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Albury lawyer and 1983 Rothmans Medal winner MIKE EDEN played a pivotal role in bringing his favourite sport to AFL heartlandfor a match for NRL competition points today between one of his former clubs , manly and Canberra, at Lavington Oval. DAVID JOHNSTON caught up with him on the even of this historic match.
It is less than 24 hours before the first NRL match for competition points in Albury. How are you feeling?
I am nervous, stressed, but happy and exhilarated at the same time.
Did you ever think it was possible?
After the City-Country game a few years ago I made it my mission to have a game here.
I was very lucky Kevin Mack became mayor and he came with me and knocked on doors at Penrith, the Roosters and Bulldogs to see if they would come down and play a game.
Luckily (Manly chief executive) Joe Kelly had the foresight to see there was an opportunity.
Albury Council, as a whole, has got right behind it along with the Commercial Club and Thunder.
What will make this game a success in your eyes?
I think it is already a success because we’ve got Albury on the map.
NRL is Sydney-centric, like the AFL is Melbourne-centric.
But Sydney knows where we are, knows we can put on an event and if you come here you will be well looked after.
I’ve said I would be embarrassed if we can’t get a crowd bigger than a bush footy grand final.
People are telling me a success will be 8000 people, a great day will be 10,000, but I am hoping for 12,000.
What sort of shape is rugby league in locally?
It is infinitely in better shape than when I arrived five years ago.
In 2008 there were 38 registered senior players, we have now got Albury Thunder three-time premiership winners, we’ve got the Murray Cup (played between Wodonga, Corowa, West Albury and CSU), we’ve got healthy numbers of under-16, under-18 and reserve grade players.
It is a growth industry and council understands we don’t have enough playing fields to accommodate the teams we’ve got now and into future.
Where are the kids playing at junior level locally coming from?
West Albury and Thurgoona are huge growth areas and from under-11s up we are getting all the dropouts from other sports.
They want to play our game because it is cool to play an alternate sport which is what we are in Albury.
Statistically it is safer than the other two big codes, soccer and AFL.
C’mon. You are pulling my leg on that one.
The rules are very much focused on protecting the head and most of the kids wear protective head gear and don’t get the injuries.
The referees are also very vigilant and our coaches are good too.
Because our game is an alternate we are not at the stage where they are playing for sheepstations.
We like to win because we are in the Wagga comp — Group 9 — and we don’t like people up there and they don’t like us even more.
But we are growing and winning which is a great combination.
We also have a ‘no school or no work and no play’ policy. If you don’t go to school or have a job, you don’t play.
Is a local presence in the NSW Cup competition idea dead and buried?
I am still working on it and spoke to Todd
Greenberg and Andrew Hill from the NRL this week about it.
They are looking seriously at a scenario where a team has a region to look after.
We didn’t quite have the business plan Melbourne Storm wanted us to have to satisfy them.
But (Thunder president) Rick OÇonnell and I have done the numbers and our budget at Thunder is $350,000 and believed we needed $450,000 to run two teams in the NSW Cup and Group 9.
We would have needed Melbourne Storm to provide a coach and other support personnel because we can’t do it as a standalone.
For those not familiar with NSW Cup where does it is sit in the code’s pecking order?
It is the VFL of NRL.
It is on the backburner, but I am very passionate about it.
You played for Manly Sea Eagles? What was that like?
I got graded at 19 in 1979, played a few reserve grade games, had an appendix operation and missed the rest of season.
In 1980, I was a regular reserve grade player and played one first grade game.
I am a Manly junior, went to Manly Boys High, had to make a choice between soccer and rugby league at 17.
1981 was my breakthrough year and 1982 I played 20 first grade games, but got dropped for the semi-final.
I was on $3000 a year and the Roosters offered me $25,000 plus a car.
So you left Manly?
I was just married, at university and the idea of a brand new Ford Falcon was appealing.
It was an awful army green colour, but it was an added bonus.
I was happy to stay at Manly on half what the Roosters offered me.
My ambition was to play forever at Manly, but the incoming coach in 1983, Bob Fulton, didn’t want me.
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