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Rugby in the Regions

Having returned from just over a month in North Queensland, I am buoyed by the fact that the boutique sport of rugby union in Australia is growing healthily in the regional areas of Queensland. Despite not being able to watch my beloved Queensland Reds play Super Rugby on one of Townsville’s The Ville Casino’s numerous television screens, I did encounter plenty of diehard rugby people in FNQ, none more so than my mate Severin “Bunny” Andreassen from Brothers Cairns, now the President of Brothers Juniors in Townsville. His son Jack is a rugby development officer for Townsville and District Rugby Union (TDRU) and shows a passion for the game like his father. I watched him play a spirited match for Brothers’ 1st Grade side against a strong Teachers-West at Mike Carney Toyota Park (above, where I had played myself for a Brisbane Colts v North Queensland side, back in the day).

The Ville
The Ville Casino, Townsville

Club rugby in Townsville has this year seen the merger of Western Districts with James Cook University (JCU) which Wests President, Athol Giddens, told me was a much needed shot in the arm for both clubs -especially since JCU had recently started a rugby league team. The 2019 amalgamation has provided a junior club for JCU to develop players from and proper training facilities, with lighting –far superior to Wests‘ previous locations, I was told. I watched them going through their paces at the university under the guidance of Kiwi ex-pat, Campbell Yates, whom Giddens would like to have several of. “The main issue is finding quality coaches and getting them accredited with Level 1 and 2 coaching certificates from the QRU,” Giddens said.Western Suburbs Townsville

The tyranny of distance is always an issue in the bush. However, they are rugged people up north and travelling over an hour one way for a Saturday fixture is not unheard of. Charters Towers is over an hour and a half away and they are in the Townsville competition, along with Burdekin and Ingham. Brothers Townsville are traditionally the stronghold, though lately Teachers-West has built up their ranks and have two quality backs in Curtis Rayment and Josh Fletcher. Both these local boys orchestrated Teachers’ 54-0 win over a young Brothers side, in a match where plenty of passion was on display.

During my time in Townsville, I also met Brolgas stalwart coach, John Rauch, for many lunchtime conversations at the school we were both teaching at. Originally from New South Wales, he has taken a passionate interest in the rugby scene in North Queensland over the past 30 odd years, playing for Brothers Townsville before being involved in coaching. Every two years, around Easter, Rauch takes a representative side from Townsville, under the Brolgas banner, to Japan to play select schools over there. Later this year, he will take a team from The Cathedral School to Europe for rugby union matches -another bi-annual trip he organises at his school.

The Cathedral School
The Cathedral School is a 100-year-old co-ed boarding school in Townsville.

Last week, the Queensland Junior State Championships were held at Downlands College in Toowoomba. It was great to see representative teams from all over the State, including the Brolgas from Townsville. One of my students who I had seen play in Townsville made the U13 Brolgas side which I was pretty chuffed about. Next month we see Townsville host the annual Queensland School Sport (QSS) 11-12 years rugby union championship, which bodes well for the future of our code. In a rugby league stronghold, ‘the game they play in heaven’ is in good hands.

Cowboy supporters at Dairy Farmers
The NRL Cowboys are a big deal in North Queensland

 

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Fairwell to Folau

Sayonara and thanks for the memories.

In the past week there has been a tsunami of commentary about one particular player of the Qantas Wallabies team that has been quite outstanding. Never before, in rugby, have we seen the plethora of correspondence across social media from all corners of the globe. If Israel Folau was seeking attention, he certainly achieved that.

Spending a rare week-off during the Super Rugby season with his wife, Maria Folau, in New Zealand, and just like the break in April last year when he posted homophobic comments to Instagram and Twitter where he was ‘lightly’ reprimanded, Folau has repeated this indiscretion.

Almost 39,000 people have liked the post including prominent Wallaby teammates, Samu Kerevi and Allan Alaalatoa, All Blacks flanker, Vaea Fifita, English rugby No. 8, Billy Vunipola, and AFL great Gary Ablett amongst others.

For those who say the tweet was harmless, should now begin to understand the gravitas of the medium used. How many countless young South Pacific Islanders that absolutely worship Israel Folau, that are questioning there own sexuality, will respond to this latest declaration?

The Integrity Unit of Rugby Australia has concluded, “That Folau has committed a high-level breach of the Professional Players Code of Conduct warranting termination of his employment.”

In the statement yesterday, Folau has been given 48 hours to respond to the sanction or the matter will be referred to a Code of Conduct hearing.

Rugby Australia Chief Executive, Raelene Castle, said, “At it’s core, this is an issue of the responsibilities an employee owes to their employer and commitments they make to their employer to abide by their employer’s policies and procedures and adhere to their employer’s values.

Following the events of last year, Israel was warned formally and repeatedly about the expectations of him as a player for the Wallabies and NSW Waratahs with regards to social media use and he has failed to meet those obligations. It was made clear to him that any social media posts or commentary that is in any way disrespectful to people because of their sexuality will result in disciplinary action.

Wallabies coach, Michael Chieka, has confirmed on Monday that he won’t pick Israel Folau again. He said, “We’ve had the discussion about it after the last time about his right to believe and our support in that…but getting out in that disrespectful manner publicly, is not what this team is about.”

We’ve had the discussion about it and the lines been crossed.

When you play in the gold jersey, we’re representing everyone in Australia -everyone that’s out there supporting us. We don’t pick and choose.

Chieka was adamant on the importance of the team but also added, “Everybody has the right to believe (in what they want) and we respect that right. We’re not moral judges and no one should be“.

The Sydney Morning Herald interviewed Folau on Sunday after church in western Sydney where he said he was being persecuted for his faith.

First and foremost, I live for God now,” Folau said. “Whatever He wants me to do, I believe His plans for me are better than whatever I can think.

If that’s not to continue on playing, so be it. In saying that, obviously I love playing footy and if it goes down that path I’ll definitely miss it. But my faith in Jesus Christ is what comes first.

Exactly twelve months ago, Israel Folau contributed an article to the PlayersVoice where he articulated his position after his initial foray into social media condemning homosexuals to hell.

People’s lives are not for me to judge. Only God can do that.”

So in the end, the boy from Minto, NSW, who played rugby league at Marsden State High School in Brisbane, will not be on the plane to Japan for the Rugby World Cup in September. A dual international for rugby league and union with a flutter at AFL in the middle will not been seen on a professional rugby field in this country wearing our National or Waratah colours.

Once again I would like to thank you for the pleasure of watching your athleticism on the field since you ran out as a young 17 year old for the Melbourne Storm in the NRL in 2007, your rugby league contributions to the Queensland State of Origin side & the Kangaroos; and especially your 62 test matches for the Wallabies. You have your convictions to the Christian faith, of which I respect, and you stand by that. You appear comfortable in your demeanor with peace in your heart.

Wishing you the best for your life in the future

CJ