Brisbane Hustlers: The Road to The Bingham Cup
As they prepare to compete in the international Bingham Cup for the first time, Andrew Shaw catches up with Jon Blunt and Darren Hegarty from the Brisbane Hustlers Rugby Union Football Club.
Jon Blunt has been captain of the Hustlers since 2012, when the rugby union club reformed after a five-year break. But he’s been playing union for some 20 years: at school, then in Brisbane premier club Sunnybank, and he represented Western Australia in the Under 19s, 20s and 21s.
“Rugby is something I found I was good at at an early age and I’ve made some fantastic friends and seen a bit of the world with it, too,” he says. He believes being chosen as captain comes down to having the respect of the team, the coach, being able to motivate and communicate strategy on the field. It’s about being a conduit between team management and individual players.
“If people have a concern or a problem they’ll come to me and I can manage that,” Blunt says. “As a captain, you want to know that each individual player is working hard and is improving and contributing to the team. But it’s also important to understand some of the challenges the guys are facing, because it is a different sporting team to your more traditional clubs.”
After winning the Purchas Cup, the national gay rugby competition, in March, the Hustlers played each week in the suburban Brisbane Club Rugby competition. Despite showing dogged determination each week, a win eluded them. Then recently, in Round 17, they beat the University of Queensland 18 - 12, a win Blunt says is a mental boost.
“We’ve been training a long time and we’d stepped up in the competition compared to past year. The guys were getting to that point where there were two games to go and we hadn’t had a win. Most other teams would have thrown in the towel and given up, but the Hustlers have stayed positive and chalked up a win. Moving into the Bingham Cup, it’s a great boost. The guys can see that hard work has paid off.”
Blunt says the community has shown “great support” for the team over the last couple of years. There was a fundraising screener of The Rugby Player, about the life of Mark Bingham, a trivia night, and there’s the upcoming Rugger Bugger, a night of fun and mayhem at sponsors The Beat Megaclub on August 16.
Blunt says the team is an extension of his family: “You’re training and playing three times in the week, plus extracurricular activities such as fundraising,” he says. “You start to develop a strong bond, and that’s what’s been great about rugby all my life.”
Blunt says anyone keen on having a go should come to training; newcomers’ skills are assessed and training sessions devised so that each man gets a chance to develop at the right pace.
Naturally, he wants the Hustlers to win the Bingham Cup, but Blunt says it would be good to match up with the Sydney Convicts in the final. “If that doesn’t fall our way, I hear the London Steelers are quite strong as well, so I think it would be between the Convicts and the Steelers.”
Like Blunt, Coach Darren Hegarty has been playing union since his school days, preferring it to other codes. “It’s a much more social environment, a more friendly game, if you like, as a non-professional sport. In rugby union you can be hardcore and physical on the field, but you walk off and have a drink with your opposition. That didn’t happen as much in other codes, at least not back in my day.”
Hegarty says the Hustlers, as a gay and inclusive club, includes men who may not have played union as kids and that has its challenges. “If you haven’t had a chance to play and learn the game through your adolescence, then you’re learning from scratch,” he says. “So we have about 50 per cent of players who have experience and 50 per cent haven’t, so we’re teaching a lot of people how to play.”
Anyone can join the club, Hegarty adds, but you need to be physically fit, or willing to get fit over the course of the year. “We had a number of guys who started the year well and truly out of shape and one guy lost nearly 30 kilos. There are a few stories like that, where people have committed themselves to gaining muscle and what-not to play in the position they need to play. We’ve everything from young guys who are small and quick, to older guys who have seen better days and want to have a run around.”
The team trains Monday and Wednesday nights and plays every Saturday. The Brisbane competition season is 18 weeks long and pre-season training starts about 12 weeks before that.
Being a gay and inclusive club, Hegarty says when the Hustlers step on the field the opposition is looking to see how they compete, how physical they are. “But that’s par for the course,” he says, “and this year we haven’t had any issues at all. We’ve always been invited to have the traditional after game drink, and within the competition itself we hold our own. You’ve got to be mentally tough as well as physically strong. A mentally tough small guy will walk over a soft bigger guy any day.”
This being the first time the Hustlers have competed in the Bingham Cup, Hegarty says he doesn’t know what to expect. “But we’ve played across the whole of this year and obviously we played against Sydney and Melbourne earlier this year. We’ll certainly be competitive, knowing that Sydney’s won the competition before. We just need to turn up and put it all on the field over those three days to come away with it.”
If you are interested in getting involved with the Brisbane Hustlers visit brisbanehustlers.org or call Jon Blunt on 0412 483 998.
IMAGE: Hustlers Captain John Blunt and Coach Darren Hegarty.