Report by Alicia Perera.
Rugby league has become a new force on the inland Pilbara sports scene with the creation of the code’s first formal clubs in Tom Price and Paraburdoo.
The Tom Price Steelers and Paraburdoo Pirates were formed late last month after locals Mike Hay and Ken Roberts contacted NRL WA to express interest in establishing clubs in the nearby towns.
The clubs have formed senior men’s teams, which have already been training each week and are gearing up for an inter-town tournament, dubbed the Ashburton Cup, later this year.
They also plan to expand with the addition of junior and women’s teams and will play touch rugby in the off-season.
Mr Hay, who is the Paraburdoo Pirates’ president, said the simultaneous launch of clubs in Paraburdoo and Tom Price would benefit the sport’s local development.
“There’s a fair rivalry between the towns — it’s already there with the AFL and a number of other sports too — so I think that will be good for the sport in both towns,” he said.
“I have no doubt the game will be played aggressively but I think it will also be played in good spirits, because we’re all mates at the end of the day.”
Tom Price Steelers secretary Tilly Wirihana said there was a lot of support for rugby league in the Tom Price community, with the club having already picked up more than 30 players, 12 juniors and key sponsors.
“Because it’s a transient town, there’s so many people that come from interstate and most of them are Eastern Staters … and there are also lots of Polynesian boys in town,” she said.
“When you’ve got a town that only provides AFL, if that’s not your thing, then you don’t have another option, so that’s why it’s been good to develop rugby league here.”
The NRL WA, Shire of Ashburton and Pilbara Sport and Recreation team have supported the clubs’ formation.
NRL WA operations manager Tony Crowe, who visited Tom Price and Paraburdoo in July, said the organisation had jumped at the rare opportunity to establish the new Pilbara clubs and he had been “blown away” at their level of enthusiasm so far.
“We’ve had rugby league there in the past but it’s never had any real structure to it, it’s all been really ad hoc, so we thought now there are good people on the ground, let’s get them compliant with what they need to do to get up and running,” he said.
“Both clubs are now operating at such a high standard in such a short period of time, and that’s because of the collaboration of all parties but also the skill sets of individuals involved in the two clubs.”
The first Ashburton Cup game will be played in Tom Price on October 5.