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Ella Sevens tournament produces more Ellas to turn up for annual sevens competition

Andrew Mathieson -

Think of the Ellas – pick any one of the Indigenous Wallabies brothers, Mark, Gary, or Glen – and their revolutionary style of play in their 1980s Test heyday was more sevens-like than the traditional 15-a-side game.

Their combinations alone were magical. A step back inside here, a chip and chase there.

Glen Ella was even appointed the second-only fulltime coach of the Australian sevens’ national side back in 2005 for three years.

Some years out of the limelight, Mark’s twin Glen was back presenting cups at grassroots level for the 15th annual Ella Sevens tournament at the weekend in Tuggerah on the Central Coast after its humble beginnings kicked-off years earlier in Coffs Harbour.

Rugby’s flagship vehicle for more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander invention across the seven-a-side game is run through the Lloyd McDermott Development program, named after the Indigenous rugby visionary, the first Aboriginal man to break down the barriers on state and national representation in the elite sport of the day.

But according to the Lloyd McDermott Development Team president and tournament organiser, Tom Evans, the heart and soul of the tournament represents the 12 Yuin mob siblings that bore the iconic Ella name.

“All of their children were there; attending or participating,” Evans said.

“Latoya Brown was for (her late father) Timmy Ella, one of the younger Ella brothers, she put in three sides alone: a male, a female, and a memorial side for her dad.

“Simon Ella, Mark’s son, was there coaching one of those teams.

“Marcia’s daughter (of the former Australian netballer) was also there.

“There really was heaps of relatives from the family there.

“Glen helped us with the presentations at the end for the men’s and women’s (finals).

“He now lives in Nowra, but still drove up for the weekend.”

The Ella Sevens was where Australian sevens icon Maurice Longbottom was initially discovered, joining the ‘Lloydies’ squad after turning his back on the doubts that NRL club South Sydney had on him to instead play for the nation.

Indigenous All Stars captain Tallisha Harden was another that started out in the code at the tournament before going the other way.

National talent pathway manager Lachlan Parkinson was on hand this year to specifically unearth and identify potential Indigenous stars towards the coming Australian Sevens program.

Evans, who has attended every Ella Sevens except one tournament, said the Wiradjuri man’s appearance was timely in what was the largest playing interest that he recalled in the event’s annals.

“It is now massive compared to what it was when we first started,” he said.

There were just 10 senior male teams, three female with no juniors back in 2008.

For Tuggerah this year, there was 27 male teams, eight female, 13 under-16 boys and girls teams collectively, and for the first time ever there was four playing in a new under-14 boys competition.

They also travelled from throughout the state, both the cities and the bush, from the ACT, and even a few from Queensland.

There were club sides, including the Ellas' first side, La Perouse RUFC, teams from full of mobs and some drawn from scratch filled with Indigenous friends and brothers alike.

“There is no shortage of people wanting to put teams in, that’s for sure,” Evans said of the more than 600 players that turned up.

“It just gets down to who can get themselves organised.”

A proportion of the players that sign up are registered to rugby league clubs, and also visitors to that code’s Koori Knockout.

While in most cases they are playing union’s modified game at the Ella Sevens for the first time, there’s at least a familiar feel to league’s popular Indigenous 13-a-side competition that draws them back at the end of each their regional seasons.

Evans has admitted it is no coincidence that the success of the more established Koori Knockout has been the benchmark for the Ella Sevens to ascend towards.

“It definitely is our version of that,” he said.

“All credit to them, we have based our approach on their approach.

“We’ve have tried to mimic some of the things that they do so well.

“When we look at the Koori Knockout all those years ago, we asked can we do this in rugby sevens?

“The way in which we packaged it up was around trying to make it accessible to all teams, all communities.”

But come the first whistle of the tournament, all the teams just wanted to do was run the ball like the game should be played.

Skindogs took out the men’s cup final over Southern Kings, Knightriders claimed the men’s plate final against Taree Connections while Gomeroi Goannas 2 won the men’s plate final over Central West Black Trackers.

Sydney Dreaming defeated Tiddas United to capture the women’s cup final and in the women’s bowl, Outblacks finished in front on the scoreboard of Coastal Connections in their final.

La Perouse picked up the under-16s boys cup final against Koori United, Uni of Sydney Reds pulled off the under-16s boys plate final facing Pacific Nomads and Uni of Sydney White collected the under-16s boys bowl final over Condoblin.

Uni of Sydney Red captured the under-16s girls cup final against Central West Black Trackers, Darkinjung Waters claimed the under-16 girls plate final over Uni of Sydney White while the Bimblss United Timmy Ella side won the under-16s girls bowl final in the contest with Muliys Miysy.

Nxt Gen Nxt Level pulled off the under-14 cup final against Koori Black 1 and Coastal Black Cockatoos got the under-14 boys plate final win against Koori Black 2.

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