Almanac Rugby League (and Education) – Big Josh

Big Josh

Josh is the sort of kid that sometimes get picked on at school. He’s a big fella, not real bright, a bit awkward and an easy target for bullies. Understandably, he has been known to blow up occasionally. He has been known to threaten people with sharp objects and go on a rampage throwing bins around the playground. He is the sort of kid that some well-meaning teacher says to their parents, “He’s a big fella, you should take him to Rugby League. He will probably be good at it”. Of course, that is rarely the case.

This year Josh has joined the u14 Rugby League team. My team. I coached the same team last year. We had a good year, making the grand final. In fact, we damn near won the comp. If not for my good nature, we may well have won it. Up by 4 with 15 minutes to go I was approached by one of the mothers whose son was on the bench. “Could you please give my son 5 minutes? His Nan and pop have travelled down to watch him play. I’d really appreciate it if you could give him a run.”

Of course, I put him on at left centre. As luck would have it, the opposition scored two quick tries down their right hand side. It wasn’t all my replacements fault, but he was in the vicinity. Sadly, if we dusted the try scorers for finger prints you wouldn’t have found any of my players. He returned to the bench but the damage was done. We went on to an honourable defeat.

My school is located in a Rugby League desert. We are geographically equidistant from two of the most powerful Rugby League schools in Australia. One to the north and one to the south. Kids and families serious about pursuing a career in Rugby League don’t come anywhere near my school. We are the Rugby League equivalent of Chad. Halfway between Cape Town and Cairo, very few resources and not a lot of hope, at least not from a success point of view.

Here, Success needs to be measured in something other than the hard currency of wins and losses and premierships. One statistic about my team: 65% of them have been suspended from school in the last year. Nothing too serious usually, a few of the teenage boy favourites like water fights and “Dacking” and a bit of bad language. I like them, they are your classic “likeable rogues”. All the boys are back from last year, with the exception of my replacement left centre from the GF and a couple of others.

Last week we had a run against the 15s. It was supposed to be a game of “grab”. I put out my starting side from last year. I looked over to the sideline and there was Big Josh, resplendent in a superman t shirt and a brand new pair of white boots. He looked so eager that I invited to play as an extra forward rather than stand on the sideline.

Josh started trucking it up the middle like a good front rower should. The first time he trucked it up, he got smashed. The second time he ran it he dropped the ball. The third time he got smashed and then dropped the ball. And so it went on. The big fella kept charging forward all game. He dropped it so often the referee reverted to the old” Give it back, let him play it” rule. Good ball security resulted in bone jarring hits on the big fella. Undeterred, he ploughed on. He must have run the ball 10 times before we called it quits for the afternoon and headed back to school.

As we headed back to school, I found myself walking with Big Josh. I asked him, “How did you enjoy that?” A broad smile came on his face and he said, “That was great, that’s the most fun I’ve had in a few years”. To me, that was as good as hoisting the trophy on grand final day.

I have had one consent form returned to school so far. You guessed it, it is from Big Josh. The rest are still sitting in the bottom of schoolbags or going through the washing machines at home. How are the other rogues treating him? As good as gold of course. He is one of the boys now.



  1. Matt O'Hanlon says

    What a great yarn. We all went to school with a bloke like that!
    Rugby League was clearly the winner as the game loves a big man!

  2. Tony Robb says

    Nice story about big Josh. I’ve coached kids like Josh and the joy they get out being part ot a team environment of priceless
    Good stuff

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