Updated: Jun 25, 2020
It has the best part of 2 years since I played my last game in one of the toughest and most scrutinised Rugby Union competitions in Australia. GPS Rugby, home to 9 schools that boast some of the nation’s brightest up and coming footballers. It is a competitive market, the scholarships fly out from most schools, left, right and centre. There is a rich history, a tribalism, and following from current and former students alike. For most players, this is their time to shine, to earn that spot in the team, to train 5-6 sessions a week in the pre-season to pull on the jersey for 8 games (if you’re lucky) and represent your school. It’s got a great following, but with that comes great pressure to perform.
I was fortunate enough to play 1st XV Rugby, it is a great experience. The players get idolised by the student body and in my years at Churchie, I followed names such as Kalyn Ponga, Izaia Perese, Brodie Croft, Jayden Su’a, Liam Wright, Angus Scott-Young & Harry Hockings. We would sit in the stands after our games and watch these guys do their thing, we knew we were watching some future superstars of Rugby Union and indeed Rugby League.
When you’re caught up in the fanfare of it all, it is quite easy to dedicate your life to it. However, if you take a step back and look at how much time you put into it, it can be easy to question why you do it at all. Is all the training and sacrifice worth it? In totality you’re looking at upwards of 24 weeks of training for 8 games, early mornings, camps, video reviews, it’s a big commitment. I suppose whether you want it enough depends on your motivations toward the sport and what you want to do with your life.
Nudgee College defeats The Southport School to claim the 2018 Premiership
(Photo credit: Green and Gold Rugby)
So, is it worth it?
There’s luncheons, pump up videos, jersey presentations and a lot more, plenty of glitz and glamour. But the pressure is on and it hits you like a tonne of bricks. Each game is like a grand final, you have one shot and before you know it, it passes and it's all over. It is nothing short of a pressure cooker, there’s plenty of blood, sweat and maybe a few tears, I don’t know if it is worth it, but the friendships were though.
Leaving school rugby, for me, puts the sport into perspective. There are players, and I have nothing but admiration for them, who want to make a career out of it, and there’s those that just want to play for the love and fun of the game. Sometimes those motivations of an entire playing squad don’t align toward what many would interpret as the common goal, and don’t get me wrong, we wanted to win, but it wasn’t absolutely everything.
Having left the school rugby scene and experiencing many highs and many lows, I find club footy a far more enjoyable environment in which to play rugby. Again you want to win and it is important to many, but we are constantly reminded that if you’re not having fun, you may as well not be doing it. You play hard, you make great friends, you sit back after your game and have a few beers with your team and the wider club afterwards, it is brilliant. Club footy caters for players of all abilities and motivations, it offers a great pathway for a professional career, look at what Dane Zander has done in recent times, coming from the 3rd XV at school and now playing for the Queensland Reds. But club rugby also looks after the ‘social’ player, the bloke (or gal) who wants to rip in with their mates and enjoy the off-field aspects that comes with club footy, the great sense of community, social life, among other things.
Occasionally, I go back and watch Churchie play. I sit and watch, the war cries bellow out, the spirit is great, the heartbreak of loss, even greater. If I had my time over again, I wish I could have approached my rugby differently. I wish I could have taken a step back, have some fun with it and look back with greater fondness than I do now. It was serious stuff and I didn’t want to let my teammates down but does that mean I couldn’t really enjoy it?
I am not saying it is too professional, but for me it was over-hyped. It was cool being known and being part of the First XV, but looking back, I’d do things differently.