RUGBY league has long been a sport loved by people of all backgrounds – with players and fans being drawn from all walks of life to add to the rich tapestry of the game.
In more recent times – the sport has helped newly-arrived refugee children settle into the Australian society – with the game helping them and their families meet new people and make friends.
St James College in Spring Hill, Brisbane, is one school that has seen a growing intake of refugees – many of whom have embraced the game since their arrival.
Ali Salame, who fled first from Iraq and then from Iran, played in his first game of rugby league only two weeks ago and was thrilled to score a try in his first match.
St James played their now annual match against St Joseph’s College, Toowoomba, on Friday, May 9, in Toowoomba; with the schools sparking up a relationship via the Confraternity Shield Carnival, which this year will be held at Aquinas College on the Gold Coast in June-July.
The school rugby league program is co-ordinated by Andrew Ebrington, who said the annual match was a good opportunity for both schools to play an extra game.
“For the past three years we have travelled to Toowoomba to play an annual trial game (an idea which was) born from a conversation at a Confraternity Carnival between (St Joseph’s teacher) Scott Edwards and myself,” Ebrington said.
“St Joeys do not get a lot of teams visiting them to play; and we on the other hand do not have any fields or grass of any kind so we have no choice but to travel.
“Not many teams would want to play on our bitumen training paddock as we are an inner city school.
“The players play in jerseys donated from past students and they share a bag of donated second-hand footy boots. They are the same boots that are used by the girls AFL team and the boys’ soccer team.
“The school supplies cheap mouthguards from the chemist across the road.”
Both schools have a diverse playing roster, with players from all backgrounds - including refugees from Iraq, Iran and Sudan, as well as Indigenous and Polynesian backgrounds - signing on to be part of a team environment. After the game, the schools share a barbecue meal provided by St Joseph's.
“We currently have three African refugee boys in our squad (and) our school also offers asylum seekers education,” Ebrington said.
“We have a young 17-year-old Ali Salame who has fled Iraq and then Iran with his family due to religious persecution.
“His family is currently in home detention. He played his very first game of rugby league against St Joeys; and it was also our first win in three years.
“Since then another Iraqi boy has shown up to play.
“We have many Indigenous kids in our junior program as well and some kids from NZ in our senior team.”
This is just one example of how rugby league can be a great tool to help bring people together and to have fun.
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***St James College will be hosting a rugby league fundraiser on Wednesday, June 18. They will be screening game II of the State of Origin in their hall on the big screen. Money raised will go towards developing the rugby league program, including providing jerseys, boots and equipment for the players. For more information, email Andrew Ebrington at Andrew.Ebrington@stjamescollege.qld.edu.au