When the Ashburton Barbarians rugby league club put out a call for junior players last week, they had no idea what sort of response there would be.
But the club had been overwhelmed.
At a registration and training day at Ashburton’s Robilliard Park on Saturday they were inundated with keen young kids wanting to give the sport a go.
The Barbarians had been looking for players to form an under-8 and under-10 team to play in a mini tournament at Robilliard Park on Saturday ahead of a double-header to open the 2018 Aoraki Cup competition.
It looked like they would have enough players to form two under-8 teams and were just short of being able to field two under-10 teams.
It was exciting for the club, but also a little daunting as the prospect of one day expanding the club to include junior teams came a lot closer to being a reality.
Ashburton Barbarians juniors co-ordinator Matt Milne said this season had been about rebuilding for the Barbarians club.
They had just the one senior team and while the players were committed and dedicated on the park, the club had been struggling for manpower behind the scenes.
They’d put more structure in place in 2018 and were looking to the future in terms of maybe one day adding juniors.
Milne said the club had fielded interest from parents throughout the season, but junior teams weren’t in the club’s first year plans.
Given the interest though, junior teams could well now be a part of year two plans.
“I think we are actually quite daunted by how to do it, because everything we have done this year, there’s been so many changes happening so quickly and (having junior teams) was always there and it got talked about, but it was just ‘how are we going to do this?’
“And now it’s been fast-tracked and we are just taking it step by step.”
Among those who had shown an interest in playing for the Barbarians juniors were some young players whose parents had been taking them through to Rolleston or Hornby to play league.
“A lot of the feedback was that they were just waiting for something to start up in Ashburton,” Milne said.
The Barbarians youngsters would play against teams from Rolleston, Christchurch and Timaru on Saturday, with games getting under way at 9am, before the big boys took over in the afternoon.
The first round of the Aoraki Cup would see the Chertsey Oilers take on the Timaru Outlaws in game one at Robilliard Park at 1pm on Saturday, with the Ashburton Barbarians and the Country Cowboys – the two teams that played in last year’s Aoraki Cup final – squaring off at 3pm.
“We are going to have over 200 players from juniors to seniors there on Saturday.
“It started off something small and it turned into a pretty big day,” Milne said.
The following week the Chertsey Oilers and the Ashburton Barbarians would play in round two, and the week after that all teams would head to Timaru for another double header, and it was hoped the junior teams would also feature again that day.
After that, the Barbarians would assess how it had gone and whether they would seriously look at fielding junior teams in 2019’s competitions.
Milne said, in his memory, Ashburton had last had junior league teams in the 1990s.
“The first junior side was an under-14 side in 1992, that’s when the original rugby league side was trying to get up and running, and the following year in 1993 they had an under-15s tournament and teams from Christchurch and a team from Timaru came up, and that’s the only time there has been junior league here in my memory,” Milne said.
At Saturday’s muster day, members of the Ashburton Barbarians side which played in the Canterbury Rugby League division one competition this season were on hand to lend a hand, and found it to be a humbling experience, Milne said.
Kids knew their names and had plenty of questions for them.
“We’d been telling them all season about the impact they were having on the community.
“You can hear something and hear something, but when they came along and saw all the little kids here I think it truly showed them just how big an impact they have had.
“It was humbling to think that you have become a bit of a role model,” Milne said.