"No one envisaged this" - that's what one of Mudgee Junior Rugby Union's 'founding fathers' said as he reflected on the club's humble beginnings.
On Saturday, June 25, Barry Slater joined the hundreds who celebrated a new era of the Mudgee Wombats, with the launch of the region's new home of rugby at the Glen Willow Regional Sporting Complex.
According to Mr Slater, those involved in the establishment of Mudgee junior rugby all those years ago would never have dreamed of its current success, with the juniors "as much responsible" for the new facility as their senior counterparts.
"If everything I did in my lifetime was blessed the way this thing is then I'd be a very happy man because this is just...no one envisaged this," he said.
"Junior rugby was as much responsible for having this facility as the seniors, without junior rugby the senior's wouldn't have got this. There's no question about that.
"Mudgee is blessed to have this. It is world class."
When it first began for juniors, there were only four teams who hailed from St Matthews Catholic School, Mudgee Public School, Mudgee High School and the Police Boy's Club, Mr Slater recalled.
Now in 2022, dozens and dozens of juniors from across the region don their red and navy kits to play rugby on winter weekends.
"We started Mudgee Junior Rugby, I think, in 1981. We had junior boys from under 10s through to under 16s," Mr Slater said.
"When I was in Gilgandra, I was involved with the rugby league there in 1973. We brought a bus load of boys over to Mudgee. The under 8s played at 10 o'clock, or whatever the time was, and they spent the rest of the day waiting for the under 16s. For the littlies, that was a huge day.
"We created Mudgee junior rugby for that reason - we didn't have to travel."
The lifetime Mudgee Rugby Union member said "the game has come along greatly" since his relocation to the area in 1979, when the club only had a reserve grade team.
"When we joined the Blowes Cup it was not successful for us because we were playing against Bathurst, Orange and Dubbo. For a population such as ours to be playing against big populations such as theirs, it was very unbalanced. Now, it's far more equal," Mr Slater said.
"Rugby is a game where your teammates become friends for life. That is something magical about the game of rugby union, it makes good people."
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