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A much-loved member of the Carina Tigers is back on the field and his rugby league family couldn’t be happier.

Xavier Harding, who is on the autism spectrum, took up the game last year and loved it, coming so close to getting a try in the last match of the season.

With his teammates developing rapidly, the Hardings thought Xavier might be holding the team back if he returned for 2023, sparking a campaign from Under 8 coach Chriz Ezzy and parents to get him on the park with his mates.

Xavier’s dad Anthony said considering the “amazing” support, positivity and Xavier’s zest for the game – which stemmed from both participating, and watching their favourite NRL team Parramatta Eels – was just the encouragement they needed to return.

“He loves putting on that jersey. It’s the whole thing about identity, being proud to be part of a team, part of the Tigers and he tells everyone who he plays for,” Harding said.

“When he talks to his family and friends, the first thing he says is ‘I play for Carina, they’re my team’. It’s really very touching and fantastic to see.”

Harding said parents had even offered to do extras before training to help Xavier realise his potential on top of the “brilliant” training and atmosphere coach Ezzy fostered.

He said Xavier’s participation boosted his confidence and focus and helped teach him the value of teamwork.

“Generally speaking it has been a great boost for his social skills by meeting a whole different group of kids outside his school environment, improved his resilience, while all the skills and training sessions has been a great practice in listening and following instructions,” Harding said.

Ezzy said he was passionate about making junior rugby league inclusive and was thrilled to have Xavier back.

“The boys love him. I love him. He’s a good boy. Ok so his catching skills aren’t quite there just yet, but our club is ‘Enjoy, Develop, Compete’ and he’s enjoying it, he’s developing – whether it be every so slightly – and the fact he turns up, that’s competing for me,” Ezzy said.

“It’s a stark contrast, the boy I had at the beginning of last year to the beginning of this year, he’s a whole lot more engaged.

“As soon as he wraps his head around the fact he is taller and stronger than most boys in our team and most Under 8 sides, if he really puts his mind to it, he’ll blitz it.”

Ezzy said he was all about creating positive rugby league memories for his players – and for Xavier the No.1 goal was to get him a try.

“Everyone had scored a try last year apart from Xavier and we had a discussion about it before that weekend’s game to really do our best to get Xavier across the stripe,” Ezzy said.

“The boys would run length of the field and stop to get tackled just so they could set him up. God bless his cotton socks, he didn’t quite get there, but it didn’t stop him having a go. When you see the footage, it will melt your heart.”

Under 7 Brothers Ipswich Blue

Rugby League Ipswich hosted an Under 7 Gala Day on March 19 to kick off the 2023 season.

The day included the first session of the Tackle Ready program for 23 girls from Brothers Ipswich, which covered learning how to fall safely.

All the girls had a blast on the day, scored plenty of tries and made heaps of tags.

You go girls.

Little hands go a long way

Trial matches took place on the Gold Coast over the weekend and there were countless examples of children lending a hand any way they could.

Joey Perrett from Currumbin Eagles, Isabella Martin from Burleigh Bears and Keygan White from Helensvale Hornets were just three of them being all-round great club people.

They participated as ball kids as well as helping to set up and pack up fields.

Many hands, no matter how little they are, make light work.

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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