Reef Raiders’ bold move entering two teams


Howard Salkow

Senior Journalist

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Chase Hay in full flight for the line to score one of his record five tries in the Raiders' convincing 37-12 win over the Penrhyn Sharks this past season. Images: Joanne Cowe.

With the bonus of more home games and interest from both new and former players, two-time premierships, the Port Douglas Reef Raiders, have made the bold move of entering two teams in next season’s FNQ Rugby Union competitions.

FNQ Rugby is the umbrella organisation for rugby union in Cairns and Far North Queensland.

Travis Gooch, who will retain the coaching duties for another season, said the club had voted to field a Reserve Grade team, along with its A Grade Team, which will continue to contest the Rainforestation Cup.

The Reserve Grade team will compete in their own competition alongside Reserve Grade teams from JCU, Barron, Northen Beaches & Penryhn.

Established in 2000, the Raiders have a proud history and in 2008 notched its first Premiership winning the CDRU Grand Final, and followed this up in 2014.

And the decision to field two teams next year says a great deal following the setback in 2017.

Multiple reasons forced the club to make the tough decision of withdrawing from FNQ Rugby’s Premier Grade and relegating themselves to the Reserves League for the 2017 season.

The club had little option but to make the dramatic call after a winless 2016 season when they struggled to field a consistent team, or hold regular practice sessions.

In explaining the decision to have two teams, Gooch said the main reason was based on the interest the club had received in the off-season.

“There have been a number of new players come forward as well as old club players wanting to come back and put the boots on.

“Having a Reserve Grade Team will also allow new players to give rugby a go; for players who don’t want to make the step up to A-Grade rugby straight away; and the opportunity to develop our younger players,” said Gooch.

Gooch did concede there are risks.

“At a recent meeting, everyone voted to push forward with a Reserve Grade Team. We had to make the call now to allow the club to promote the new move. Time will tell numbers wise; but for now we are happy with the position we are in,” said Gooch.

But Gooch said there is the possibility that some players could play two matches on any given weekend because of a shortage of players.

“That is a possibility. Ideally it would only be A-Grade players named on the bench to be playing Reserve Grade if needed. 

“The amount of minutes would come down to the individual. Players, if required, will therefore get solid minutes on the field every weekend while keeping their match fitness,” he said.

Gooch said there is a recruitment drive and the club is looking for increased sponsorship.

“The committee, players and club members are doing their bit for the 2020 season. The club has a few jobs in place for new players and this helps with recruiting players from out of town.

“Having two teams will result in additional costs. The club will be seeking new sponsors to come on board in 2020. The committee will be in touch with existing sponsors about the exciting plans for next season,” said Gooch.

The good news is that there will be more home games at the sporting complex.

“Having a Reserve Grade Team will mean more home games which is an added bonus. Last season the crowds were amazing and it’s exciting to think what sort of numbers we can get to our games in 2020 having the additional home side.”

Gooch says many of the players from the past season will be available in 2020.

“There are close to 20 players who have indicated they will be back next season. It’s a great position to be in with the struggles the club has had in recent years.

“With this base and the amount of interest from new players, the club for the first time since 2007 can now look forward to fielding two teams in 2020,” he said.

Over the years, the Raiders have enjoyed a unique international flavour, attracting players from Australia, United States, Mexico, France, the Four Home Unions, Fiji, Samoa and New Zealand.

In 2019, the Raiders had one of their best seasons in some time after making the elimination final of the Rainforestation Cup, only to lose 35-26 to Barron Trinity Bulls.  

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