Last months’ Casey Crusaders AGM marked the end of Club President and co-founder Lisa Campbell’s tenure, who steps away from the role after four years.
After what has been a difficult year for most families, Lisa resigns to spend more time with her husband Afa and her four children.
Lisa’s connection to rugby was first formed in New Zealand, where both she and her husband, Afa Polo, grew up playing and supporting the sport; a tradition they have passed onto their own children here in Melbourne.
“My two eldest boys started playing rugby together back in New Zealand when they were 3 and 5 years old and so, when we moved here in 2012, we wanted to continue to be involved with Rugby," said Lisa.
But having noticed that Rugby Union was only emerging in Victoria, Lisa recalls “many people that I spoke with didn’t realise the difference between league and union so I was quite determined to do what I could in the community to grow the game”.
It was this determination that saw Lisa become involved at Endeavour Hills Rugby Club where she held the voluntary role of Junior Co-ordinator for 5 years.
In 2015, Lisa was awarded the Junior Coordinator of the Year accolade for her efforts in the role. However, after realising there was a clear need for a club to service Melbourne’s south-eastern corridor, in 2017 Lisa and Afa formed the Casey Crusaders Rugby Club.
From humble beginnings, where initially, the Club had only a ‘patch of grass’ with no infrastructure, twelve months on, in the first season, Casey Crusaders fielded 8 teams of 129 juniors which included unprecedented numbers of youth girls’ registrations; figures that even surprised Lisa.
“Sometimes I have to pinch myself, because originally we thought we would only have a couple of teams in the first few seasons, but the response was overwhelming and far beyond our estimates," said Lisa.
Under Lisa’s leadership, in the Club’s first season, Casey Crusaders won the 2018 Emerging Junior Club of the Year, an acknowledgement that meant the world to Lisa and her team.
“I’ll never forget the hard work that everyone put in, in that first year," said Lisa.
"The support we received had such a huge impact on our success. From strangers to now good friends, we had multiple families jumping on board with fundraisers, coaching, managing teams, helping in the canteen and anything else that was needed; someone was always there to help.”
Merely three years on, the Club now boasts 200 registered players and a senior women’s team who vied for the Lindroth Cup in 2019, finishing second on the Home and Away season table.
Rugby Victoria CEO Chris Evans hints at what underpins the Clubs’ apparent overnight success.
"They are one of the most engaged Clubs in the State - always willing to be involved and go the extra mile for community rugby," said Evans.
"Lisa’s passion, enthusiasm and care have been hallmarks of her leadership throughout her service and despite her formal roles, no task is too big or small for the outgoing President.
“Whether it’s cleaning the bathrooms, jumping into the canteen to give a hand, setting up the fields - you just help out where needed.”
But in all her modesty, she is quick to deflect her own praise, instead suggesting that it is a team effort, a family affair.
“Afa has supported me with everything. We achieved all of this together,” said Lisa.
Although Lisa and Afa – who also vacates his role as Director of rugby – leave the committee, rugby will always be a huge part of their family, vowing to continue to support community rugby in other ways.
“Rugby will always be with us, whether it’s supporting our favourite teams, the Melbourne Rebels and the All Blacks – or helping out where and when we can in the rugby community, we will still be there and always happy to assist,” said Lisa.
An attitude and ongoing legacy that the Rugby Victoria Administration is extremely grateful for.
"We thank Lisa and Afa for their dedication to growing the game of Rugby in the South-east which is a strategic growth corridor for Rugby Victoria,” said Mr Evans.
“They are truly passionate about improving participation outcomes for local children; committed to running Get into Rugby sessions in primary schools and up-skilling their committee and volunteers through coach education sessions for the betterment of their players and ultimately, Victorian rugby."
Although outgoing, in 2021, the Campbell-Polo clan will not be strangers to Saturday Rugby as their second eldest son, Isaiah, has committed to play on next season.
“Absolutely, of course he will. He lives and breathes rugby!” says Lisa.
When prompted to comment on what she will miss most about leading the Crusaders, she implies that it is hard to look past the Club’s friendly environment and the sense of home they have built. But she acknowledges that she will also miss the opposing teams.
“I will miss seeing the kids’ faces light up on game day, just super excited to get out and play! And just all the people I have met over the years, club families, Committee members from other clubs such as Junior Coordinators and Presidents and all of the awesome people at Rugby Victoria!”
Lisa told Rugby Victoria that she was honoured and privileged to have been part of such a hardworking and driven sports community but for now, she must spend time with her family, prioritising her four children whilst balancing her full-time job.
Lisa is replaced by successor, Tom Tufuga, who was elected unopposed at the October AGM.
Referencing his appointment, Lisa explains that the future of the Club is in good hands.
“Tom is very passionate about Rugby and will be sure to bring some new, fresh ideas to the club," said Lisa.
"He has a strong committee to support him too, so I know he will do well.”
Rugby Victoria wish to thank Lisa Campbell and Afa Polo for serving Victorian Rugby and we wish them all the best in their future endeavours.
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