Vanuatu Shines as the New Kid

By Daniel Andruczyk

The end of the year is the international season for Rugby League, this year though has a very different flavour to it. Two regulars, Australia and New Zealand have decided to take a break, but this has allowed some of the new kids on the block to shine. One of the most exciting to arrive is Vanuatu, which has been a passion of International Rugby League Stalwart Dane Campbell. Vanuatu took on Greece in Port Villa in front of over 3,000 fans but lost 14 – 26 in a tight match. Dane has been kind enough to talk a bit about the VRL and his future endeavours.

Rugby League International Scores: Dane Congrats on the Vanuatu game its pretty historic that a new Pacific Nation has joined the ranks in quite a few years. What made you want to develop rugby league in Vanuatu?

Dane Campbell: Indeed it is exciting to have a new nation now getting to experience playing rugby league and in little under 12 months since the idea of forming a rugby league presence in Vanuatu was hatched we were able to host our very first full 13-a-side international. The concept for developing the game came after a few conversations I had with Vanuatu natives (Ni-Vanuatu) Sandy Marango and Eric Tosusu. Both men were born and raised in Vanuatu but now reside in Australia and when we were discussing why rugby league didn’t have a presence in Vanuatu, both men said that there was a market their for the game given the natural athleticism and limited opportunities in other sports. Hence the idea was created to do some “recon” work and find out exactly how rugby union was administered in Vanuatu and also how many rugby league players currently playing in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji that were eligible to play for Vanuatu. To all our surprise, the feedback we received was outstanding and given the historical links between Australian South Sea Islanders and Vanuatu we have seen tremendous support of the venture thus far. Equally as important as identifying eligible players was to have an “on-ground” presence in Vanuatu, so myself and Sandy Marango travelled to Port Vila in December 2013 to run a coaching and development clinic. We were blown away with the level of talent that was in attendance and also by the interest our visit received by the local media, companies and general public. This indicated to us that this could very well work and we quickly went about identifying and putting motions in place to form an Interim Committee in Port Vila to look after the day-to-day control of the VRL. Sandy had some pre-existing relations with quality people that had formerly been involved in other sporting discipline committees and things went from there. For me personally, being able to work with Vanuatu is a good fit, given my home is in Queensland and it is only a 2.5 hour flight from Brisbane to Port Vila, so I can have a hands-on influence on the development of the game at all levels.


RLIS: How are things going in Jamaica? Are you still involved there, if so how does your involvement in Vanuatu affect thing there?

DC: Yes still very much involved with the game in Jamaica through the Hurricanes Rugby League. In any developing rugby league nation there needs to be real “drivers” on the ground in those nations with an intense passion and understanding of the game and in Jamaica there are 2 such men in Romeo Monteith and Roy Calvert. When the idea was first introduced to establish the game in Jamaica back in 2004, there was a need for guidance whilst the sport was introduced, however, I firmly believe that once the game has been established, that the game needs to have driven forward from within the nation to further develop. Having Romeo, Roy and others leading things in Jamaica is great for rugby league and I expect Jamaica will make significant progress on the international front over the coming years. I would like to think that within 5 years that the Vanuatu Rugby League will have progressed in a similar manner.

RLIS: How did you go about recruiting players, domestic and foreign for the Vanuatu team?

DC: For domestic based players we held 3 coaching and development clinics in Port Vila during 2013, culminating in a 9s tournament. From these clinics and tournament we identified players with natural skills in the game and then selected them and worked with them for a period of time with local coaches to further their knowledge in the game. We also scouted throughout Australia, New Zealand and Fiji of players who had heritage to Vanuatu and we found many players who were/are playing in elite competitions such as NRL, QLD Cup, NSW Cup etc. Our 2 highest profile players are Justin O’Neill (Melbourne Storm) and Alehana Mara (NZ Warriors).

RLIS: How did you get sponsors to get on board with the Vanuatu rugby league venture?

DC: The VRL is in a fortunate position regarding support from the corporate sector because their are many ex-pat Australian and New Zealand business people that now reside in Vanuatu. The fact that these people know the game and perhaps grew up with the game, they understand the great platform in which being associated with rugby league can bring to their companies. This year we secured car dealership Ford AutoDis as our Principle Sponsor, Gold Sponsors were The Kava Emporium, Nambawan Brewery, Jim Beam, Law Partners, ATM National, Club Aqua, Sun Solar, Rugby League Player Protection, Street Strider OZ, Vanuatu Escapes and Air Vanuatu. I would like to think that given the success of the first international that we might now be able to attract even further support, especially from the telecommunications and tourism sectors.

RLIS: Did you have any issues from the government or other sectors starting up? Sometimes you need to have official affiliation to get things supported.

DC: Everything was done in the correct manner we believe in that we understood that we needed to register with VASANOC (National Olympic Committee) and we needed to have a Constitution and Interim Committee in place to do that. We are now officially a member of VASANOC which allows us to register for the 2015 Pacific Mini Games in PNG.


RLIS: Any issues from other sports?

DC: Fortunately not. Although rugby union has been played in Vanuatu for a number of years, they are yet to really impose themselves on the international front and we believe that in a smaller nation like Vanuatu that the games need to co-exist, as to provide the players as much exposure to different skills and opportunties. AFL has recently launched in Vanuatu and seems to be well supported and funded by the AFL in Australia. Soccer is the main sport in Vanuatu, yet for physical contact sport, rugby league is now placed as the benchmark in my opinion.

RLIS: Why Greece? How did you get them as the opponents, and were there other options for nations?

DC: Originally we had been planning to play Fiji, but we could not get things confirmed as quickly as we would have liked, so I decided to seek another nation and I knew Greece were keen to get things moving again and after speaking with Steve Georgalis and Terry Liberopolous, I knew that it would be a good fit. Both nations are similar in terms of playing talent and Greece were seeking to re-establish themselves after a few years hiatus. The Philippines were another nation that we spoke with, yet they had committed to a game against Thailand at that stage. Moving forward, we would like to think that we will be able to compete against other Pacific nations such as Fiji and PNG.

RLIS: Did you get any help and support from the Rugby League Pacific Federation? Or from other organisations?

DC: I spoke to Tas Baiteri (RLIF) and Chris Newman (APRL) to ensure that both were kept updated as to developments as they happened and both approved of the game. The RLIF provided the match officials for the game, which was very much appreciated. One thing that I am quite staunch on, is that for any developing nation, there needs to be an element of reality. What I mean by that is, we as an organisation needed to show the RLIF, APRL and other nations that we were indeed the “real-deal” and the only way to do this was by staging an event that was run to the best of our ability in a professional manner without asking for handouts. I believe by doing it this way we have now shown that we can run an event with limited external operation/assistance, so into the future if we do seek assistance the powers-that-be will recognise our efforts and assist accordingly.

RLIS: What advice do you have for people getting involved in setting up new teams and nations in Rugby League and how do you suggest they go about getting sponsorship?

DC: I believe that when people look to get involved with developing rugby league in new nations that they have a full appreciation that it needs to be done for with ultimate passion. The process for starting rugby league is a long one, from legal documentation, government recognition, insurances, scouting for players, coach and match officials education, framework for development, equipment, apparel etc. it is a lot of work, yet if you are truly passionate about the cause then you will find a way to make it work.


RLIS: What’s next for Vanuatu Rugby League?

DC: Domestic competitions to start in Port Vila (4-6 teams) and Santo (3 teams) by March 2013; 8 young players (aged 18-23) from Vanuatu to come to Australia for a 6 week stay at the International Rugby League Academy in Australia in February 2013; a Vanuatu Invitational side to tour regional Queensland (Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Mackay, Ayr) during February 2013; the Vanuatu national side to play in Port Vila in early October 2013 (opposition TBC).

RLIS: What is next for Dane Campbell in terms of new projects?

DC: I have just launched a venture called International Rugby League Academy, which is based on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. The Academy is designed to provide players from all around the world to come to Australia for a 6-week high intensity training camp. The Academy will utilise current NRL training methods and the long term goal of the Academy is to see players be given further opportunities within rugby league in Australia, whether that be NRL, QLD Cup, NSW Cup or even just in regional 1st Grade competitions. After the experience of training at the Academy and then spending time with a club in Australia, I feel that will enhance the overall playing ability/depth of that players national side. Already I have fielded requests from players in USA, Canada, Jamaica, Vanuatu, Fiji, PNG, Scotland and Ireland that are interested in attending the Academy program. There will be 3 semesters (of 6-weeks) in total during 2013, with the vision to expand to 4-5 semesters in 2014. On the international front, the Hurricanes will launch our program in 2013, with announcements to come shortly on how things will progress there and Vanuatu will have another busy year with a regional tour of Queensland (Australia) and an end of season game in Port Vila. I have been approached by 2 other new nations that wish to start the game and time permitting, I will also assist in the formation of those countries (more on that over the coming months).

RLIS: Back to Jamaica, there seems to be lots of movement in the USA with the AMNRL and USARL. The Hurricanes want to play in the USA comps at some point any idea where they will go and what they are looking at doing in the future?

DC: We played one game in 2012 against DC Slayers in Kingston to test whether we could match it with the teams in the USA and I think we showed to the leagues in the US and also to ourselves that we can be competitive in the USA. That being said, we need to be cautious as to funding and not overcommitting and straining out limited budget. I would like to think that in 2013 we will see the Hurricanes playing as a Development team in one of the comps, with a decision on which comp that might be to be finalised by the end of 2012.


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