Country club offers free rego to attract young players in 70th season
An amateur rugby club in regional NSW is offering free registration to colts players in 2017 to ensure the club is able to compete in the first tier competition in their 70th anniversary season.
Despite winning back to back Blowes Cup first grade premierships in 2015 and 2016, Central West NSW club Orange Emus were on the verge of being demoted to a second tier competition this year.
With participation numbers continuing to decline, the Central West Rugby Union made a decision late last year to demote any club that couldn’t field at least a first grade, second grade and colts (U19s) team In 2017.
Emus were forced to take drastic action.
“We’ve gone a few years now without a colts team despite having some really great success in the higher grades,” Emus president and first grade prop Steve Fergus told Rugby News.
“The feedback we had from a lot of people was that guys in that under 19s age group have just left school and are often working an apprenticeship, at Uni or in their first job so affordability was becoming a real issue for them.”
Emus is one of two rugby clubs in Orange, a town three and a half hours west of Sydney with a population over 40,000.
The club was formed in 1947, when Wallaby John Strachan returned to his hometown to start the club with friends. Emus has produced three Australian internationals.
“It’s really concerning. Orange is a fairly big town and we’re fortunate to be able to draw players from a big pool. I don’t envy the clubs in the smaller regional towns because I know how tough it can be,” Fergus said.
“Sadly we’ve seen Narromine drop out of the Blowes Cup this year, they’ve always been a real powerhouse in the Central West competition and have produced a lot of great footballers but now they just can’t attract the numbers.”
Fergus said that prize money and profits from hosting the past two Blowes Cup grand finals has put the club in a positive financial position but added that things would be tight this year without the registration income.
“It’s a major financial burden on the club because we don’t make any money out of registration; it just covers the costs of equipment and insurance.
“It’s not a long-term solution, I don’t think any club could afford to do this year in year out without the support of the higher bodies.”
While rugby has traditionally been one of the biggest sports in regional NSW, Fergus said rugby league, AFL and soccer are all better funded in the Central West and are becoming increasingly popular.
“The NRL have great support staff and lots of resources to promote their game in regional areas, AFL and Soccer also have great staff pushing their sports. Rugby has a great person developing the game in our region. We’ve got one development officer to cover the entire Central West and we are losing the battle against the other codes.”
“The other sports are attracting great numbers and they are growing, rugby is barely in the fight. The clubs are left to fend for themselves and have to cover the costs of attracting and then developing our players and the code in our region.”
“Fortunately, we can afford to do this this year but I know for every club like ours, there are probably 10 clubs that can’t and it’s not fair on those clubs that aren’t receiving any help to attract young players to the sport.”
Emus are expected to field a colts team for the first time in a number of years in 2017, ensuring the club’s first grade side can compete for their third straight premiership in the club’s 70th season.
“We’ve got some big plans for later this year. We’re having our 70th anniversary ball on the 3rd of June this year and anyone interested in attending is encouraged to get in touch with the club, we would love to see as many there as possible,” Fergus said.