You think sport in Tasmania and you think cricket and the other code, but rugby league is making its mark in the Australia’s southern-most state. And while in its infancy, there are many opportunities for the greatest game of all in The Apple Isle.
Whenever talk of growing the game comes up, the usual suspects appear: Perth, Central Coast, Wellington, Brisbane 2.0. Tasmania is the forgotten state in these discussions.
We’ve sadly only seen one NRL trial match played there in recent memory, and while there seemed to have been tentative interest from the Panthers no NRL matches for premierships have ever been played in Tassie.
In a 26rounds exclusive I had a chat with the Mick ‘”the man of many hats” Hunt, the doyen of league in Tasmania.
MITCHELL180: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background in rugby league?
HUNT: I moved to Tasmania in 2005 from Canberra where I coached at different levels from under 9’s to senior reps. I coached the Canberra Raiders Harold Matthews in 2007 as well as local A grade sides and was the coach of A.C.T/Monaro under 18’s in the Country Championships.
The [Tasmanian] comp started in 2010, where I became involved with the Hobart Tigers, winning the competition in the first season. We were successful in winning the comp three times during my four years at the club. This season I moved to the South Hobart Storm and the club won this year’s Premiership [just completed].
I have other roles in the State: Director of coaching, Mentor/Provider, selector for the Australian affiliated States and I have coached at representative level in Tasmania: the State Game v North West Wolves, and Northern Tas v Southern Tas.
M180: How long has the competition been running in the summer?
HUNT: Since the competition commenced in 2010. We play during the summer months so that players from Rugby Union are available for the League season, while we attempt to establish the game in the state.
M180: Is there a possibility of more clubs being included in the competition?
HUNT: This season we started with five teams. However, due to different reasons, the Southern Rabbitohs had to pull out of the comp. We are hoping to welcome two new clubs to the competition next season, a club from Huonville, the other from the Claremont area.
M180: Do you see the NRL link to touch football help with junior participation of rugby league, in that it creates an easier pathway?
HUNT: I feel this is a huge step in the right direction. There is a lot of interest from parents wanting their kids to play. However, until the state receives a development officer, our hands are tied. We continuously have to knock back requests from parents for their kids to play in a junior comp due to there being no development program in the State.
Touch football would no doubt give the game a huge boost in junior participation, however we would need to be prepared prior to this occurring.
M180: The Storm got over 12,000 to a trial game in Hobart a few years ago. Do you see them as the logical team to bring one home game per year to Tasmania?
HUNT: After the trial game and with the success that it was, we assumed the Storm would want to return. However, for reasons unknown, this hasn’t occurred. There is interest however from the Penrith Panthers.
Any NRL club that would be willing to show an interest in the state would be welcome. Tasmanians love top class sport and there is a surprising amount of Tasmanians that love the game of rugby league. It’s a perfect opportunity to get our game out there. However, this is taking some time.
M180: Does the Auckland Nines or a potential second-tier Nines comp open up an opportunity for a Tasmanian rep team?
HUNT: Since the competition started in 2010, the standard has improved remarkably. However, we are not at the stage to compete at that level. We where asked to prepare for our entry into the affiliated States carnival within the next 2-3 years. However, for us to get to this stage, we need to play some rep games against quality opposition.
We were hopeful this would occur at the end of this season. There was talk about a State game v South Australia, but for whatever reason, this wasn’t organised and no funding was made available. We need a junior program, where players receive the correct development at a young age, to improve the strength of the senior comp. So it would be a number of years in my opinion before we could even consider [entering] a competition such as a second -tier comp.
M180: Could a Tasmanian-based team operate in a potential national second tier comp?
HUNT: Not for a number of years. Once again, with the majority of players being from Rugby Union and not developed through the league system, it takes time to understand the game of rugby league. This is why junior development is so important. Being realistic, it would, in my opinion, take a development period of at least 10 years before we could be ready to compete at this level. In saying that, there are some talented players in the State who could play at this level, but the numbers would be very limited at this stage.
M180: Is rugby league or touch football played in the schools? What’s the pathway for a 12-year-old who wants to play rugby league?
HUNT: There is no rugby league played in the schools. We are involved in the “active after schools” program, but that’s not producing any players. As far as touch footy, I really don’t know, but it’s doubtful. There are no junior league competitions as we don’t have a development officer here to get that up and going.
As for pathways for 12-years-olds, there are none. Even Rugby union doesn’t start its junior comps until under 16’s. I posted on the Tasmanian Rugby League Facebook site months ago, that we are seeking mini/mod age groups that may be interested in playing rugby league. For two days I was non-stop answering questions. Over the following weeks, we had somewhere around 16 kids registered, but that’s as far as it’s gone.
It’s so frustrating that we have kids wanting to play, but we can’t offer them anything.
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M180: So while Tasmania might not be a short term expansion possibility, the seeds are being planted. And with a bit of assistance and not forgetting about them, who knows what we could see in 15 to 20 years time?
Check out Mitch180’s interview with Boston 13s head coach Robin Peers here.