There’s a new wave of Canberra Raiders to support, but these players are also some of the Raiders’ biggest fans.
Meet the Score Raiders, a team of rugby league players with a disability, but also the ability to build awareness of the importance of inclusiveness, tolerance and respect.
The Score Raiders was established by Eilish Winbank, the sport and recreation officer with The Disability Trust, an organisation that provides professional care and support to people with disabilities and their families in the ACT and NSW.
Eilish also played for the Yass Magpies in the grand final of the Katrina Fanning Shield on Saturday, where they defeated the Valley Dragons by 18-8.
Eilish saw the success of the St George Illawarra Dragons’ Score program that’s been run in the Illawarra region for more than 10 years. The Score Dragons program was the 2015 NRL Community Program of the Year.
“We approached the Canberra Raiders and they’ve been completely on board with their support and organising games,” Eilish told Region Media.
She said a few of the Raiders’ U20s players took the time to help out with training and word soon spread about how much fun it was to be part of the Score Raiders’ training.
Word also spread quickly about the Score Raiders. From an initial group of just three, there are now 19 players.
On 1 September, the Score Raiders had their first game against the Score Dragons at the Sydney Cricket Ground. (For the record, the Raiders won 16-12.)
“The value of the program has been remarkable and we’ve grown in leaps and bounds, which is great to see,” said Eilish.
“That first game was so exciting for everyone and to have it at the SCG was really exciting. They got their names announced and got videos on the big screen.
“It had been a long wait for them as they’d been training for a few months. They were always asking ‘when is our game’, so it was exciting to finally get on the field.”
For the players, that first game was an opportunity to connect and play the game they all share a passion for.
“It’s awesome for them to be part of a team like the Score Raiders,” says Eilish.
“A lot of them haven’t had the opportunity to play a team sport. They have so much support around them with family and friends, and now supporters of the Raiders have found out about them and are wanting to see them play, so they have massive support behind them now which is really exciting.
“They’re all massive Raiders fans, too.”
The rules for Score games are very similar to those in the NRL, except for a couple of modifications. Teams play a six-tackle game for two 15-minute halves. The only modification is that games are two-handed touch instead of tackling and a staff member from The Disability Trust is on the field at all times to assist the players.
Canberra Region Rugby League (CRRL) CEO Mark Vergano said many of the Score Raiders are also a part of the Canberra Raiders’ Super Squad on match days.
“The Score Raiders are an integral part of Canberra Region Rugby League and the Raiders in helping to bring us together as one organisation,” Mark said.
“Rugby league is now, more than ever, a game of inclusion and this program gives access to people with a disability who we know want to be part of our great game.
“We’re also looking at putting a wheelchair rugby league team in the Sydney-based competition, so inclusivity at those levels is really important for us as it makes for a better society and brings people closer to our game too.”
Mark said CRRL is looking to integrate the Score Raiders into the junior rugby league competition so they can play more frequently.
“Our aim is to get the team into a competition that plays every week, which is what the Score Dragons are now doing, so we will continue to work hard to make sure that happens,” he said.
Meanwhile, you can be sure that when the Viking clap sounds at the next Canberra Raiders game, a group of players will be doing their bit to add to the score.