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My first rugby league: Andrew Charles

11 Jul 20, 4:34PM 0 Comments

Written by Stuart McLennan

Andrew Charles says his mates call him ‘Everywhere Man’ because of his travel obsession. ‘Everything Rugby League’ might also be an apt description of his life. You name it and Charlesy has probably done it. His rugby league CV is frankly exhausting.

After playing the majority of his rugby league at inner Sydney club Alexa Rovers, where he is a life member, Charles served on the club committee as President and Treasurer.

After reading Jack Gibson’s book “Winning Starts On Monday” he began a long and distinguished coaching career that saw him coach men’s and women’s sides in Australia and around the world in developing rugby league countries, spreading the word wherever he landed.

His Australian coaching resume includes the Alexandria Rovers, the South Sydney Women’s rugby league team, the Illawarra Women’s representative team, Assistant Coach with the Australian Jillaroos, South Sydney Men’s junior representative teams, Head Coach of the South West Sydney Academy of Sport Rugby League Program, two stints at the Australian Institute of Sport as a Coaching Observer and the Central Coast Centurions in SG Ball.

Some of the names he has had the pleasure of mentoring include Julie McGuffie, Tarsha Gale, Natalie Dwyer, Katrina Fanning and Veronica White in the women’s teams, while Trent Merrin and the Saifiti brothers are just a few of the boys Charles coached on their journeys to the elite level. .

After taking a break from coaching to indulge his love of travel, Charles worked for a Phillipines sports newspaper writing about the NRL. It was while covering the Philippines side in the Cabramatta 9s tournament that he hit on the idea of bringing Asian nations together to play internationals and consequently set about pioneering rugby league development in Thailand.

Andrew Charles Thailand rugby league

In 2012, Thailand and Philippines played their first ever internationals. The game had an NRL flavour with the Gold Coast Titans’ Kevin Gordon and Matt Srama representing Philippines. NRL officials Gavin and Kasey Badger refereed the game. Charles continued to put his heart and soul into coaching and development in Thailand before disputes between parties over control of the game reduced his enjoyment factor.

A conversation with Latin Heat Founder, and fellow ‘My First Rugby League’ subject, Robert Burgin, led to Charles coaching Peru in the Latino 9s tournament in 2016. From there he coached the NSW team in the Latino Origin game, refereed his first international match Chile vs Brazil in Chile, coached the Chile team in their World Cup qualifier against the USA in Jacksonville and officiated at the Latin American Championships leading to him writing a recommendation that Brasil be considered for a place in the 2021 Women’s Rugby League World Cup. To top off the trip the ‘Everywhere Man’ travelled to Toronto in Canada to coach the Latin Heat 9’s team in the Americas 9’s tournament.

Charles is quick to point out the COVID-19 is the only thing that has prevented him continuing his travelling rugby league development activities in 2020.

Andrew Charles with steeden in Thailand

First time I saw rugby league

Growing up I lived across the road from Redfern Oval. I remember my Dad putting me on his shoulders. I would have been four or five and we snuck in to watch the second half of Souths playing Wests in the rain. All I can remember is the huge crowd and the one armed man selling peanuts!

First time I played rugby league

My first game was for Zetland Magpies in 1977 in the “nappy” grade. I did not know at the time but we had a couple of handy players in that team in Terry Hill and Brett Mullins. I live in Zetland today and still have a beer with my first coach Neil Lewis on a Friday night at the local pub. He still sells raffle tickets!

First team followed

I am originally a Balmain supporter. It is all my mother’s fault as she grew up in the Rocks and we went to all the Sydney suburban grounds to watch the Tigers. Leichhardt Oval is a treasured place for me. This despite growing up in Redfern with all my Souths mates, hanging around Redfern Oval on game days and even coaching Souths in the Junior Reps. I have stuck solid with the Tigers but truth is I have a huge soft spot for Souths too but I just don’t make it known as I love the banter with the boys!

Andrew Charles rugby league

First player of any era I would pick in my dream team

Arthur Beetson. A brilliant player and true leader just look what he did for State of Origin. He was also the first ever Indigenous captain of Australia in any sport. I also love the King. Wally Lewis would be there also.

First non Tier 1 country I would you like to see win the World Cup

Papua New Guinea as Rugby League is their national sport and they love it! Their people would definitely appreciate it the most. It could happen. I saw Sri Lanka win a cricket World Cup from nowhere.

First thing I would change in rugby league

The rules and positions of the game at junior and development level. I believe the game can become more safer and inclusive if some rules are tinkered, as they are outdated. The brutal way the NRL is played these days it cannot be sustained through the grades. Keep this for the elite athletes of our game and make it safer and fun for people who just want to play. Legs tackling opposed to wrestling and more passing of the ball. I know some fans of our game would not support this but I am prepared to at least try new things that will encourage more participation and I am actually planning on staging an invitational mini tournament to get feedback. This has been stopped by Covid-19 but hoping to stage it next year. I truly believe Rugby League is on its journey to become the dominant form of Rugby.

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