OLDHAM St Annes have their sights set on heading down – not in the league but down under with a trip to Australia.
And a fundraising effort is on to gather tens of thousands of pounds to enable a side to head out in the summer. The Higginshaw Lane side played host to the Under-15s and U18s from the Kincumber Colts club, which is based in the Central Coast area of New South Wales about 50 miles north of Sydney.
Now after playing them on these shores, St Annes want to face them on their home turf in September – with the added bonus of a trip to next year’s NRL Grand Final.
However, sending what would be their U16s out to the other side of the world comes at a cost – about £24,000 – and a Just Giving page has been launched.
Kincumber’s side also faced amateur clubs Hensingham and Leigh Miners during their trip, which came through a local connection.
For their coach Michael Deakin is part of the Oldham-based Deakin family that is synonymous with rugby league and is good friends with Oldham St Annes’ age group coach Michael Martindale.
Kelly Henshaw from the club revealed the huge task in front of them to meet the travel costs for 20-22 players and how uncertainty over Brexit is affecting their sponsorship hopes.
She also told how the match against Kincumber turned into a game against each other – as players from both sides combined.
Kelly said: “Both of them have found themselves coaching the same age group and the connection meant Kincumber came over.
“And the game was one of the best I’ve been to, it was absolutely fantastic. After the first half, the two sides combined, so you had St Annes and Kincumber team-mates facing each other.
“The referee said it was one of the best he had taken charge of – after all, when they were up against their mates, there was hardly likely to be any misbehaviour!
“It was hilarious. Parents and the lads themselves loved it. Even though there was technically a winner, there wasn’t really.”
Now Kincumber have headed home, an arrangement has been made for St Annes – who have three players appearing a year above as there are not enough players of the right age group to fulfil an U15s side next year – to travel to New South Wales.
Another game against a side in Port Macquarie has also been committed to as it will be the end of the Australian kids’ season and officials at Kincumber have already said the group will be able to watch the showpiece that decides the champions down under.
Now there is the task of meeting the bill to get them out there and Kelly revealed there are some obstacles that seem completely related to rugby league.
She added: “The plan is to head out there in September and at the moment there’s two matches scheduled, one against Kincumber and one in Port Macquarie.
“However, it all depends on fundraising – we think with all the travel, accommodation, transport and food for the lads alone – excluding the coaches – it will cost about £24,000.
“We’ve raised about £7,000 at the moment and have asked all the parents to put in a £500 bond to put towards it.
“However, whenever we’ve approached businesses about sponsorship, they’ve all said they cannot commit to anything because of Brexit!
“People do not know what is going on, especially in industries like construction, so they are not able to put any money in.
“We’ve also set up a Just Giving page if people want to donate.
“Events like bag packs at supermarkets right the way from Openshaw to Shaw have also gone down very well.
“For lads that are U15s, doing things like that can be quite embarrassing but they’ve turned up in kits and looked smart and all the shops we’ve been at have said how good the lads have been. Their customers have too!
“These lads love the game and if they do get the chance to play the Aussies in their own backyard you can guarantee they will be extremely proud to be representing not only the club but also Oldham.”
St Annes also have a number of events in the new year as they try to meet their target.
The first is a comedy night on January 10 while it will host an afternoon tea on Mother’s Day in March and a gala dinner in May.
• If you are interested in helping Oldham St Annes meet their fundraising target, email Kelly at email@example.com
You can donate online by visiting: www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/st-annes-u15s