With First XV rugby players leaving school with managers and Shute Shield power clubs offering scholastic (and other) incentives to promising youngsters, Warringah Rats have created a foundation to keep local players local.

The Rats Rising Foundation will award an annual scholarship to a promising player to help with university entry and expenses associated with representative rugby.

That the first recipient will soon be off to train with Western Force Academy and do his schooling through Charles Sturt University in Bathurst matters not a jot.

Ned Slack-Smith will play for Warringah Colts in 2022.

“The strength of Sydney University is that they can offer university entry, scholarships, accommodation and other incentives,” Rats Director of Colts rugby Todd Marks says.

“Everyone’s doing it now. Randwick has aligned with University of NSW, Gordon with UTS.

“Everyone’s fighting for players out of school and rugby academies. They have managers straight out of first XV.

“We can’t match what other clubs offer. But we can provide a better standard of professionalism,” Marks says.

Marks says that Warringah is in discussion with two universities about “a long term alignment”.

They also have friends in high places.

“The Rats are extremely lucky to benefit from the long term support of the Friends of Warringah Foundation,” Marks says.

“This new foundation will work hand in hand with FOW.

“Together we will take rugby on the beaches to the next level.”

That Slack-Smith has taken up the scholarship is a feather in the club’s’ cap. The 18-year-old back-rower fielded offers from everywhere. He was in Australia schoolboys, Gen Blue, Barker first XV. He was part of Warringah’s U/16 side that won the state championship. He made CAS before it was canned.

Yet the scholarship is not about paying players such as Slack-Smith, according to Marks.  

“It’s not about handing over money. It’s not ‘pay’. The scholarship is for expenses – travelling to Moore Park or in Ned’s case WA.

“To keep them on the northern beaches we need to help them get to their representative duties.

“It’s about opportunities for the boys, in Colts and up into grade.

“It’s also about access to broader rugby opportunities – educational, vocational – as well as on the field,” Marks says.

The Rats are, of course, open to anyone who would like a game with the club. And given the close, “country” feel of the northern beaches, it’s still attractive to those from the bush who’d play rugby in the “Big Smoke”.

With the announcement of recently-retired club legends Josh Holmes and Boyd Killingworth as co-coaches with Newport Breakers man Ben Bayliss, Warringah has not had to actively recruit for this year’s Colts program.

Warringah Colts coaches (l-r) Josh Holmes, Ben Bayliss and Boyd Killingworth

“We’ve had approaches from South Australia, the bush, New Zealand,” Marks says.

“But priority is local boys first.

“Everything else is cream.

Warringah’s Colts are professionalising. There is a support structure of quality assistant coaches. Holmes and Killingworth have a large network and will be able to call on experts in scrummaging, defence, lineout, attack, even mental fitness.

The Colts will also have their own dedicated strength and conditioning trainers in John and Maurice Kennedy, twin brothers who own K Squared Fitness in North Narrabeen. The brothers will work hand in glove with club fitness chief Dan Tilley.

The Rats intentions in Colts are clear: provide a pathway. And win. Everything.

“We want to win all three grades,” Marks says. “It’s not about first grade winning, we want all three grades in the finals, competing, performing.

“From there if guys progress to grade, our work will be done. There’ll be a pathway.”

Gotcha 4 Life founder and Warringah Rats supporter Gus Worland will be hosting a mental fitness seminar with the Tomorrow Man program at the club on Wednesday before the club gets into pre-season training in early November.

Marks says the “atmosphere is awesome among the Colts.”

“It’s tribute to the coaching staff and to the esteem that young guys hold them in.

“They’d watched Josh and Boyd from the hill growing up; and now they can learn directly from those guys.

“They feel like they’re building.

“And anticipation is high,” Marks says.

For information about contributing to the Rats Rising Foundation, contact Warringah Rugby General Manager Greg Marr at [email protected]. Contributions to the foundation are tax deductible.