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Newcastle rugby: 'Club factory' project designed to help grow game in Hunter

Updated: Oct 30, 2019

Author - James Gardiner



FORMER Super Rugby hooker Luke Holmes believes Newcastle has the potential to become a rugby stronghold.

Holmes and business partner Luke Jecks have been commissioned by the NHRU to audit the premier and divisional competitions and work with the clubs to grow and best use their resources.

"I am amazed at how strong the Hunter is," said Holmes, who played a key role on and off the field in the revival of Sydney club Warringah. "The foundation, the talent, the history, the facilities ... there is a real opportunity for this region to be a rugby stronghold.

"The ultimate goal is to get a professional rugby team based here. For that to happen, there are a few steps to take. Even though the NHRU has a strategic plan, you have to be able to get the clubs in a position to be aligned with it and execute it.


"If a club is running more efficiently and it has a purpose, it will be able to engage the community, grow its playing stocks and be financed sufficiently to better run their operation. If we can better equip the clubs to run themselves, then hopefully the governing body can grow the competition."

Holmes and Jecks have conducted a digital assessment of the premier and divisional clubs which covers 13 categories including community engagement, governance, financial planning, digital members, club structures. Each club was given a score out of 200.

"The digital assessment gives us an overview of the club and then we identify areas where they need assistance," Jecks said. "Now we are sitting down with the clubs and saying this is what we identified, what are the things you believe need work. Ours is a bespoke program. It's not about comparing clubs. Every club is different with different needs. The aim is to improve the point score over time."

The "Club Factory" project is also looking at how the NHRU can improve its operation.

"Next week we will present the board with an audit which shows where the competitions sit from a divisional and premier point of view so they have an understand of the different holes that need to be filled," Holmes said. "Then, like the clubs, we will work with them to improve those areas."

The NHRU is funding the majority of the audit through money raised at the Rugby Foundation lunch and NSW Waratahs lunch.

Clubs are also contributing to the cost to ensure a buy in to the project.

"There is a clear a blueprint to what makes a club successful," NHRU general manager Andy Fairfull said. "Our view is that we, as the NHRU, have to have our strategies right. But if we don't get help to get the clubs healthy, we are only beating one side of the horse."

"We need the clubs to be as healthy and as strong as possible. They are the ones with juniors and are the ones who are registering players. We can try to promote rugby to add around the fringes, but if the clubs are not doing that core business well, we are not going to get there. And we need help to do that, both from an expertise level and people on the ground.


"We are running the whole zone, seniors and juniors, with two people and we need more horse power to help the clubs and that is where these guys come in. They have done it before, they know rugby and are passionate about rugby."

Holmes and Jecks both have a connection to the Hunter. Jecks studied at Newcastle University and played for the Students. Holme's father in law is the late Tama Waikari, who coached Hamilton and Nelson Bay.


Holmes played Super Rugby with the Western Force, NSW Waratahs and ACT Brumbies and captained Warringah to a Shute Shield premiership in 2017.

"Five years ago, Warringah was in a pretty bad place," he said. "A bunch of key people got on board... We shifted a few things. We worked out what kind of culture we wanted and then put some framework around that culture. We created an identity to fit within the community. Then we got that engagement. Some people take the view if you get results on the field, the community will get engaged. Our view is that it flows the other way."


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