Stockman Rugby: A tour about much than just footy and beers

By Michael Atkinson; Photo: Hybacrakin Creations

There’s something special about touring.

Playing a bit of rugby and sharing a few (or more) beers in some exotic location.

But there is a lot more value that can be gained and that’s what Stockman Rugby is all about.

It’s the brainchild of Shaun Mackin, from country kids’ charity, Little Windmills. He wanted to find a way to connect with young men in remote rural and regional areas to address some major issues.

“We thought, ‘No one’s going to come to a mental health seminar, but they’ll come on a rugby tour,” said founder, Mackin.

“We’re already seeing that.”

“We work for Little Windmills and on the side, we do development clinics around the place and reach kids through sport: providing them with athletic development which they otherwise wouldn’t have had, and also, tying in these mental health messages.”

Having previously ventured to New Zealand in 2013 and Ireland in 2014, the Stockman are about to set off on their third international tour. This time they’re combining a few days in Auckland with a trip to South America.

And while they will play five games of rugby (two in Auckland and three in Argentina) and no doubt down some cold lagers, there is much more on offer for the tour members.

“There’s a power in the connectivity of sport,” says Mackin.

“In particular, rugby. There’s a rugby family you can dig in to globally.”

“It actually has the power to make men out of boys, if you use it properly”

It’s that mission which sets this tour apart from the stereotypical alcohol-fuelled, cheap Bali trip or some other sunny seaside location, that usually ends up giving sports teams (footy codes particularly) a bad name.

Mackin’s endeavour is to use sport to provide young men with a platform to open up about serious issues and grow themselves.

“There’s enough little rugby tours that go away socially and have a good time,” Mackin says.

“We blend it with competitiveness, but for us it’s about building people.”

“We promote a selflessness within the group and then start having those conversations around masculinity and mental health in an environment that promotes giving something as opposed to getting something.”

And he has some pretty handy accomplices to drive the messages home.

The tour party includes former Brumby, Red and Wallaby, Guy Sheperdson and former Red and Brumby, Ben Coutts.

The team is coached by former Wallaby Chris Roche and he’s assisted by another Classic Wallaby in Tony Melrose and former NRL coach Murray Hurst.

“You can reach (young people) with messages out of the mouths of their sporting heroes,” says Mackin.

“It’s pretty powerful. You sit around with a group of guys you’ve bonded with (through rugby), a bit of a brotherhood, then you start men talking to men about being a dad; grief, what its’ like to lose someone; and how to treat women.”

“Blokes like Guy (Sheperdson) carry it with their character and can add value to the skill development side, hands down, but can also be a bit of a voice (for the deeper conversations).”

Rubbing shoulders with some of these names is a huge attraction for youngsters like 19-year-old scrumhalf, Jack Radford, from the Northern Suburbs rugby club in Sydney.

“At the time that I applied, I didn’t realise they had these coaches involved,” admitted Radford.

“I thought it would be a good opportunity to play with a few country guys, because I played Country juniors growing up and kind of saw it as kind of giving back.”

Originally from Rowena, south-west of Moree in New South Wales’ central north, he can see a need for more open discussion on topics like mental health and suicide.

“It’d be pretty good this year for the country boys as well because I know it’s been pretty dry everywhere so, it might be pretty good for everyone to get away from it all (and have a conversation).”

It’s understandable then that Jack is one of 26 guys chosen from hundreds who responded to a Facebook ad from Stockman Rugby earlier this year, submitted a resume and fronted up the individual tour costs through fundraising and out of their own pocket.

“We had guys from Tasmania putting in resumes; South Australia; Perth; Northern Territory,” reveals Mackin.

“And when we bring those former Wallabies as well, there’s a thirst from those guys to be involved and give something back to the game.”

The tour kicks off with a welcome and launch in Brisbane tomorrow before the squad flies out to Auckland on Sunday.

Some of the tourist have never left their own state, let alone the country, and they’re in for an experience they’ll never forget.

“There’s some touristy stuff to see and everyone can have beers and enjoys themselves, but the focus is less on yourself and more on the squad,” says Mackin.

“With rugby going professional, it’s gained so many benefits, but this sort of harks back to the amateur era where there was a beauty in touring like this.”

Yep, there’s something special about touring.

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