Weald Warriors spread Rugby League gospel
A former London Skolar with a desire to end his playing days in his favourite sport is the driving force behind a new club on the Kent/Sussex border.
But in forming the Weald Warriors, Wigan-born Anthony Bennett's personal ambitions come secondary to his desire to spread the gospel of Rugby League.
Together with a number of like-minded souls - Tom Phillips, Haydon Westerby, Max Currums and Alex Nicholson - Anthony, who played for England Students and Barrow as well as Skolars, is a man on a mission. A born and bred Wiganer, Rugby League is in his blood.
Anthony Bennett said: "At 36, I feel I have one or two seasons left in me and I want those last matches to be in the game that I care about passionately.
"But the motivation is not just a selfish one. Establishing a legacy is very much at the heart and soul of the plan."
Having been involved in the Student RL and at the Skolars in the late 1990s and early 2000's, he became imbued with the pioneering spirit. Anthony, who works for HSBC in Canary Wharf, saw an opportunity when he moved from London to Tunbridge Wells at the start of the year.
The Warriors intend to tap into the local rugby union player base and Anthony has been encouraged by the response he's had so far. "Locally, the reaction amongst the rugby union teams has been positive.
“There are the obvious benefits of keeping their clubhouse bar ticking over through the summer, plus keeping their players match sharp.
"Interestingly, the breaking down of old barriers has led to local rugby union coaches acknowledging the impact Rugby League coaches are having on their game. They are interested in Rugby League coaching badges.
"Ultimately, we are confident that our set up can encourage senior players and juniors to take up Rugby League as their primary sport. A common theme amongst the union players signing up has been that they want the opportunity for a faster game with more running rugby and more ball in hand."
The fledgling club has made great use of online resources to spread the word and has been encouraged by the reaction of Rugby League fans, players and ex-players from all over the country.
Anthony continued: "Our message was re-tweeted to an audience of over 200,000 people by the likes of Jamie Peacock, Martin Offiah, Martyn Sadler, Dave Woods, George Riley, Mark Riddell, Willie Mason and even managing to catch Garry Schofield in a good mood.
“Other amateur clubs with a presence online have also been helping spread the word."
The Warriors are also keen to acknowledge the generosity of other South East clubs, notably Medway Dragons and Sussex Merlins, who helped with coaching over recent weeks.
The club is looking to draw in more fellow pioneers - and recently Alex Nicholson, a co-founder of the Northampton Demons team, joined as coaching co-ordinator.
Tom Phillips, an ex-Nottingham Outlaws RL and Student RL player, said: "I teach at a grammar school in Tonbridge and am interested in seeing the students benefit from the skills and development the game can bring."
New Zealander Haydon Westerby, is a full time youth development officer for the RFU, and is involved in the club in his spare time. "I have been genuinely impressed by the support from the RFL development team itself, in providing direction, funding advice and practical coaching support. It is second to none.
"It is that commitment to the expansion of the game at a grassroots level, beyond simply the enthusiasm of Rugby League fans that stands as testimony to the success of the expansion beyond the traditional heartlands."
The Weald is an area between the North and South Downs and the brand was chosen because it represents both the Kent and Sussex area that the club are looking to establish the game in.
They also plan to set up juniors clubs in Heathfield and Crowborough next year who will play under the Warriors banner.
A girls’ side, based in Tonbridge, under the West Kent Warriors name, has already been set up with the boys side planned for 2013.
The club will alternate playing home games at Heathfield & Waldron RFC in East Sussex, and in Kent (Tunbridge Wells RFC) to maximise the footprint while retaining an identifiable regional presence. Weald Warriors intend to run an open age team in the Merit League in 2012.
Player recruitment days and initial training sessions will be held at Heathfield & Waldron RFC and at Tunbridge Wells RFC.
5th May first player registration and training, at HW RFC
8th May training at HWRFC.
12th May 2nd player registration and training, at Tunbridge Wells RFC
16th May training at TWRFC.
19th May Trials games at TWRFC.
26th May first competitive fixture.
Training every Wednesday with matches each Saturday (both alternating between HWRFC or TWRFC, which are 15 minutes away from each other)
Pitchero website: weald warriors rlfc