Bond University Colts head coach, Brenden Jones, centre, with two of the successful graduates of the Pathway to Premier Program, Nate Searle, left, and Jim Nicholls. Both Searle and Nicholls were this year selected in the Qld Under 20 team. PICTURE: Cavan Flynn
By Pat McLeod
The rugby pathway that Brenden Jones was instrumental in building five years ago has already blossomed into a busy thoroughfare.
“More than 50 per cent of our current Colts players have graduated through that program,” says Jones, who heads the university’s Colts rugby program and is also in charge of sports recruiting at Bond.
“But the success spreads much wider than that. This first crop is also spread through not only the Bond Rugby Club, but also the local Gold Coast competition. And through the Bond engagement many are now well on their way to achieving their career academic goals as well.”
The ‘pathway’ that Jones is so proud of is the Bond University Pathway to Premier Program (P2P), that is up-skilling local rugby union players to a level where they can reach their sporting goals.
Jones was brought on board to head the program when it was instigated in 2016. Since then it has become one of Bond Rugby Club’s significant success stories.
“It began five hears ago when the then head coach Sean Hedger and a group of parents identified that there was a big gap in the skill base between rugby players who came through the system at The Southport School compared with some outside that system,” he said.
“TSS are part of the elite level GPS system and have a great coaching program. What P2P offers is a high-end rugby infrastructure to those players outside of the GPS system. Of course many of the APS schools on the Gold Coast do boast very good coaches, but P2P supplements their short rugby season with an additional skills program.”
So, the Pathway to Premier Program was instigated. Players in the 15-17-year-old age bracket are identified and/or invited to take part in an initial two-day camp at Bond’s High Performance Centre, which can then lead to long-term place in the program.
The end result is players with far greater skills playing rugby through the Bond Colts and then grade system or returning to play with their local clubs.
“Although we actively identify players throughout the Gold Coast, the program is open to anyone,” said Jones.
“We are about to call for players to be part of our camp from September 30 to October 1. Any player is eligible to take part and we have had up to 50 players at this camp in the past.”
Players are assessed and then invited to take part in an eight-week program.
That program, conducted at the Bond High Performance Centre, works on core rugby skills - the catch and pass, running lines, the breakdown, tackling. There is also a focus on strength and conditioning and fitness.
“Many sessions are run by Bond’s senior and Colts players. So, the news players can see where they can get to, the end result,” says Jones.
“It is a mentoring program as well and allows our players to put back into local rugby.
“At the end of the eight weeks we identify the top 25 players and we invite them into the Bond Colts program and to come and do the pre-season with us.
“They do 16 weeks with us leading into the season proper. Some will play in Colts teams and those that don’t are encouraged to go back and play for their Under 18 team in the local Gold Coast competition. Throughout the year, some of those players are invited back into the Bond Colts because of injuries, etc.
“Through the eight-week program there is also coaching education where we invite local coaches to come along and upskill.”
Jones said key to the success of the Pathway To Premier Program was the financial backing by Gold Coast businessman Dan Stoten.
“Dan is someone who is very passionate about rugby and making the code better and stronger on the Gold Coast,” said Jones. “He is all about assisting players who, for whatever reason, haven’t had the opportunity to realise their rugby potential.
“His son Will, has come through the program.”
Jones said having a rugby program for young players under the umbrella of Bond university had numerous benefits.
“The players don’t have to be students at Bond,” he says. “However, when I am talking to parents about combining sport and academics I come from a knowledge base where we do that on a daily basis.
“Also, the Bond rugby club is similar to the Bond university. Neither are massive, but the right size to be able to concentrate on the individual.
“As head coach of Colts I get to develop relationships with these young players that are ongoing and it is not just about their rugby development, but getting the balance right outside of that, especially in regards to study and sport.
“We are lucky to have the Bond Elite Sport Program that looks after the educational program of our sporting cohort, which is headed by Hayley Martin.”
Jones said the ‘first wave’ of Pathway To Premier Program graduates were now proving its success, with those players flooding through the Bond Colts system and also making their way to premier grade.
“The program is already proven,” he said. “One of the major benefits that is now starting to emerge is just how wide-spread the flow-on effect of the program is.
“Not only are we seeing the benefits here at the Bond Rugby Club, but so many of the local rugby clubs now have better quality rugby players because of it.”
Players interested in taking part in this year’s Bond University Pathways to Premier Program can contact Brenden Jones at: [email protected]