking ‘Yeh, she’ll be right’ has only landed us in this shite. Especially now given the $80 million loan we just took out to fund ourselves going forward, when conversely the sponsors should be lining up out the door for a piece of the global marketing platform the Wobblies and Wallaroos are about to provide via a BIL tour and both the men’s and women’s RWCs. I mean, in hard and empiric terms, these days we have sunk a long way from where we were with sponsors, let alone bank accounts. So I reckon it’s incumbent on us now to be more vigilant and vocal because the muppets we trusted (and paid) only screwed the pooch frankly.
Some reckon I’m blaming the victim by saying that. And to an extent they’re right. But in return, I would say while it’s not the victim’s fault they got robbed, and the robbers should be held to account, walking through mean streets waving your wallet over your head while wearing a blindfold is pretty bloody stupid nonetheless.
And to that end, I think the first thing we must demand, and the RA executive must flesh out, is what exactly ‘centralisation’ in the Australian context looks like. What does it mean? What exactly will be centralised? And what won’t be? I concede that, given RA is a federated model – that meaning the states come together to make the federation, and therefore the states retain their power – that there won’t be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to all states. There’ll be some minor differences between what the individual states agree, or give up. But I think RA would do well to quickly vocalise what they’re looking to do, and socialise it widely.
Are they talking the contracting of the (say) top 100 players, with a final say to move players between franchises if the situation warrants it? Are they meaning the assuming of high-performance groups skills, strength and conditioning programmes? Does that include the same for coaching and referee development? Or are they talking franchise branding/IP rights and commercial centralisation? I think these issues need to be articulated, as at least then the role of the franchises/states will then become more transparent. And within that, where’s the line between alignment and control? My dad used to say ‘Something will fill a vacuum, boy’. And as ever, if it isn’t RA’s message, it will be someone else’s message and agenda. So let’s see the fibre of your fabric, Phil Waugh, and quickly.
Wrap it up
Well geez, what a year. I’m not going to go back over the individual machinations of it, other than to acknowledge it began with the trumpeting of a brave new era of ‘smash and grab’ success and ended with mum’s good crystal smashed all over the kitchen, while ugly uncle John sat back in the lounge room and grizzled about it. Certainly it was characterised by a hitherto unfamiliar flurry of saccharine glitzy media paraphernalia and overly dramatic hyperbole, as personalities were allowed to get in front of the game itself.
And so we then got what we inevitably had to have after we dosed the children up with lollies and chocolate on Christmas morning: things went completely to shite at Christmas lunch as the turkey was dropped, the gravy got flung about and aunt Beryl stormed out. That all meant we didn’t even get to dessert. And then came the tears and recriminations in the kitchen during the clean up afterwards.
Where to next? I dunno. Short term, with a British & Irish Lions Tour in 2yrs time, a men’s RWC 2yrs after that and the women’s RWC 2yrs after that, we don’t have the luxury of time, especially given the loan we just took on to fund the Big Shows of the next few years.
Firstly I reckon we need the High Performance palaver sorted. That will crystalise a lot about attracting a coach. And within that we need some leadership and direction to gel the national effort. We also have a boardroom chair to fill in all that, and don’t underestimate the influence that will have.
Beyond that, but intrinsically linked to it, we need significant improvements in our talent identification and retention programmes, across players, coaches and referees. And to do that, we need to generate the cattle and the sponsors to fill out that quota. Thus we must contrive a method to have broader appeal than we currently do, and so cast our net wider than the rarefied suburbs of affluenza in Sydney and Brisbane.
So Phil and Herbie have work to do.
But what I do know is this: rugby will go on. As long as we have folk with the sort of community will and passion that I saw over the weekend, who care, who can look beyond their own agendas to still see the sheer beauty and balance between poetry and brutality that defines our game, then we will endure. Beyond all else, even if RA goes broke, even if all our Wobblies leave for Japan and France and never come back, and if NSWRU and QRU all vaporise in a carpark Anchorman style melee, still somewhere there will be groups like the organising committee of the Pasifika Youth Cup Rugby festival. And from there will be random groups of young men and women who will want to strap an ankle, pull on boots, stuff in mouthguards, and then run out on an oval somewhere to play our game.
So here’s cheers and beers to the grassrooters. Long may we live.
Anyway, that’s enough from me. My thanks to all who read, who comment, who jibe and who add to the site even by just being the next ‘click’ on the view-counter. As said often before, it’s a volunteers site, so given that means I’m not getting paid, it means I must like doing it. So thanks to you all for indulging me.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.