A Kempsey rugby sevens Indigenous side has been established with the goal of unearthing talented players and creating a potential pathway to a professional career.
Former Kempsey Cannonballs first grade coach Jared Fuller has worked alongside Braydon Davis, Jeremy Taylor and Owen Blair to put together a side to compete at three rugby sevens tournaments over the next two months, and plans are in place to ensure the side competes on an annual basis.
Fuller believes there’s a lot of talented Indigenous players in the region and claims their skill sets will translate to the rugby sevens format and is hopeful the team could provide a platform for long term success for aspiring professional athletes.
“There are a lot of young talented Indigenous athletes in the Macleay and I have seen how well these athletes’ abilities convert to rugby sevens,” Fuller told the Argus.
“The plan is to expose these athletes to rugby sevens, get them interested in rugby and create another pathway to professional rugby.”
Maurice Longbottom’s rise into the Australian Rugby Sevens side is a perfect example of the potential benefits of the creation of the Kempsey Cannonballs Indigenous rugby sevens side.
Longbottom, an Indigenous man, shone at the 2016 National Sevens Championship and scouts referred him to the Australian side and he is now one of the first players picked for Australia on the rugby sevens circuit.
While Fuller admits it’s a challenging road to become a professional, he said creating the side now is the first step in a long term plan.
“We are trying to help the players now but to also have something in place for years down the track when the next talented kid from Kempsey is coming through the ranks,” Fuller said.
Despite the Cannonballs Indigenous side heading into their first tournament, Fuller believes the side will be competitive.
“We have a good mix of experience and youth in the side now. There’s a few guys who are between 17 and 19 and haven’t played rugby before so it’s a bit of a learning curve for them but Braydon, Jeremy and Owen have all played rugby before and are helping them learn the game,” Fuller said.
“If the younger guys stick around for a few years then I believe in two or three years they will become very competitive.”
While the goal is to help talented players from the region to be recognised by scouts, Fuller also said it’s about creating a positive environment.
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Fuller claims the players will also benefit from playing at the rugby sevens tournaments when they return to their clubs for the start of the season.
“The timing is great for the rugby sevens tournaments as it coincides with pre-season for winter sports,” Fuller said.
“It will help the guys get fit and prepared for the season.”
The Kempsey Cannonballs Indigenous side will compete at their first tournament at the Crescent Head Rugby Sevens on Saturday February 2 before travelling to Newcastle the following weekend for another tournament and they will wrap up their first year by competing at the Ella sevens in Coffs Harbour on March 2 and 3.
The side will take to the field in an Indigenous jersey designed by Davis.
The Macleay has proven it’s a strong breeding ground for rugby league and rugby union talent and the most recent addition to the list is Triston Reilly, who made his debut for the Australian Rugby Sevens side last year.
Fuller was hopeful Reilly would be available to participate for the Cannonballs Indigenous side but unfortunately Reilly suffered a back injury.
Fuller expressed his gratitude towards sponsors Laheys, DotBuild, Northeys Denture Clinic, K&J Meats and Hawken Mowers.
“The support from the businesses has allowed us to purchase the specially designed jerseys and pay for tournament entry fees,” Fuller said.
The plan is for the Kempsey Cannonballs Indigenous sevens side to compete in tournaments between January and March every year.
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