Attracting more girls and Indigenous youngsters has seen membership numbers rocket for an innovative Northern Rivers football club.
Casino RSM Cougars Junior Rugby League Football president, Adam Hickey, said junior participation was one of the most important areas of grassroots rugby league following last year’s COVID-affected season.
Hickey said the club’s welcoming approach meant it was attracting talented and enthusiastic youngsters by the bucketful, making the Cougars “definitely the code’s biggest club in the North Coast region”.
He said female participation was increasing, with girls and women making up 20 per cent of the registered participants.
“The surge in participation is concentrated in the Under 7s, 8s and 9s, which means the Casino RSM Cougars JRLFC will be fielding 24 teams this season from Under 6s through to Under 16s, including a girls’ tackle team and two girls’ tag teams,” he said.
“It was terrific to see numbers were exploding this year.”
Hickey also credited an increase in junior female participation to the burgeoning NRL Women’s Premiership, which is Australia’s national rugby league competition for female players, as well as growing interest in the Northern Rivers Female Tackle competition.
He said although the season was still two weeks away, training days were full of excitement as players and coaches prepared for a return-to-normal season.
“It’s all systems go,” Hickey said.
“The Casino RSM Cougars JRLFC is ready to go, the kids are keen to get on the ground, and parents are eager to see their kids swap screen time for footy – it can’t come quick enough.”
Cougars committee member and U12s mixed team coach Brad Birney, said the player diversity is reflected when you consider, “that 10 per cent of the Casino population identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, yet 35 per cent of the registered players for the Cougars identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.”
“Another great element of the club is the diversity in the club’s coaching staff and a great hardworking committee led by Adam and Kylie Hickey,” he said.
“The local schools also recognise the importance of the Cougars to the social makeup of Casino, and are wonderful supporters of rugby league.”
Meanwhile, Hickey said ongoing support from sponsors had also been critical.
“We must thank the Casino RSM Club and other sponsors for their ongoing support, without this financial backing junior rugby league players in Casino would not be able to reach their full potential.”
Hickey also thanked Richmond Valley Council for its continuing work in providing top-quality grounds and facilities.
“We are also grateful to the volunteers and the parents who worked really hard last year to keep the season going, we couldn’t do it without them,” he said.
Originally published as How Casino became one of region’s biggest junior footy clubs