Kids Round is a theme every Reds player can relate to

Wed, Mar 15, 2023, 5:00 AM
Jim Tucker
by Jim Tucker
Reds stars Jock Campbell and Liam Wright as junior rugby players
Reds stars Jock Campbell and Liam Wright as junior rugby players

The power to Kids Round is that every Queensland Reds player can share a story of where their own love of rugby sprouted from in junior days.

Every Reds player will also tell you how important it is to keep the flame burning in a new and bigger generation of youngsters.

As many young eyes as possible in the crowd will stir the vibe at Suncorp Stadium for Sunday’s family-friendly 3pm kick-off against Fijian Drua.

Being a magnet for kids isn’t just about one 80-minute game and a round of selfies and autographs after this high-appealing Super Rugby Pacific clash.

It’s about feeling the responsibility all season. That’s why Reds co-captain Liam Wright was part of the enthusiastic roll-up to the juniors sign-on day for the Tiger Cubs at his Easts club on February 19.

The club is rightly proud that they’ll have a massive turnout of more than 900 juniors this season.

“It’s really important to get kids interested in the game and keep breeding that interest. They are the next generation... from those boys and girls you’ll have the players wearing Reds jerseys in 15 years,” Wright said.

“I always find it really cool seeing kids getting around in club and Reds kit and showing what rugby means to them.”

Wright’s juniors journey was more colourful than most. He rocked a little Sharks T-shirt in his birth city of Durban before his family migrated to Australia.

He’s now a “Tiger For Life” and perhaps scarred for life, he joked, by losing grand finals in Under-13s, Under-14s and Under-15s.

Reds backrowers Harry Wilson and Fraser McReight devoured lolly snakes at half-time like any youngster in their junior days.

Wilson made his start in country NSW with the Gunnedah Red Devils under headgear, of course. McReight was non-stop during his junior years with the Albany Creek Brumbies.

A Reds backrow joined by a love for the game fuelled by the fun of junior footy.

Lock Ryan Smith got himself on the sidelines at Suncorp Stadium as a young fan in 2007 when he was a proud Caboolture Snake. More than a decade later, he revelled in running on as a Reds player.

Halfback Kalani Thomas was never the biggest kid but those pistons pumped when he ran for Souths juniors.

For the young Jordan Petaia, his role model was close at hand. He grew up with Wallaby Matt To’omua, another old boy of Brisbane State High.

Their families are so close they regard each other as cousins. Petaia wasn’t so long out of school when he made his Test debut beside To’omua against Uruguay at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

“Pretty cool. It’s ironic, he calls me ‘Pup’ and he’s 10 years younger than me,” To’omua said at the time.

“Jordie was always very talented when he was young. He was always a little tough kid as well because he’d always like to mix it with me and my older brother.”

Kids finding the spark for rugby can be just that, pick-up games in the backyard, two-on-two and no TMO interruptions.

Those stories are timeless down the generations. Berrick Barnes had goalposts of PVC piping made on the vacant lot beside his childhood home in Kingaroy so he could practice his goalkicking.

The Lucas brothers, Ben, Tom, Matt and Isaac, had enough troops in the family for full-on games of footy in their Mt Gravatt backyard.

Reds fullback Jock Campbell played for the Inverell Highlanders as a kid with sister Tina on the wing.

For Tina, it was a grounding she never forgot when she returned to rugby later in life and earned her Queensland Reds cap in Super W.

Young Jock was sidetracked by wrestling dreams of a WWE “career” at times in the backyard. He’s been rugby’s gain.