Kerrod Walters

United We Play Connect Rugby League

Image source: Photographer RITCHIE JARMAN INFAMOUS PHOTOGRAPHY

Sport brings a community together and creates a sense of belonging and self-worth. One Sunshine Coast local has created Australia’s first all-abilities Rugby League program that has the backing of the QRL and NRL and some big-name players signing up to champion the project, as Carlie Wacker discovers. 

Connect Rugby League is a passion project for local mum and businesswoman Danielle Trask – a fully inclusive sport to connect and support players with neurological, physical, sensory or social diagnoses. 

“This is a game of rugby league like no other,” Danielle says. “We want to bring together individuals from all walks of life and create an inclusive community united by the game of Rugby League. 

“With sport generally offering limited programs for adults and young people in their late teens with special needs, I approached the QRL to support a new initiative to do just that, starting on the Sunshine Coast and hopefully, ultimately spreading throughout the state.  

“Sport can be such a great companion for those who have extra needs as it can support overall health in the correct environment. We are creating a sense of belonging for those in our community who may feel isolated.

“Our players both receive and offer support from each other, as well as our volunteers, staff and our organisation.”

Danielle’s tireless work to bring this project to life has paid off with the QRL and NRL partnering with Connect Rugby League to support the areas of socialisation, self-confidence and belonging through positive mental and physical health strategies using the platform the team sport of Rugby League. 

James Hill and Kristy Bignell will work with Danielle to develop the program with the support of local disability and industry professionals, including James who was the winner of the Australian of the Year awards in the Queensland Local Hero Category for services to community and workplace mental health. He is also an ambassador to both the Australian and New Zealand Mental Health Association and Beyond Blue.

Superstars of the game have also signed up as ambassadors including legendary hooker Kerrod Walters who played for Brisbane Broncos, Queensland and Australia; plus local League legend Billy Moore will be doing a training session with the team.

This Australian-first competition will kick off in 2023 when teams from around the state will come together. The pilot program is supported by disability and industry professionals to encourage and assist with a successful transition into adulthood and independence. Social sessions will get the ball rolling. 

“We will also offer team building skills, promoting communication, game education, a sense of community and support staff where available,” Danielle said. “The premise behind our game both short and long term is bringing together individuals from all walks of life, to build a community as such, who unite our participants to play an adapted game of Rugby League.”

Connect Rugby League offers a chance for those aged 16-plus to build a sense of community, pride and independence. 

Lachlan Debnam is ready for the action and won’t let his autism stop him.  

“Even though I was only introduced to rugby league at 11 years old, the degree of intensity had me intrigued,” he says. 

“I started with Falcons Footy All Abilities back in 2015, and now that I’m too old for that, I decided that since this opportunity arose, I’d take the chance to become another disabled Australian icon. 

“Personally, I’m really looking forward to starting in the Connect Rugby League to prove that anyone and everyone can do great things, despite our challenges.”

Training for Connect Rugby League will include safety on the field, defensive and offensive skills, ball skills, physical fitness, kicking skills and supports based around physical, emotional, and mental health needs.

“Our idea was to gather a small group for our pilot program so we can support each individual to our best capacity and they don’t feel overstimulated or overwhelmed,” Danielle said. “We have 20 places available overall and there are still positions available.”

Stay tuned for the goals this program will kick!  

GET CONNECTED

All-abilities inclusive rugby league is for men, women and teens 16 + and promotes socialisation, life skills and acceptance.

Social Session Dates:

4 September, 11.00am – 12.00pm
Nirimba Fields, Park Rd Nirimba

18 September, 11.00am -12.00pm
Nirimba Fields, Park Rd Nirimba

2 October, 11.00am – 12.00pm
Kawana Sports Fields (Field 7)

16 October, 11.00am-12.00pm
Kawana Sports Fields (Field 7)

Register: www.connectrugbyleague.com.au or email [email protected]
A verified diagnosis is required and participants who qualify for NDIS may be eligible under the social participation category. Contact NDIS 1800 800 110.

About the Author /

[email protected]

Carlie Wacker has worked in the media entertainment industry for over 20 years. From television to stage and radio she has been lucky enough to work her way around the whole country. Over the last 10 years she has styled and choreographed innovative fashion parades and talent shows and brings her love for fashion and entertainment as our Fashion Editor. She is also an MC, voice-over artist and radio announcer.

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