Up the Rucking Roos! How four clubs merged into one to save Katherine Rugby

Fri, Jan 27, 2023, 2:17 AM
NT Rugby
by NT Rugby
Katherine's Rucking Roos are keeping rugby in the Territory town alive.
Katherine's Rucking Roos are keeping rugby in the Territory town alive.

From time to time, you’ll hear stories of two or three clubs merging to help keep rugby alive in the country. But four clubs? That’s unheard of.

Except, perhaps, if you live in Katherine.

317 kilometres south-east of Darwin, there’s a dedicated rugby community undergoing radical change to keep the game they love alive.

“It all sort of came to a head in the middle of last year around our AGM,” Katherine Rugby president Marc Gardiner explained.

“We were trying to start up the Katherine comp again after COVID but there’s been falling interest and commitment over the past ten years, so it’s been a struggle to formalise the comp.

“And there’s more players now running their own businesses - young fellas doing trades and the like - so their livelihood can’t afford a broken arm.

“We were headed to a stage this season where we’d just have two strong teams and two struggling for players.

“To get a quality match going, it’d just be two teams bashing each other in every weeknight and where’s the fun in that?”

Amalgamating all four Katherine clubs – Barbarians, Pirates, Brahmans & Tindal Lions - was a big call.

The Barbarians are closely linked with the New Zealand expat community dating back to the 70s, while the Brahmans, Pirates and Lions all represent different historical social and working circles in Katherine and surrounds, including the RAAF base.

“We did find it a little difficult at first with a few people hesitant to try something new – but it’d been done before,” Gardiner said.

“Katherine used to have the Rucking Roos way back and we’d have one-off games doing City-Country or play every so often, so that’s where our name came from.

“But we still weren’t sure about player numbers and at first there was talk of us playing in the A-Grade comp, so things were pretty up in the air.

“We realised it might work when we started getting a good turnout at our first few September training sessions.

“So when the season started and we got our first draw and then a win (in Round 5) after a few early losses, that’s when the town really got behind us.”

Like any new team, Katherine scrapped well but didn’t quite click their opening games, registering back-to-back away losses, before a 17-all draw with Casuarina in their first home game.

Since then, the Rucking Roos have gone 5-1 (they’re still undefeated at home) and slowly, but surely, the town is finding its rugby voice.

“We’re still chasing a few sponsors but more and more businesses are coming on board and the crowds are building,” Gardiner said.

“We’re getting good buy in from the original clubs and it’s great to see the Darwin clubs coming down with a busload of players and supporters as well – we would’ve had 300 or so watching our last game against the Dragons.”

Despite his B-grade side going down 19-5, Darwin Dragons president Hirini Murfitt said the day trip to Katherine was a season highlight.

“The whole day was really positive – we got some music going, figured out all our stops for the bus trip, the ladies arranged a few meals and sorted a barbeque while the boys played, and had a few drinks on the way back,’ Murfitt said.

“Good game too, I think Katherine are doing a great job in their first year. They’re a good side and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win it this season.”

Winning the B-Grade premiership in their first season would certainly lift Katherine’s profile in Territory rugby and Marc Gardiner has even bigger plans going forward.

“We’d love to have three teams if possible – A-Grade, B-Grade and a women’s side – but our biggest issue is resources,” he said.

“We’ve got more and more sponsors coming on board so that’s no a drama but we need a bus to get up to Darwin and right now we’re borrowing from other businesses.

"We borrowed the senior citizens bus and ended up running over a roo just out of town, so that’s $900 worth of repairs we’re paying and the poor seniors without their bus for a week.

"We tried another bus and that blew up a few k’s into the trip - so yeah, not much luck so far.

“We’re really hoping either for a sports grant or someone to come on board and help us with that.

“We’d also like to play a few more home games in our season and get those Katherine lads who are still playing for Darwin teams back at the Roos, maybe even try and bring back a sevens comp for Katherine or host a City v Country game again.

“Our team’s going pretty well but we want to keep it that way and get the opportunity to do something bigger for Katherine Rugby down the track.”

The third-placed Roos hosted Swampdogs at Katherine Sports Ground on Saturday and are expecting another big crowd with the Palmerston Crocs men and women heading down to support the visitors during their bye weekend.

“It’s just a good day out and we’re getting bigger crowds with every game,” Gardiner said.

“There’s a strong rugby community here - just talking to some of the older people around over the weekend, geez they’re motivated.”

“It feels like they’re spreading the word and that’s great for Katherine Rugby.”

UPDATE: The third-placed Roos hosted Swampdogs at Katherine Sports Ground on Saturday and came away 7-3 victors.

If you’d like to support Katherine Rugby, please contact marc.gardiner@ropergulf.nt.gov.au