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Hunter has a role to play in Wallabies’ resurgence: Campese

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Grassroots rugby will play a key role in the resurgence of the Wallabies… but only if the code’s hierarchy acts now.

That’s the opinion of one of Australia’s all-time greats David Campese AM.

And, he believes the Hunter is pivotal to making it happen, too. 

Australian Test great David Campese put youngsters from Maitland Junior Rugby Union through their paces at Marcellin Park this week. Photos: Rod Thompson

“I’m often asked about the current state of the game and how we fix it?” said the man famous for his “goose step”.

“There’s a lot of people who know what the answer is – I’ve been saying it for 15 years – and it’s grassroots.

“If you don’t have it, you don’t have the game.

“Rugby Australia understands that to a degree.

“But, they should be using the Test stars to come out to areas, such as Maitland, where the kids can meet and touch them.

“After every session, I ask the youngsters who their favourite players are.

“A lot of them respond either New Zealanders or guys in the NRL… and that’s sad.

“What we need is to get more exposure, lift our profile

“At the moment, we’re competing against league, AFL, football and other sports.

“Yes, we had the sevens a fortnight ago, with a few Tests matches on the horizon. 

“However, we must make sure the kids are involved somehow.

“Send injured players to the country towns if that works better.

“In the end, it will inspire them to play the game.

“I always tell the kids, in rugby, you can go to the Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games or win a World Cup.

“If you’re victorious, you know you’re the best on the planet.

“But, if you play league or Aussie rules, and you win a premiership, you’re the best player in Australia.

“I think [best in] the world sounds better.”

The Test legend, who donned the “green and gold” jumper on 101 occasions after debuting in 1982, spent two days at Marcellin Park, in Lorn, to put the code’s young guns through their paces and share his unlimited union knowledge with almost 100 eager boys and girls.

“I worked with the Hunter Juniors, and the academy, on Sunday and backed up today [Monday],” Campese said.

“It’s terrific to see so many kids involved; this is the future of the game.

“And, we need to put as much as we can into it.

“I teach them simple things like skills and drills.

“Passing’s one of the hardest things because you have a lot of youngsters from different sports, from football to AFL.

“So, it’s a matter of teaching them the basics.

“However, it is also really about making them understand the game – and that you can have fun doing it.

“I think that element is missing when you watch the big boys.”

A regular visitor to the area after being appointed the Hunter Juniors and Hunter Wildfires brand ambassador 18 months ago, Campese embraces the mentoring role with the same flair he displayed on the field.

The first player to achieve a world record 64 tries, he received the Order of Australia (AM) for his contribution to the sport.

“I love being a part of everything,” the 60-year-old told the Newcastle Weekly.

“It’s just terrific to be involved with the kids.

“But, it can be very difficult because a lot of them have no idea who I am.

“Our [rugby] history seems to be destroyed a bit.

“It’s important these youngsters – look, we’ve got about three or four wearing All Blacks jumpers, that’s not great – have a sense of the past.

“What we need [to do] is for them to understand why they play rugby; the history behind the game.

“The more they do that, the more they’ll want to take part.

“It’s a fantastic club out here at Maitland.

“Then you’ve got the Hunters, 2,000 or so juniors, bulk numbers and excellent sponsors like the McCloy Group… so, there’s a strong foundation in this region.

“When I was their age, I had no idea either.

“However, now that I understand the game more, I can try and help as much as possible.

“We need strong regional nurseries, like the Hunter, to ensure the Waratahs, the Wallabies and Australian rugby in general returns to the top of the world tree.”

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