The new Ballymore honours rugby's heart and history

Fri, May 19, 2023, 12:00 AM
Jim Tucker
by Jim Tucker
Paul Carozza inspecting the NRTC site at Ballymore. Photo: QRU Media
Paul Carozza inspecting the NRTC site at Ballymore. Photo: QRU Media

Every building phase to the rebirth of Ballymore has put a smile on the face of Paul Carozza, whose life has been intertwined with the ground for four decades.

The impressive new facility being built by lead contractors Buildcorp is the future of Queensland rugby on multiple levels.

Rising from the ground as a mass of concrete and steel the new National Rugby Training Center (NRTC) and McLean Stand has literally taken shape before the eyes of the former Wallaby.

For the past 14 months, Carozza has gone to work with a daily view of progress through the windows of Queensland Rugby House less than 200m away.

What excites Carozza equally is the makeover of facilities and the impetus to all who will use the magnificent National Rugby Training Centre.

“There’s an awesome history to this patch of ground at Ballymore,” Carozza enthused.

“The new facilities and their functionality will give a massive boost to all parts of the code for men and women, boys and girls.”

Construction of the NRTC is nearing completion.

Buildcorp is not just responsible for the materials and manpower for this $30 million makeover.

The construction company also invests in the people who will bring the new training centre to life as sponsor of the Wallaroos, Australia’s women’s rugby team, and the Reds Academy.

“I can’t help but have a spring in my step knowing there is going to be a specific Academy dressing room and physio area,” said Carozza, the Buildcorp Reds Academy coaching co-ordinator.

“That’s on top of the state-of-the-art gym for everyone, the meeting rooms, the social areas and a new, high-quality training field.

“It’s a massive boost for the Academy to have behind it a well-respected company as a new partner. It adds more prestige and it shows that the Buildcorp people value what we do to be backing rugby’s pathways.

Carozza knows the value of clear pathways because he has thrived through most of them himself since he was a teenager winning a Colts premiership at Ballymore as a flying winger with Wests in 1985.

Being in the middle of the pulsating vibe of a big crowd at Ballymore was where he most enjoyed playing whether scoring tries for Queensland (1988-96) or the Wallabies.

Now in his post-playing days, Carozza remains a fixture at Ballymore in a variety of talent squad manager-Academy coaching-mentoring roles.

Carozza, 56, will forever be woven into Ballymore’s rich history because of the lowest blow in Bledisloe Cup history.

It is 31 years since All Blacks prop Richard Loe came crashing down on Carozza’s face with a blatant right forearm after he’d scored a try.

Carozza crossed for two tries that day in what would be a glorious 19-17 victory over the All Blacks to secure Lord Bledisloe’s grand trophy.

A bloodied and broken nose was a small price to pay, especially with the amber painkiller swigged from the cup. “I was over it (the Loe incident) in a day because winning the Bledisloe Cup and at Ballymore was such a special thing,” Carozza recalled.

“It’s quite funny people still want to bring it up. Loe did give me a prop’s apology at the end of the series...’It doesn’t look too bad, eh’.”

Buildcorp’s backing of rugby’s values is longstanding.

In December, tradies constructing the rugby center took time to give back to the grassroots.

In a fruitful blitz, electricians, plumbers, carpenters and metalworkers replaced lights, added water bottle refill stations, replaced rusted uprights to the scoreboard, removed two wooden poles, put in all-weather tabletops, painted the outdoor terrace and replaced a broken barbecue at the Redlands Mudcrabs Rugby Club.

A day earlier, they had given Redcliffe Rugby Club a similar spruce up.

“The Ballymore project is a source of pride because the location does have such meaning in rugby. As a company, we always want to have a strong connection to the community and those rugby club working bees were something we wanted to be involved in from the start, we always aim to be partners on-site, on the field and in the community” said Buildcorp (Queensland) General Manager Mike Currie.

The construction of the National Rugby Training Centre, integrated with the 3010-seat McLean Stand, is also a broader statement. It will be the first new venue (hockey) completed in the facilities plan for the 2032 Brisbane Olympics.

The rugby community’s strong ties to Ballymore, since the ground staged its first club games in 1967, always meant there would be personal connections in the Ballymore redevelopment. Former Reds and Wallabies hooker James Hanson is now Buildcorp’s Marketing and Client Relations Manager in Queensland.

You’ll find Scott Daruda on-site in a hard hat as Buildcorp’s Contracts Administrator.

As a 19-year-old flyhalf, he made his sole Reds appearance off the bench at Ballymore in 2005. Adelaide Hampson, with architects Blight Rayner, is the grand daughter of Ground Life Member Lester Hampson, the renowned coach.

“It’s a bit of a full circle moment. I went through the Reds Academy pathway back in 2007,” Hanson said.

To now be on the other side of it with this partnership between Buildcorp and the Academy and seeing the new training center come to life is quite surreal.

Being partners along the whole journey from grassroots to the top level is a strong part of Buildcorp’s 33 year involvement in the game.

Buildcorp is a huge advocate for the women’s game and the backing for the Wallaroos’ march to last year’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand now flows into a new cycle this year.

Creating the National Rugby Training Centre as the first headquarters for the Wallaroos is a game-changer for women's rugby.

Carozza can readily see applications for the 75-seat auditorium, function room, modern corporate facilities and the upgraded Field 3. Having a full-sized, third field with a quality surface and new lighting is a massive bonus,” Carozza said.

“It will be where our Under-15s, Under-16s and Under-19s train. You’ll have women’s teams training, doing recovery and playing trials there. We can now invite parents into an auditorium to talk about pathways and the opportunities in rugby.

"Anyone from the era I played in from the 1980s and ‘90s should be pumped.

"The new grandstand is in keeping with what they’ve always known as the McLean Stand.

"The ground will still be buzzing on club grand final days. Rugby is being invigorated.”

The heart and home of rugby in Queensland has never left Ballymore.

The famous precinct is just getting the modern makeover it deserves for an exciting new era.