Originally published by SportsByte on January 17th 2014.
There are plans for the North East to become a thriving hub for the spectacular, hard-hitting sport that is Aussie Rules football.
The Tyne Tees Tigers, established in April 2012, are looking to launch feeder clubs across the region and a Wearside team is looking to form in March.
Taster sessions are being held in Newcastle this Saturday for both men and women looking to play the sport, with newcomers welcome.
Aussie Rules is played on rugby pitches in the UK and they use a 9-a-side format rather than the 18-a-side Australian game. The Wallabies will look for a base in Wearside for training and matches, with Ashbrooke a possibility.
The sport is said to incorporate elements from football and rugby, with players allowed to kick and throw the ball but only bounce the ball once. Full tackling is allowed above the knee and below the shoulders and, in the AFL 9s game, there are three forwards, three centres and three backs.
The Wearside Wallabies will incorporate Sunderland, Washington, Chester-Le-Street and Durham.
Shaun Bulmer, who is overseeing the formation of the Wallabies, told SportsByte: “The Wallabies is an extension of Tyne Tees Tigers, so rather than being opposition teams it’s more of an off-shoot.
“The idea is to keep the Tyne Tees Tigers as the regional team and underneath that start building up the league in the North East.”
Bulmer and Ian Baxter, who both decided to set-up the Tigers when they wanted to play Aussie Rules but had no teams around them, said that they would like to set up teams in Teesside, Tyneside, Cumbria and potentially Northumberland too.
“There’s so many different ways to play the game that you can be small, tall, fat, skinny,” said Baxter. “Unlike football, where a moment of individual brilliance can decide a game, Aussie Rules is genuinely a team sport.
“No-one can really do it off their own boot. It makes it more of a collective effort, and it brings in that need for different skills, different ways of playing the sport.
“For me it’s a sport with the all the pace and fluidity of the best football games, but it’s also got the physicality of a good rugby game.
“So if you think of it as taking the best elements of those sports and combining it together. Also, you’re always involved in the game, you’re never out of the game. It’s just great fun to play.”
Bulmer added: “You can be any shape, size, aggression level, whatever… you can still play the sport and there’s a role for everyone.”
The Tyne Tees Tigers will be joining the Central and Northern England league having gone from strength to strength in the last year.
It’s not the first time there has been an Aussie Rules league in the North East but, by around 2009, teams were struggling for players because there were too many teams in small areas – something which the Tigers are wary of.
“There’s quite a few barriers for getting a minority sport off the ground,” said Baxter. “And one of the main ones is participation numbers. You could get a few things together and get a group of guys down to come and train, and to play the sport and learn the sport. But then who do you play against?
“For us, our nearest teams are Leeds or Edinburgh. So the league we’re joining has Leeds, Huddersfield, Manchester, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Nottingham and Sheffield.
“So if you want to play a game, you’ve got to drive for two hours, play the game, drive two hours back, and that’s an extra commitment for people and a barrier that sometimes people aren’t prepared to cross, because takes away a whole day.
“We’re trying to create the opportunity for people to play locally, and develop those sides over a period of time, so that people don’t have to travel too much and can still play.”
The Aussie Rules taster session takes place Saturday January 18, at City Stadium, Shieldfield, NE2 1AQ. The men’s session starts at 12pm, and the women’s session starts at 1pm – with both sessions free to attend.