“We will see more eyeballs on the sport than ever before.”
That’s the promise from Hunter Rugby (HR) chair Glenn Turner as the organisation prepares to kick off its season this weekend.
The code’s premiership captains and coaches joined forces on Wednesday 14 April to officially launch 2021 at No. 2 Sportsground, with more than 800 players ready to hit the paddock after a 19-month hiatus from normal competition.
Nine teams – Hamilton Hawks, Lake Macquarie, Maitland RUFC, Merewether Carlton, Nelson Bay RUFC, Singleton RUFC, Southern Beaches RUFC, University of Newcastle RUC and Wanderers RUFC – will contest the HR Premier 1 division.
Turner said “all and sundry” were itching to run onto the park again.
“I’m very much looking forward to it,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.
“And, so is everyone – players, coaches, support staff and fans – associated with rugby, especially after the pandemic last year.
“Like every sport, we were pretty badly affected by COVID-19.
“Luckily, we managed to get the juniors on the field, along with some seniors and the [Hunter] Wildfires.
“Overseeing the younger players was vitally important.
“We couldn’t risk losing them – or have them stop playing sport altogether.
“That decision’s paid off, too.
“Our numbers are up for juniors in 2021.
“They’ll now be housed at the same premises (No. 2 Sportsground) as the seniors, a full-time development officer and the Hunter Wildfires.”
Even though rugby in Australia has undergone a bit of turmoil in recent times, and the national squad hasn’t performed on the world stage, Turner is confident of its success at a local grass-roots level.
“Between our Tooheys Cup men’s and women’s Premier teams and our Piddington Cup divisional sides, we have a really strong and exciting season of rugby ahead of us,” he said.
“With limited games last year, there is definitely an added air of anticipation for that first whistle this Saturday (17 April).
“Also, it’s fitting that we are celebrating a milestone 130 years of rugby in the Hunter for season 2021 under the new banner of Hunter Rugby, with the first formal competition in Newcastle and the Hunter held in 1891.
“For us, it is all about community engagement this season.
“We’re delighted Bar TV will televise every Premier 1 fixture, with the match of the day free for viewers.
“And, although the local format kicks off this weekend, I would also like to congratulate Newcastle AON 7’s women’s side who are into the national finals for 2021.
“The regional pool round of the competition took place at No. 2 Sportsground last weekend, further cementing the ground’s reputation at the home of rugby in the Hunter.”
Former New Zealand All Black and incoming Hamilton Hawks coach Marty Berry said taking the reins of the top grade side on a five-year premiership winning streak was a great challenge.
“The players and club have welcomed me with open arms,” he stated.
“I’m really pleased to be in the Hunter and looking forward to a great season with the Hawks.
“Like most grass-roots sport codes, it has been a long time between games.
“I know I speak on behalf of all of the clubs when I say everyone is more than ready to get back to competition.”
Visit the Hunter Rugby website for all the season fixtures and latest news at www.hunterrugby.com.au
Premier 1 draw:
(Saturday 17 April)
- 3pm: Maitland RUFC v Singleton RUFC
- 3pm: Southern Beaches RUFC v University of Newcastle RUC
- 3pm: Lake Macquarie v Merewether Carlton
- 3pm: Nelson Bay RUFC v Wanderers RUFC
- Bye: Hamilton Hawks