CISSSA carnival key to altering perceptions
IPSWICH school kids got the chance to rub shoulders with a bona fide star last week, when Queensland Reds winger Eto Nabuli turned up to the Combined Ipswich Secondary Schools Sport Association (CISSA) Rugby 7s competition at Ipswich Rangers.
The towering 6'6 Fijian winger had the fun job of interacting with kids and answering their hard-hitting questions, while Queensland Rugby Union development officer Josh Afu was busy working to ensure the 7s competition was a success.
Afu, who only recently stepped into the role of development officer for the Brisbane South and West regions, said the CISSSA competition was a key component of the QRU's push to regain rugby footy in a traditional rugby league heartland.
"It's great to get out to places like Ipswich which are probably renowned for rugby league more-so than union, and get out to schools that aren't traditional rugby schools," Afu said.
"We've got about 17 teams out here from multiple schools - some have more than one team. It's continued to grow, and hopefully we see more and more teams from the Ipswich area and non-traditional rugby schools entering.
"It's good to see them embrace the game."
Afu said the QRU had seen a particular increase in female participation in the sport in Queensland, off the back of continued success from the Australian Women's Rugby 7s team headlined by Ipswich Jets player Sam Caslick's sister, Charlotte.
That was represented at Rangers last week.
"The growth in the women's game has been huge," he said.
"There is significant interest there, and we're pushing to get more girls playing the sport. Hopefully we're providing them with more options to have a go and play rugby."
With a growing stigma as a "private schools-only" code, Afu said the sport's governing bodies were working to change the perception of rugby and events like the CISSSA 7s carnival were important in doing so.
"The ARU and QRU are aware of that and doing as much as we can to get out there and promote and support (junior development)," Afu said.
"I think for kids it's massively important to know that there's a pathway."
Afu added the Reds were continuing to look in-house for promising young talent, ahead of scouting elsewhere.
"To make your Super Rugby team sustainable you have to be able to develop young talent, and Queensland has been great at doing that over the years," he said.
"It's something Queensland prides itself on. If you see more and more kids coming through the system, it's a healthy thing for the state and Australian rugby as a whole."