Starting a sports club from scratch is a hard enough task but what about becoming the best community club in the country?
That was exactly the goal set by the Southern Highlands Storm when they formed in late 2019 as a merger between the Moss Vale Dragons and Bowral Kookaburras. This year also saw the Robertson Spuddies join their junior ranks.
Director of junior football David Whetton said not focusing too much energy towards results is crucial to the club's pursuit of their hefty goal.
"We want to be the ultimate community rugby league club in Australia," Whetton told the Southern Highland News.
"If that means we just let the kids play for the sake of playing then that's just another element of what we do."
But how does a club find their place in a community that seems to be in a state of constant flux?
The times, they are a-changin'
Anyone who has lived in the Southern Highlands over the past decade will have seen monumental changes afoot.
While always a popular tree change for young families and retirees, coronavirus has seen a wide variety of people flock to call the region home.
It's into this rapidly changing environment the Storm were not only born but want to thrive in.
"Anyone who drives through Bowral and Moss Vale these days compared to five years ago will notice that there's more traffic," Whetton said.
"When we have more Sydney people come down to the Highlands it sometimes takes them a little while to acclimatise to weather but also to the slightly slower pace of life and some of the country values that we espouse here."
That shifting demographic might not be to everyone's tastes but Whetton sees it as an asset to a sport that traditionally embraces a wide variety of people.
"That change we see as a positive because new people bring fresh ideas and perspectives," he said.
"We harness that and use it for the benefit of the children by having fantastic coaches, great managers and people with excellent communication and professional skills.
"Just on a personal level, one of the beauties of the Highlands Storm is that we have children whose parents come from all walks of life, self-employed tradies to labourers to doctors and lawyers.
"The whole spectrum of socio-economic society in the Highlands is captured in the Storm and the reason that's the case is because we looked at how we could bring together Bowral, Robertson, Moss Vale and surrounding areas. We have such diversity of people in one club and yet the commonality we all share is that we love the game of rugby league."
Culture, culture, culture
Rugby league and culture are often associated together in a negative sense but away from the spotlight of the professional game, clubs play an important role in local communities, especially rural ones.
Creating a culture at a new club in an environment that itself is rapidly changing has forced the Storm to ask themselves what they ultimately stand for.
"Culture takes time to develop," Whetton explained.
"If we're talking scientific culture it takes time and so too with community and social culture. Personal change, community change, the Highlands itself is changing, and we as a committee are very mindful of the fact that just because we set something up one way doesn't mean it will necessarily stay that way without continual refreshing, renewal and reminding."
After a good deal of thought, focusing their energies on creating a safe space for players and families off the field became a priority.
"After Friday Night Footy [FNF], which is an internal competition between our teams, at Loseby Park on a Friday afternoon our volunteers cook a sausage sizzle."
"Players and parents come up, grab a sausage sandwich and chat and get to know each other as fellow parents or grandparents. There's no stronger way of bringing people together than over a meal and that's something unique that we do.
"Every week we break bread, we have a sausage sizzle, it might not be five stars but gee it brings people together and I think all of those elements we have in place is what is contributing to such a happy club."
Only time will reveal how successful the Storm become but the emphasis on an off-field presence is a refreshingly different approach and one clubs all over the country could soon be adopting.
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