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Where Eagles Soar

Mon, 24/01/2022, 4:33 am
Gerard McLenaghan
by Gerard McLenaghan
The Eagles returned to flight in 2021
The Eagles returned to flight in 2021

Most of the crowd had already left when the full time whistle blew at Toorak, with Melbourne prevailing 90-3 over Endeavour Hills.

It was May 2019 and just the fourth game that newly appointed coach Ben Perenise had been in charge of the Eagles 1st grade side.

After a sabbatical from coaching in 2018, Perenise had spent the year walking the fairways of some of Melbourne’s best golf courses, thinking he had finally found some peace.

Yet something was missing.

“At the end of 2018, I was approached by Jeff (Lemalu), the President of Endeavour Hills,” explains Perenise.

“I was still in two minds about coming back to coaching. I was enjoying my newfound freedom.

“So I went down to pre-season training and about five blokes showed up. I could tell Jeff was a little bit nervous.”

Perenise put the club presidents fears to rest and perhaps surprisingly, accepted the position on the spot.

“I went back to what I believe in and that is about giving back.

“Endeavour Hills is Island dominated and for me, that was all I needed."

“Coaching is about giving back to the community and doing what I believe is helping my community.”

The crushing defeat at Toorak just three months after accepting the role would be enough for some coaches to throw in the towel, but Perenise saw light at the end of the tunnel.

“What people didn’t see was that when we went back to the changing rooms, people were sitting there chatting and laughing. The vibe was still good."

“Some coaches might think, ‘why are you still smiling and laughing after getting a hiding’?

“But those guys kept showing up, and for me, that was the motivation to keep going back.”

By the completion of the 2021 Dewar Shield season, Perenise’s new look Eagles had knocked off that same Melbourne Unicorns team twice; both at home and away.

“Going to the Unicorns game, we knew that our record against them and on the road hadn’t been good. But we had a few wins under our belt and were feeling pretty good.

“The one thing I noticed in the change room before the game was that for the players, there was no doubt.

“The guys were clear headed and clear minded.”

The Eagles would go on to claim their greatest ever Dewar Shield scalp, knocking off the reigning champs in a bloody encounter, 26-23.

“There was a lot of feeling in that game, but it was great for the history of the Club because it was the first time we beat Melbourne, ever.

“When they came down to play us at home, we were excited. We wanted to do it again in our backyard and for our community.”

It’s clear the concept of community is critical to Perenise’s plan for success.

Since picking up the clipboard in New Zealand in 2006, Perenise’s coaching journey has spanned almost the entire spectrum of rugby – juniors, 1st XV, women’s, colts and grade.

That’s why he’s worked on bridging the gap between the juniors and seniors at Endeavour Hills, making a point of jumping down to juniors training whenever possible and inviting the club’s junior coaches into his 1st grade dressing room during home games.

“We’re now building a culture where junior players are seeing seniors win matches and thinking ‘hey, I want to stay at the club and be a part of the seniors and build on what’s happening here.’

The return victory against Unicorns was perhaps more satisfying for the Eagles faithful, as the cancellation of the season days later meant the Eagles would finish the 2021 campaign as the leaders of the Dewar Shield competition, an achievement that saw Perenise crowned the Rugby Victorian ‘Coach of the Year’.

As for where Perenise has stashed his trophy?

“It’s actually sitting on top of my bed, still in the box. It’s probably the most significant trophy I have won – right next to one of my golfing ones,” laughs Perenise.

Endeavour Hills train Tuesday and Thursday nights at Frog Hollow Reserve, Endeavour Hills from 6-8pm.

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