A Bunbury-based rugby club is hoping to continue pushing the profile of rugby in the South West as a sport that encourages the values of respect, integrity, discipline and mateship.
Formed in 2018 to initially 'fill the gap' of a missing age group, the South West Spirit Rugby Union offers under 15's rugby players the opportunity to take part in the sport locally.
South West Spirit Rugby Union president and coach Gilly Johnson said although historically some clubs offered the option to host under 13's and upwards players, there had been a missing age gap for a while.
"Our junior clubs in the South West go to under 12's so the Spirit was set up three years ago to provide a playing option for under 13 players onwards," Johnson said.
"Rugby union has a lot of potential in the South West. Some people consider it a minor sport to AFL but WA is a strong, rugby state in its own right. There are a lot of people here who love rugby and follow the Western Force."
Whilst wins have been hard to come by this season, Johnson said it was the players' determination and love of rugby that enabled them to persevere and enjoy the sport.
"The club is still in a development phase and is keen to attract new players to the game or rugby to boost the depth available in their teams. That's why they're here. Just the fact that they keep showing up for training and to play, it shows how much they love the game of rugby."
We have won a lot of hearts this season with the grit showed by the players. We've been told our boys epitomise the spirit of rugbySW Spirit Rugby Union coach Gilly Johnson
"We have won a lot of hearts this season with the grit showed by the players. We've been told our boys epitomise the spirit of rugby," Johnson said.
Johnson also said rugby was a good sport for young people to play as it taught the importance of consequence for rough play.
"It's very good for young people to learn discipline in contact sport, in that there will be consequences for their actions. Plus, rugby offers a position on the field for all sized players, and coupled with being fit, learning ball skills and rugby game knowledge makes rugby a sport suitable for a wide range of young people."
"I'd like to encourage more young boys and girls to play because they learn such confidence of taking a tackle and then getting up and going on with the game. It's good because it teaches them that if they are faced with challenges in life, that discipline, respect, mateship and teamwork can carry you through."
The Spirit players train locally twice a week at Hay Park and play games at both Perth-based clubs and Fandale Park in Dalyellup.
Vice Captain Cody Harper and Captain Angus Johnson both came to the Spirit from playing in the junior levels for the Bunbury Barbarians.
Harper said the Spirit was an excellent club to be a part of in that it had a great, team atmosphere.
"We might not win every game but at least we're playing with mates. There's great opportunities here."
The Spirit works closely with the four, South West 'grass roots' junior rugby teams, the Bunbury Barbarians, the Bunbury Bulls, the Busselton Beetles and the Margaret River Gropers, in order to continue offering the sport to players 13 and older.
"The Spirit adds the next dimension as kids can funnel in from the junior teams in the South West including the Bunbury Barbarians, Bunbury Bulls, Busselton Beetles and Margaret River Gropers. The Spirit for us offers a strong link from loving living in the South West to also wanting to play against Perth teams and travelling there to do so," Gilly Johnson said.
"We also have the opportunity to host Perth teams for our home games, which then further showcases the South West and the sport locally."
With the rugby season finishing in November with a 7s competition, Johnson said interested players can place an expression of interest to join the Spirit on the books, before the rugby pre-season starts in February 2022.
"We're a very family friendly club and we want people to come and enjoy being part of it. This is about getting people aware that there are opportunities for kids to play rugby here from U13 onwards within the Spirit, and to offer a further pathway in conjunction with the four local junior rugby clubs."
"Here the players have a set of mates that support them through what happens outside of rugby as well."
For more information on how to join, visit the South West Spirit Rugby Union's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SouthWestSpiritRugbyUnion.