It was late in 1967 that Gordon Simmons had an idea that would leave a lasting impression on Nelson Bay’s football scene.
One of the founding members of Fingal Beach Surf Life Saving Club, Simmons wanted to maintain the interest of nipper boys in the off season.
And so he founded the Nelson Bay Junior Rugby Union Club, which on Saturday will celebrate its 50th anniversary.
“I’m quite proud to be part of this club,” current president Dion Cooper said.
“The culture within the club is high, and it’s positive.”
Two-hundred juniors, from under-8 to under-17s, are playing with the Gropers this year.
Additionally, 30 Gropers also play in representative teams.
Jason Allwood, 16, from Salamander Bay, is one of the club’s standout players.
He has played NSW Country representative football, and is currently in the NSW Combined High Schools, Hunter Wildfires and Hunter Combined teams.
He was one of four Port Stephens rugby union players picked to tour to South Africa earlier this year.
In addition to healthy numbers, the Gropers are also competitive.
In 2016, the club saw eight teams in the semi-finals of the Hunter Junior Rugby Union competition. Its under-10 and under-16 boys teams won their grand-finals.
While it is strong today, the Gropers experienced a slump in 1993 and stopped fielding teams until 1998 when John Killalea, a life member, and Gavin Rocher started up the Walla program.
This program, which teaches the under-6 and 7 age groups the foundations of rugby, is still going strong today.
“It provides a pathway for juniors,” Cooper said of the program.
“Kids learn the basics like how to get tackled, passing… Walla promotes the game.
“Parents can see how we operate as a club, how we treat their kids and how much fun they have playing rugby.”
Another recruitment method the Gropers have is hosting a Port Stephens primary schools competition in term three.
Killalea puts up a $1000 prize to the winning school. In 2016, eight Port schools – from Raymond Terrace, to Medowie and around the Bay – took part.
Saturday, June 17 is a club day. All 10 teams will play at home (Tomaree Oval).
Games run 9am to 5.30pm. At 6.30pm, the celebrations will move into the clubhouse.