Easts juniors' plan to get more Canberra kids playing rugby and offering scholarships

The Easts junior rugby club hopes its innovative programs will entice more children to the sport and cost-neutral registration options will help reverse the trend of declining player numbers.

Easts have partnered with 10 community not-for-profit organisations and are offering scholarships to cover the cost of playing in Canberra this season.

Callum Starr overseeing the Easts junior rugby meet the beasts program.

Photo: Dion Georgopoulos

It's part of a plan to make rugby more attractive to families facing economic or social obstacles and to help the club boost its player base.

It's also part of a wider push in Canberra to make sports more affordable, including the launch of the 'every chance to play' initiative, which was made a registered charity last month.

Easts rugby president James Manders.

Photo: Dion Georgopoulos

Easts juniors offer scholarships to cover the costs of registration, rugby kit, boots and a mouthguard for some children and president James Manders hopes to grow the program to support up to 50 players.

"At the moment we've got between 10 and 15. I'd love to see it get to 50 or 100, that's what our sponsors want. They want to see money go towards kids playing rugby," Manders said.

"Hopefully the numbers pick up again this year. It's not easy for us to have a flow on from schools, so we have to work hard for our player base.

"Sometimes for families the cost of playing is a hurdle. Rugby can give kids confidence, sometimes they just need a chance to play and an avenue to do that. A chance to thrive, a home in rugby."

The every chance to play charity was started last year, with Canberra's 'big eight' sports rallying together to adopt a program to address the rising costs of junior sport.

Easts are leading their own culture of inclusion as well as rebuilding the links between the club's senior and junior operations.

The Easts seniors will celebrate 80 years in the John I Dent Cup this season and the juniors are hoping to build a strong partnership so there are clear pathways at the club.

That included "Meet the Beasts" training sessions over summer to introduce junior players to rugby and have them work with players for the senior grades.

Junior girls are also offered free registration if it is their first season playing for Easts.

Former president Mark Korsten also initiated a 'life through rugby' program to give older players an opportunity to work with leaders in Canberra and the club to help personal development.

Junior coach Callum Starr has seen the results first hand after initially struggling to put together an under-10s team two years ago before making a charge to the grand final.

Starr's team had a mix of players with international heritage, including links to Cuba, Mexico, Israel, New Zealand, Spain, Japan, Italy, Malaysia and Ireland.

"We want kids in rugby for as long as possible," Starr said.

"Once kids get in, you want to give them the taste of rugby and then they can be hooked for life.

"We just want to get kids involved and see them enjoy rugby, and that's something I think Easts have a very unique approach in doing."

Australian rugby has also introduced a size for age dispensation in junior competitions as a safety guideline. The program was trialled in Canberra last year in the under-13 division.

"We haven't seen a lot of it and we haven't necessarily been affected by it. Some kids turn away from the game because of size. This is to keep kids playing," Manders said.

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