A few years ago I was a social worker in western Sydney and I ran an anger management class at Dunheved High School near Penrith.
During one class the boys told me that the private school up the road had invited Dunheved to form a rugby team for a one-off warm-up match.
The Dunheved boys had never played rugby before but I had seen them playing touch footy in their lunch breaks. They were brilliant, skilful, fast and huge. I hoped the PE teacher would be able to pull together a team in a week.
He did. On the next Thursday afternoon their old, beat-up school bus arrived at the private school’s verdant fields for the big game.
The private school took an early lead. They were well organised and had that kind of crisp flyhalf who never gets dirty.
Their South African coach shouted high-minded rugby advice like “earn the right to go wide” and “play percentage rugby” while the Dunheved PE teacher shouted things like “eight people in a scrum” and “you have to release the ball when you get tackled”.
At halftime Dunheved were down by 15 but halftime gave the PE teacher a much needed opportunity to explain some more rules and that was all the boys needed.
In the second half they were brilliant, too fast and too strong. They blew the private school away.
But here is the thing. That was the end of their rugby career. They were so excited after that game, hooting and hollering the whole bus trip home.
They had fallen in love with rugby but as far as I can tell none of them got the chance to play another game.
Western Sydney is heaving with gifted kids: Polynesian boys who have rugby in their genetic code. They talk about their cousin who was an All Black or their uncle who played for Samoa.
They would absolutely love to play but their opportunities are few. The schools don’t play it. They often don’t know where the clubs are. So they are just lost to rugby.
Kicking Penrith and the Two Blues out of the Shute Shield is unnecessary.
If Rugby Australia could set up a schools competition in both regions, there would be plenty of players to feed the two teams.
Call them the Tatafu Polota-Nau Cup and the Kurtley Beale Cup. Six teams in each comp is enough.
Get a good photographer to take some shots of the players in action, and put them on Instagram so the boys feel special. Hype it up even just a little bit and it will take off.
They are willing enough and they are good enough.
For the good of Australian rugby, don’t shut the west down – build it up.