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Little club plans big future for Windale Eagles

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They might be one of the smallest junior rugby league clubs in the Newcastle area… but big things are on the horizon for the Windale Eagles.

Following the completion of the recent season, the organisation’s diligent committee – a group of five volunteers – is already focusing on its 2023 campaign, with recruitment high on the agenda.

Windale JRLFC fielded just three teams this year in the under-6s, under-7s and under-10s.

However, plans are afoot to increase its number of sides, and participants, over the next few months.

“Even though there’s no finals in those age groups, it’s non-competitive, our teams all did really well,” Eagles secretary and under-6 coach Alexis Bridge said.

“And, there were plenty of smiles and fun throughout the season.

“On top of that, they learnt some new skills.

“We’re flooded with clubs – such as Valentine-Eleebana, Belmont North, Swansea and Central – in our region.

“You tend to find players want to be with their friends, which is hard to combat.

“If you go to school at Charlestown, all your mates play there.

“For the younger age groups, like under-6s and under-7s, we’ve got between 20 players, then nothing until our under-10s, who have come through the ranks together.

“So, we’re hoping to expand Windale’s base in 2023.

“We are working really hard behind the scenes; we’re trying different things and lifting our profile on social media; to attract players.

“We’re pushing for additional teams in various age divisions, as well as more girls’ sides.

“The Eagles are keen to raise female participation rates in the sport.

“Women’s rugby league is going through the roof – and we’d like to play a major role in that, too.

“Already, we’ve got about 10 girls in the club.

“That a huge figure in a small organisation, whereas four or five years ago, you might have just had two female players.”

But, Windale has an ace up its sleeve… Caitlan Johnston.

Johnston
Newcastle Knights NRLW star Caitlan Johnston impressed all and sundry when she debuted for NSW in the Ampol Women’s State of Origin showdown. Photo: nrl.com

The Newcastle Knights’ NRLW star is an Eagles’ product.

She made history when she became the first player signed by the NRL club for its inaugural season.

The 21-year-old then impressed all and sundry when she debuted for NSW in the Women’s State of Origin in Canberra in June.

“It was really exciting to see Caitlan run out for the Blues in that match,” Bridge said.

“All the promotion linked her to her junior club, the Windale Eagles.

“That was a huge boost for everyone involved in the organisation.

“We’ve had others go through the Knights’ system as well.

“And, it would be terrific to witness more of our youngsters follow in their footsteps.

“It’s our job to provide them with the necessary skills – we want to see them reach that higher level.”

Bridge acknowledged Johnston as a fantastic “role model”, not only for Windale but the Hunter in general.

“We have girls in our under-10s who absolutely look up to her and that team [Newcastle NRLW],” she said.

“They go the games, cheer her on.

“We’ve also posted a few videos on our Facebook page from the girls wishing Caitlan all the best.

“They love her.

“We were fortunate enough, a couple of years ago, to have her visit the club and talk about her journey, where she came from, what she did to get there and the sacrifices that were needed to succeed.

“All the girls soaked it up.”

For the time being, the Eagles’ executive will continue to toil quietly in the background for the benefit of the organisation and its young members.

“We’re all wearing many, many hats,” Bridge told the Newcastle Weekly.

“We work really hard – that’s countless hours at home and attending meetings – to ensure we give the kids in the community the best opportunity they can have.

“Some [parents] have even tended to the lawns with push mowers, ride-ons and whipper snippers because (Lake Macquarie City) council couldn’t get on our fields due to all the rain.

“However, it’s totally worth it.

“Junior footy is all about seeing the children have fun.”

If you’d like to register your interest in joining the club, visit the Windale JRLFC Facebook page or phone Alexis Bridge on 0431 187 554.

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