Welcome to another year of Wanderers Rugby. In 2017 the Rugby arm of the Club face a huge number of challenges in terms of realigning our policies and practices to ensure that we stay ’ahead of the game’ in regards to our prominent place in the landscape of Newcastle and Hunter Rugby. Already this year we have done a tremendous amount of work in ensuring that the pathway we have so long promised as a ‘one club’ is realised. Re-focusing our efforts with our Junior Academy and our WTS have both been tremendous successes. Our Wider Training Squad was dedicated to the ‘next generation’ of Wanderer and the players in the squad worked tirelessly over the summer to ensure they enter the 2017 season in tip top condition. The great work done by Bill Coffey and his team at Pinpoint, who must accept much of the kudos for this program, was innovative, on point and certainly all of our supporters will see the benefits of their work once our season starts. Our Academy embraced our strong and well managed Junior base and identified talented players in our U15, U16 and U17 squads who it was felt displayed the ability to go on to long and successful stints in the years to come with Wanderers Grade teams. A thorough program of skill development was coordinated by Trevor Hefren and a team of dedicated coaches including Cal McDonald, Warren Badger and Shane Goldthorpe. The engagement from the players was fantastic and the quality of the work is already showing benefits if the performance of the teams in the junior trials held so far is any indication.
One of the main challenges we are facing surround the replacement of the quality players that have left us to go on to ‘greener pastures’. Andrew Tuala and Phil Bradford are at West Harbour, Dan Martine is at Warringah and Marcus Christensen is plying his trade at Parramatta. Having our programs recognised by these Shute Shield Clubs in regards to developing players is certainly a pat on the back for us all. Providing these opportunities however provides a void in ensuring we have quality replacements to fill their shoes. This recruitment strategy will become increasingly paramount for us moving forward. While our Junior Club continue to produce top quality players, many of which progress to the senior ranks, as a club we need to investigate new and innovative ways to make us a more attractive option for locally based players. Part of this strategy is ensuring that our resource base is as strong as it could be and my full congratulations to General Manager Cal McDonald for the passion and work ethic he has displayed in securing these resources. This is by far not a one man job however and any and all connections within the Wanderers family need to be on the lookout for these sorts of opportunities.
The Club is blessed to have such dedicated men as Viv Passi and Darren Young heading up our two Premier Rugby teams. Their work is tireless and often goes unseen. Getting our teams on the field and playing as well as they do is hard work, and these two men are at the forefront of it.
In 2017 we have further embraced the growth of Women’s rugby with a concerted effort to engage and grow our women’s program. You will see many of their matches played after our top Grade at No 2 this year so please hang around and cheer on another team pushing the boundaries for the growth of Wanderers Rugby. Our Juniors also continue to lead the way both on and off the field in terms of policy and procedure in ensuring that our Club provides a suitable atmosphere for the growth and development of juniors not only as players but also as young people. My full congratulations to Jon Nightingale and his committee for the tireless work they do and for the dedicated foresight they show in ensuring Wanderers Juniors are the benchmark club in this area.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the disappointing resolution to an issue over Player points that we raised with the NHRU over the summer. Our intention was always to see equity across the board in the implementation of this policy. During season 2016 there were a number of clubs that were penalised for breaches of the Points System and we openly acknowledge that like us, they were honest mistakes and at no stage have we ever thought other clubs were trying to rort the system. To be accused of ‘bringing the game into disrepute’ was offensive to all at the Club, least of all the many, many volunteers that donate their time and effort to ensuring the health and subsistence of Club Rugby in Newcastle. I am sure I speak for many in the Rugby fraternity that only seek consistency in these types of decisions from the games governing body.
We are all looking at Round 1 and the local derby against Merewether with great anticipation. Merewether have continued their strong recruitment over the past few years and when you mix it in with their strong junior base and the quality of their administration and coaching they will certainly be a huge hurdle for us to jump in Round 1. Many of the pundits are already writing us off as true title contenders being keen to talk about our flood of new faces and lack of depth. For many our ‘time in the sun’ is over. However I am confident, as are the players and coaches that season 2017 will hold great things for the two blues. This flood of new faces gives our P1 squad in particular a different dimension than that we have displayed in previous years. We have managed to secure a number of exciting prospects including Josh McCormack, Gus Locke and Cam Dombkins, and, when you mix them in with our established senior players such as Luke Simmons and Ben Ham then I think we will be happy to fly under the radar with the so called local experts.
Our supporters can look forward to a new look and battle hardened Wanderers team and one, with just an ounce of luck, can go one better than last year. It will surely be tough with the likes of Hamilton, Merewether and Lake Macquarie providing a stern test. Some patience early as we put in place new people and new ways to play the game will surely pay benefits when we get to the end of the year. Best of luck to all teams in the 2017 season!