A community building project offering teenagers the chance to chase an Olympic dream is nearing the end of a 20,000 kilometre journey.
Rugby Sevens coaches, past players and current athletes are in Far North Queensland on the last leg to find the next group of Indigenous athletes with the potential to play for Australia.
First Nations project manager Jarrad Hodges has been at every single event.
“There’s a genuine thirst for the game,” he said.
“This is the first time that Rugby has invested resources and funding to target our mob and grow the game.”
Hodges has been a coach for twenty years and sits on the Lloyd McDermott board. Right now, he’s parked up on a log in Yarrabah watching Tristan Riley, a member of this year’s Australian U15s team, take a group of locals through rugby-specific training drills.
He’s seen a lot in rugby and is sounding relaxed—like the type of relaxed you feel when you are doing satisfying work.
“This time last year I was in San Fran coaching at the World Championships. Now I’m here in Yarrabah. I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” he said.
It has been a huge journey. At the end of this week, Hodges and the team will end up in the Torres Strait after visiting 120 communities, from Uluru to western NSW and WA.
Close to 1300 athletes will have been timed in the 40-metre sprint, tested for agility and ball handling. One hundred and thirty of them will be asked to visit Sydney for a three-day training camp, where the country’s best scouts will put them under the microscope.
Hodges has been, at times, overwhelmed by what he’s seen.
“We sit currently with only 14 Indigenous Wallabies—for me that’s not enough,” he said.
“We turned up in Central Queensland. Davey Armstrong, one of the participants, joined us after a days work at the farm. He ran a 4.7.”
That’s 4.7-seconds for the 40-metre sprint. Let that soak in for a minute.
Rugby is new to a lot of the places that Hodges and his team have visited, let alone Rugby Sevens.
He said their goal is not to try to compete with other sports, but to offer a valuable alternative. The common goal being, getting more people moving more often.
“On the ground, there’s still a bit of work. In terms of what we’ve seen, you know that talent is there.”
The program has also been working with local leaders to help them set up regular training and competitions where there’s a desire.
By Keiran Deck