How vital is junior league to the Parramatta Eels?
How important to rugby league is the Parramatta District Junior Rugby League?
Let’s take it another step forward – how important are Junior rugby league clubs to the community?
Last week, The Cumberland Throw spoke to Eels Pathways and Participation Manager, Matt Brady, to get a current picture of junior rugby league in the Parramatta District.
What emerged from our conversation were details of the geographical expanse of the catchment area and the vast number of participants. However, a bigger community picture emerged and it’s a story worth sharing.
The Parramatta District Junior Rugby League covers an immense corridor though western Sydney, especially when traversed from north to south. It begins with the Mount Pritchard and Cabramatta clubs in the south and extends to the Rouse Hill club in the north.
Potentially, this northern region will extend to Wiseman’s Ferry as new residential developments expand in north western Sydney.
So large is this catchment, the boundaries extend through six local council areas.
At the moment there are 31 junior clubs participating in Parramatta’s junior league competitions. A couple of these clubs were formed more than a century ago – more on this throughout the season as we highlight individual clubs through our “Parra Stories” series.
Encouragingly, the participation numbers are now returning to pre-COVID levels with over 5100 registered players – and that number continues to grow.
Importantly, female player registrations are likely to exceed the 2019 numbers.
Matt Brady is quite buoyant about the growth in female participation, particularly as it relates to Eels pathways and the Tarsha Gale squad leading into 2022, especially with the number of girls who have been playing since they were six years old.
This participation aspect is important for both males and females and it’s even led to Parramatta collaborating with other districts such as Wests and Canterbury to establish open age competitions with divisions so that players can enjoy competing at a level which best suits their ability. As Matt explained,
“Players leave any sport if they don’t enjoy it…they want to find a game that is on par with their skill and ability to play. And that is part of the reason why the girls competition is starting grow. By playing in open age combined competitions with levels we’ve seen numbers increase for both boys and girls as they find a level that they can play at, and enjoy playing.”
Moving away from players and looking at the junior clubs themselves, there are yearly challenges to be faced.
A priority is undoubtedly finding people to give up their time to take on essential roles.
Junior clubs rely on volunteers to run the teams. They need coaches, they need managers, they need trainers. They need people to help set up and pack up on game days. Those that get involved become the backbone of the clubs and their community.
The other major hurdle is club finances.
Fortunately Parramatta Leagues Club plays a vital role with its club grants, as Matt Brady detailed,
“The greatest level of support would obviously come from Parramatta Leagues Club. What they do and provide for the district is second to none. The club grants which they give out each year help a range of different things which some other districts would have to fund themselves. It covers referees fees, as well as insurance fees from 18s down. These are massive amounts when you consider it’s providing yearly coverage for up near five and half thousand players. This saving means that clubs can purchase important things like playing and training gear and equipment.”
As The Cumberland Throw takes this journey into local rugby league, we’re getting an enhanced perspective of the importance of these clubs to the community. It’s an importance which shouldn’t be underestimated.
Earlier this season we spoke with Anton Sahyoun from the Parramatta Leagues Police Rugby League Club. He explained the role that rugby league plays via the programs his members deliver to the community. He also emphasised how critical such participation is for the physical and mental health of players, all of whom had demanding front line worker jobs. His example provided a microcosm of the critical role played by junior rugby league clubs.
When you factor in the thousands of junior rugby league participants across the Parramatta District, and their families, the positive impact on the wellbeing of the community as a whole would be near immeasurable.
Matt Brady added more on this as he spoke about the life skills gained by young players.
“What junior rugby league clubs give back to the community is massive. It’s a massive resource that they provide to communities. You’re teaching the young players so many life skills, learning to be part of a team, being involved in team work, the camaraderie of playing a game with your mates and working towards goals – learning about perspectives in working towards a goal and how to get there.”
The strength of the clubs in the Parramatta District and their impact extends beyond the boundaries of the catchment area. These clubs are critical to rugby league in NSW.
Three teams from the district – Mounties, Cabramatta and Wenty, participate in the Harvey Norman Women’s competition.
Furthermore, four teams from the district – Mounties, Cabramatta, Hills District, and Wenty, compete in the Ron Massey Cup with all but Mounties also involved in the Sydney Shield competition. A fifth club, Guildford, competed in both competitions up to 2019 but was forced to withdraw due to COVID concerns.
Imagine what would happen to those competitions without Parramatta district clubs taking part. Would they even exist?
These third and fourth tiers of professional rugby league provide an essential pathway to the NRL. Players on second tier contracts play in the Ron Massey Cup when not required for Knock On Effect NSW Cup matches. But just as importantly, these tiers provide a level of competitive football for those in the community who enjoy the game.
The foundations of such strong clubs come from junior league participation.
And, as Matt Brady explains, rugby league is a sport which provides different formats to cater for all of the community.
“The thing about rugby league, and the different forms of the game – wheelchair, tag, touch or tackle – whether you want to play contact or non contact we have a format that’s there for you.”
Back to the Eels, there are exciting plans on the horizon as the club looks to expand and extend the current program for the north and south boys junior development squads. This will incorporate more pathways coaching and more opportunities to play friendly matches against other districts.
The club is also looking to extend this into the female program so that there are similar development pathways through the 14-17 age group for girls leading into the Tarsha Gale competition. This will be vital as the Eels look to build towards fielding an NRLW team in the near future.
It’s an exciting time for people involved in Parramatta District Junior Rugby League. Get involved. Support. Do whatever you can.
We look forward to bringing you news about each of the clubs in future editions of Parra Stories.