Standing United on historic eve
NORTHERN United coach Chris Binge stands proudly at Goonellabah's Clifford Park as his side prepares for tomorrow's Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League grand final at Maclean.
Mr Binge and United should be proud.
In the Dirawongs' very first season in the NRRRL they have reached the decider with many hoping the Lismore-based club will have their Cinderella story and claim the premiership.
But the ease with which the team has dispatched most opponents this year belies the struggle the predominantly Aboriginal club has faced, and continues to face.
They were denied entry into the NRRRL twice by decision makers wary of allowing a predominantly Aboriginal club with little history into an already unstable competition that included teams from the Tweed to the Clarence rivers.
On their third attempt, the Dirawongs were allowed in, but that was only half the battle.
This year they have had to prove themselves off the field, perhaps more so than on.
Crowd problems has been an issue that has followed Aboriginal clubs, such as the Moree Boomerangs and the Gimbisi Warriors in neighbouring leagues, and has seen them expelled from their competitions.
It's an unfair legacy Northern United has been forced to face head-on.
“From our point of view we give credit to teams like the Moree Boomerangs and the Narwon Eels. They were the initial indigenous sides in CRL (Country Rugby League) competitions,” Mr Binge said.
“They've had their bad times but we learned a hell of a lot from that sort of stuff.
“From the very start we put in place a player, supporter and director code of conduct that went across the whole club.
“It was a code that we could actually stand our ground on and say we don't tolerate that sort of behaviour or condone inappropriate behaviour that's going to bring our club into disrepute.
“The other big thing has been our home games. I think we may be the only club across Country NSW and Queensland that doesn't sell alcohol at their home games.”
Mr Binge said he felt United had to be better behaved than other clubs in the NRRRL, to prove the naysayers and the cynics wrong.
“To be honest yes. It's an old adage that we've got, not just as a club but as individuals, we don't have to be just as good, we have to try to be better,” he said.
“People will probably say that's a bit tough, but from our point of view it's something that just drives people like myself and the players and the committee to forge what we've done this year.
“Making the grand final is a great achievement, but we don't want to be one-year wonders.”
Northern United started as a specific Northern Rivers team to contest the annual NSW Aboriginal Knockout.
Since then it has become a successful mainstream club welcoming anyone who wants to play rugby league, but Mr Binge says the club does not want to stop there.
“We want to take it a step further. This year was about rugby league but in the future we want to be bigger than that,” he said.
“We want to branch out into other sports and we want to be seen as a sporting club. Next year we are hoping to start netball ... and then maybe venture into cricket and maybe soccer. People may say we are dreaming a bit big, but at the end of the day if you don't dream big you don't achieve anything.”