CULTURE is the new buzzword in sport and the Bendigo Rugby Club is on the front foot trying to change its club for the better.
Despite another successful year on the park, climaxing in a stunning Victorian Rugby Union country division grand final win, the Keech Australia Miners’ 2012 season was overshadowed by indiscretions.
Changes had to be made if the club was to survive long-term in central Victoria’s AFL heartland, and a group of senior players – led by new comittee member Alex Milsom – decided to take action.
Milsom only joined the club last year, but now he’s the driving force behind a new image for the Miners.
“Everyone was very welcoming, there was no issues there, it probably wasn’t what I was used to I guess coming from such a strong rugby union culture in New South Wales,” Milson said.
“There was nothing wrong with it; I was surprised how the rugby culture wasn’t as strong as I thought it would be.
“We’re just trying to bring back the culture of the place, some of the old rugby traditions, and to try and give ourselves a better name.
“We gave ourselves a bit of a bad name last year with certain incidents. If we want the club to prosper and move forward we have to change a few things.”
The Miners are only two games into a new season, but already change is happening.
The club has attracted Bendigo Toyota, Keech Castings and National Heating and Cooling as sponsors, ordered new uniforms, changed its home ground to Huntly-Epsom Recreation Reserve and publicly dropped the “Fighting” tag from its name.
A family day will be held this Saturday as part of a triple-header of games at Huntly, involving the club’s under-18s from 11.30am, then Warrnambool against Ballarat, and the Miners versus Shepparton.
Sponsors, women’s and old boys’ days are also in the pipeline.
Little things like more players volunteering and spending time at the club after games and trainings, plus a canteen and BBQ’s on match days are all making a difference.
“A lot more guys have stepped-up this year, because they knew it had to happen,” Milsom said.
“There’s a real camaraderie around the club this year, it’s really good. We have had to change a few things to try and attract more players, but also more younger kids – like our 18s – they’re the future.
“Every club has to go through a rebuilding phase at some stage, we’ve still got a fairly strong squad on the field, but off the field we’re undergoing some significant change for the better.
“Things that everybody acknowledged we need to do. It won’t be a quick process, but our aim is in one or two years to have full squads in 16s, 18s and first grade.
“We definitely are making progress by the quality of sponsorship we’ve got this year and the general feel around the place. We just want to keep growing.”
Bendigo Rugby Club president Alan Wilkinson praised Milsom and his group of senior players for stepping-in to help the overworked volunteers.
“Alex is a driving force and we’re very lucky to have him. He’s very passionate about rugby and he’s an injection into our arm of passion in rugby in Victoria,” Wilkinson said.
“We struggle because it’s the AFL heartland here in Bendigo, but we try very hard.
“With the controversy that we had last season, a few of us have made a conscious effort to try and turn this club around.
“It needed to happen, we had a precious few people running the club…we just needed a bit more assistance and Alex is the ringleader.
“They’ve taken things to the next level where the precious few couldn’t do that on their own. They just want to portray a better image of rugby in our town.”