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Mateship, player safety driving Leichhardt Juniors' growth

The Leichhardt Juniors club have experienced a boom in registration numbers on the back of their efforts to promote safety and camaraderie in community footy.

Their 60 percent rise in player numbers since 2019 is indicative of the Balmain District Junior Rugby League's resurgence.

Cheyne Harrison became president of Leichhardt Juniors in 2018 and detailed the club's commitment to developing youngsters.

They dedicate time to teaching correct tackling technique so "it gives the new mums and dads confidence that their child – boy or girl – is going to be safe playing rugby league," Harrison said.

"We have like a club language – words that we use across all different ages which are sort of like buzzwords," he said.

"So for instance, before a kid learns how to tackle we communicate with them … 'What are we learning today? What do we tackle with?'

"And they cross both arms and say, 'Our shoulders'. We'll say, 'Where does your head go?' And they'll say, 'To the side'.

"They're completing the actions from our communications. And then the last step with defence is that they cuddle. With that – head to the side, tackle with your shoulders and cuddle."

Black and gold will never fold ... Leichhardt Juniors under-9s first division.
Black and gold will never fold ... Leichhardt Juniors under-9s first division. ©Hollie Reynolds and Justine Harrington

Harrison's brother Bronson, who played 196 NRL games for the Wests Tigers, Raiders and Dragons, is also actively involved with the club.

Former Roosters halfback Josh Lewis, a Leichhardt junior, has lent his expertise to training sessions while women's stars Corban Baxter (nee McGregor) and Kiana Takairangi have helped out too.

Mateship is an important value for Leichhardt Juniors.

"I think in footy, if you've got someone you want to play with, it's more incentive to want to come to training," Harrison said.

"You've got kids saying to their parents, 'I want to go to training, I want to see my friend'. I had the 11s division two side last year that won one game. This year they've come out and they've [only] lost one.

"They've improved so much and I really think it's from them becoming better friends. And they're training, they're turning up.

"It might be a bit cold and a parent might say, 'Oh, if you want to stay home... ' If a kid's not that into it, they'll say, 'Yeah, I'll stay home and watch TV'. But we've got kids that have really bought into it."

Clearly, the club's approach is working.

Harrison estimated they currently have 180 registered players and thinks that figure will swell by 70 next year because Leichhardt Juniors are already preparing to add under-11s and 14s girls teams.

"Two years ago, I ordered 50 lots of gear for our 6s and I got laughed at by a lot of people. In the end, we ran out," he said.

Coach Damian Brauman offers some words of wisdom to the under-7s.
Coach Damian Brauman offers some words of wisdom to the under-7s. ©Hollie Reynolds and Justine Harrington

"This year alone we've got 65 registered kids under six. I predict we'll have that again next year and our 7s will have four or five sides."

Leichhardt Juniors' growth drew praise from the NSWRL.

"Strong administration and good coaching plays a key role in creating a positive club culture and attractive environment to new players; Leichhardt Juniors' success is testament to this," NSWRL community rugby league manager Peter Clarke said.

"Cheyne and the Leichhardt Juniors committee are doing a terrific job attracting new players to the game, fielding six teams in the under 6s is an incredible effort. There is a real air of excitement around Balmain District, they have worked hard on their strategy and we congratulate them on their latest milestone passing 2000 players."

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Balmain District Junior League chairman Richard Kelly said: "Leichhardt Juniors have shown that the working-class ethos that the Balmain District was founded on is alive and well.

"Hard work, dedication and a love of our great game have seen us prosper when others have written us off as an anachronism of the past.

"Despite all the trials and tribulations that the Balmain District has been through over the past decade, our faithful volunteers both new and old have carried on the traditions that have made us famous.

"Black & Gold will never fold."