Inside the Reds: there's a Rugby kid in all of us

Wed, Mar 20, 2024, 10:38 PM
Jim Tucker
by Jim Tucker
Queensland Reds players (L-R) Jock Campbell, Harry Wilson, Carys Dallinger, Tom Lynagh and Fraser McReight in their junior rugby days
Queensland Reds players (L-R) Jock Campbell, Harry Wilson, Carys Dallinger, Tom Lynagh and Fraser McReight in their junior rugby days

No one is born a Queensland Red. Every player was once that kid who started rugby life eating lolly snakes at half-time, tackling awkwardly and yearning to score his or her first try.

The net which has gathered the Reds men’s and women’s teams of 2024 has been cast as wide as childhood rugby origins in the USA, England, Fiji, Samoa, New Zealand, Tonga, Canada, Papua New Guinea, South Africa and myriad points of Queensland.

Kids’ Round this week is one of the best initiatives of Super Rugby Pacific because it celebrates something every player has in common.

Delving a little deeper into the childhood histories of the Reds unearthed tales every rugby youngster or footy parent can relate to.

Harry Wilson played his first rugby as a three-year-old in a Gunnedah Red Devils side with two brothers under the coaching of his father.

It started a journey through the juniors he still recalls fondly.

“Playing footy with my mates, long car trips to games and a takeaway breakkie from Maccas is a memory I’ll always have,” Wilson said.

“I loved my snakes at half-time. I can have a few before the game now (in the Reds dressing room).

“By the time I was 12 and playing for Brothers I was running into a chubby No.8 from Albany Creek juniors who was always on the go and one of the best in any game.”

Wilson was referring to his now-backrow partner Fraser McReight, a non-stop force even in juniors for the Albany Creek Brumbies.

As family history goes, the young McReight always nagged about getting a go in the backs. When his juniors coach finally relented, he played only half a game before insisting “I want to go back to the forwards.”

Wearing red headgear started in those formative days as well.

For Tom Lynagh, his rugby upbringing was not so different in England. Nor was it for flanker Liam Wright growing up in South Africa.

Lynagh always wanted a pair of those fingerless gloves that were a fad for a brief period for players like former Wallaby Matt Giteau.

“I was always after new kit and especially those gloves. I tried them for about three games and that was it,” Lynagh laughed.

“Weekend touch tournaments were great fun and I still have friends to this day from my junior days at Richmond Rugby Club (in London).”

Peni Ravai’s childhood in Fiji was full of the same love of rugby but with few trappings.

“We played barefoot at school. There was no kid-sized ball so for us six-year-olds it was just an old full-sized footy,” Ravai recalled.

“When we got home to play after school, we’d pick up a coconut or knot a few T-shirts together to act as a ball. That’s where my love of the game started. It didn’t matter that there were no footballs or boots.”

At high school, Ravai and his peers made do as well.

“I remember ‘weights training’ was with a crankshaft and concrete blocks on each end,” he said.

Tate McDermott had his little Reds jersey on as a freckle-faced 13-year-old in the crowd at the 2011 Super Rugby final at Suncorp Stadium when Will Genia raced away for the euphoric match-clinching try.

Elsewhere, in the same crowd was a young Harry McLaughlin-Phillips finding a dose of the same inspiration.

As a junior, fullback Jock Campbell played fullback for the Inverell Highlanders in country NSW.

He would invite sister Tina into the backyard to practice wrestling moves from WWE, which he loved watching in his youth.

Older and bigger, Tina held her own and went on to play for the Queensland women’s team.

Reds winger Ivania Wong has built her formidable record as a Wallaroo and Reds player with no junior rugby background. She was a sporting all-rounder who only found rugby at 18 when it came more into vogue.

The sport was more available to Reds flyhalf Carys Dallinger where she grew up in Fielding, Manawatu in rugby-mad New Zealand.

“I was five when I started running around at rugby. When you have three older brothers and you keep being dragged to trainings, it’s the natural thing,” she said.

“I remember getting upset because we had to play touch and I had to wait a few years to play tackle.

“'Tackle' came at family gatherings on the farm with brothers and cousins all getting involved.”

It was strictly oranges at half-time and fast-food vouchers for good performances. The parents of player-of-the-match got to take home the team jerseys to wash, something of a misguided bonus.

They may all be Reds players today but similar stories abound throughout every junior club in Queensland.