Geelong Rugby Club is going from strength to strength.
And in its almost 100 years of rich history, there has been cause for celebration in 2021.
For the first time in the club’s existence of showcasing rugby union to the region it offers the sport across all of its junior age groups – including U6, U8, U10, U12, U14, U16 and U18.
The significant achievement for the club has been a testament to the vision and hard work of many - none more so than Club President and Life Member Richard Haugh, who has worked towards a clear goal for the ‘Rams’ since joining in 2001.
“The club has come on in leaps and bounds,” Richard said.
“When I first came to the club, there was only one senior and one junior team. When I started coaching in 2003, my son Brodie was born in 2004, and I wanted to get a junior program up and going. It’s been a 15-year plan that has culminated into our juniors now. My aim was for Brodie’s age group to go all the way through to U18s – which we’ve done. And now we have every age group under that with full teams.”
“A lot of it has been word of mouth from people within our club. We’ve done a lot in the community to promote ourselves as much as we can. In Geelong, it’s pretty hard to recruit kids in an AFL heartland. We’ve got a few kids this year in U12s that haven’t played rugby before and 28 in total in that age group which is incredible.”
Richard Haugh has held roles of Player, Coach, Director of Rugby and now President at Geelong Rugby Club. Although he won premierships as a Player-Coach in 2004 and 2009, he believes his most rewarding achievement in his time at the ‘Rams’ is building the Junior program into what it is today.
“In my time at the club, it’s been a big focus to get our juniors up and going.”
“It’s been hard; sometimes you wonder if it’s ever going to come off. But at the start of this year, when we knew we would hit every age group, it was a really good feeling. My biggest highlight at the club is having all our junior sides for the first time in the club’s history and to have a junior, in Brodie, play ten years of rugby at the club for the first time.”
“It’s also been a focus to close the gap between juniors and seniors. At a lot of clubs there’s not much involvement between the two. We’ve been working hard to change that and it’s working. A lot of our U18s and U16s train with the seniors – who are now getting involved with juniors at training. That’s something I want to achieve at our club, getting more people involved with different age groups.”
In 2019, the Geelong Rams were awarded the 2019 Emerging Junior Club Award at the Rugby Victoria awards night, a testament to the club’s commitment to growing the sport at its junior levels - as well as founding its inaugural female team in the Touch 7s format. According to Richard, he hasn’t seen a better display of the club’s family culture and wealth of numbers in his 20 years at the club.
“Off the field, it’s a really great vibe,” he said.
“We’ve got our juniors and parents coming down to watch our seniors now. I’ve given every junior team an opportunity to walk out with our senior team, hold their hands, be in the huddle. Once again, it’s about closing that gap between seniors and juniors.”
“We are very family orientated. We’ve got some senior players who have their kids running around in our junior teams. We’ve got coaches who have been part of our club for over 10 years. Their vision and hard work has allowed the club to keep ticking over nicely.”
Established in 1929, the Geelong Rams are the second oldest rugby union club in regional Victoria, housing a number of locations across its 92-year history. This season saw the club’s junior teams remain very competitive and the senior team ending the Premiership Competition in fifth place.
With two new fields being built in 2018 and a brand-new club room, the community club now has a home in the heartland of Geelong to be proud of.
“From where the club was when I came in 2001, where we were playing on a cow’s paddock, then moving to Deakin University to where we are now. These are the best facilities the club has ever had in its 92 years. Now we have a home, and we aren’t going anywhere.”
“Next year will be the year that our first lot of juniors (top age U18s) will start to come into the club’s seniors. I’d like to forge a second seniors sides, when we have enough juniors coming through. A big focus for me is to get to that second’s side and sustain it all the way through. I want to do it right this time.”
“The club means an awful lot to me. It’s the longest club I’ve been involved in after coming from New Zealand. For Brodie, it’s the only club he’s ever played with. There’ve been talks of him going down and playing in Melbourne, but he’s stayed with Geelong. It gives us something in our family to talk about and bond over.”
Richard’s son Brodie Haugh has played at Geelong Rugby Club since the U6s and is the first ‘Ram’ to play every age group through to U18s. Last year, the supremely talented 17-year-old received an inaugural club award for his service over 10 years across the junior age groups.
“Ever since I was little, I’ve been helping out around the club,” Brodie said.
“I’ve been going to the senior game each weekend and running out water. I’m always helping dad setting up the fields on weekdays and weekends. I’ve spent all my time down at the club throughout my childhood - every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I’ve also stayed at the club and not moved down to Melbourne to play rugby.”
“I want to make sure the club continues to grow and everyone enjoys their rugby. It’s great to receive a physical reward for show. I love rugby; it is my passion. I want to keep it going at Geelong Rugby Club.”
When the gun Fly-Half is not out on the field, he’s using his knowledge of the game to give back to the club as the U8s Coach - helping to inspire the next generation of players at Geelong Rugby Club to enjoy the sport that he loves.
“There’s always something new each year,” he said.
“I’ve made so many friends and memories. It’s great to learn new styles and play different positions. It’s great to see the numbers. The vibe down at the club at trainings and match days – seeing heaps of people has been great. We are finally competing and growing with other clubs.”
“When I coach the kids and see them all run around. It makes me think of when I was that age, what I dreamt of doing and how I looked up to the seniors. At the start being new to it all was difficult. Now it’s really fun. All the kids listen, enjoy it and I love seeing them improve each week.
“I definitely want to take my coaching into the future.”
Although the Victorian rugby community has faced two challenging seasons of coronavirus interruptions and cancellations, Brodie has taken it upon himself to ensure his teammates at Geelong Rugby Club have stayed connected.
According to Brodie, it’s never been more important to keep engaged with your team during lockdown and even has some tips on how other clubs can use this off-season time effectively.
“It’s been difficult being on and off with trainings, but we’ve kept in contact in the group chats on social media,” he said.
“It’s important to stay fit by going on runs when you can. We’ve been keeping each other accountable. When we are out of lockdown, we’ll be doing training sessions together. I’ve been spending this time going for runs and practicing my kicking technique at my local oval. It’s the smaller things you can work on.”
“It’s a great opportunity for clubs to create groups online to keep everyone connected and engaged with the club. I’ve found that putting out competitions for the kids with mini prizes has worked as well. It’s all about keeping active and fit and involved in the club and not drifting away.”
The former Melbourne Rebels U12 squad member was selected in the 2021 Victorian Schools U18 Rugby Team this year that travelled to the ACT in June. The experience allowed Brodie to learn from the credentialed coaching group including Anare Koliavu (Trinity Grammar School), Matthew Clark (Box Hill) and Simon Fua (Box Hill).
According to Brodie, his journey at the Geelong Rugby Club has built the perfect platform for a long and bright career.
“It was an amazing experience learning off two different coaches from a Dewar Shield standard. I learnt so much more than I have just from club rugby. Being able to play with and against better players from other clubs up in the great facilities in Canberra.”
“I would love to make the Melbourne Rebels Academy next year. I’d love to get my name out there and get involved with the Rebels program and pathways. I’d love to play professional rugby either in Australia or overseas one day.”
“But right now, I’m committed to working on my game and taking it as far as I possibly can.”