All Blacks the team to beat

Published in the South Sydney Herald, back page (p. 16), 1 April 2013.

Click here to see it online.

Screen shot 2013-04-28 at 2.23.33 PM

Ada Lee

REDFERN: Lisa Williams, the first female president of the Redfern All Blacks (RABs), is optimistic that 2013 will be a better year for the proud rugby league club. The first match of the season kicks off on April 7. According to Ms Williams, with a lineup of local, young and committed players as well as some more experienced players, the RABs will be the team to beat in 2013.

In recent years, however, the All Blacks have been struggling to maintain a strong presence in the South Sydney Junior District Rugby League competition. “Due to the Club contending with the changing face of rugby league, the All Blacks have had to reassess how we operate,” Ms Williams said. “We lost a lot of players to other clubs in the competition [that] looked like they were more organised.”

Since becoming president about eight months ago, Ms Williams has utilised her background in project planning to add more structure to the club. “I think now players feel like they can go and play football and feel very happy that they are going to be supported.”

The proof is in the numbers, with old players returning and new players signing up for the increasingly competitive team. Whereas in the past few years the All Blacks would be lucky to have people show up two weeks before competition, Ms Williams says they’ve already had around 30 people at training every Tuesday and Thursday for four to six weeks before the season kicks off. “We also want to be a club that provides a platform to nurture our young talent through sports development and mentoring,” she said.

Former Parramatta Eel, Dean Widders, is the A Grade captain/coach this year and is currently working with the National Rugby League on youth sports development.

With a deep family history in Redfern, Ms Williams describes the RABs as the “cornerstone of the [Redfern] community”.

Ms Williams sees sport as one avenue to help individuals tackle social challenges. “The football club is one place people can go to escape,” she said. “One of the things that the Redfern community had to contend with for a number of years was that it was infamous for drug issues and alcohol issues. So, over the years, there were a number of people who were involved with the club that have worked really hard to remove that element from the club. The club now is the space for the promotion of health and fitness.”

The RABs might not have a lot of money or even their own home ground – often a key source of revenue for teams – but, Ms Williams says, “It’s not about the money [for Redfern players]. They have commitment to their community … Lots of games have been won on the back of [that] pride and loyalty compared to getting money.”

Emerging officially in 1944, the RABs is the oldest Aboriginal rugby league club in Australia. Ms Williams said one reason the RABs was originally an Aboriginal-only club was because Aborigines “couldn’t get a game anywhere else. So they didn’t want to open it up and then have Aboriginal people miss out.” But today, and for quite some time now, she points out, you don’t have to be black to play for the All Blacks.

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