Character building exercises don’t come much tougher than the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea, especially if you’re only in your early teens. But that’s exactly where young men from the Young Guns Development Academy found themselves this month, alongside Rabbitohs Head Coach Michael Maguire.
Famed for its intensely rugged terrain, rapidly changing weather conditions and the risk of disease, the Kokoda trail was the site of hostilities between Japanese and Australian forces during World War II, and has become an important link between Australia and Papua New Guinea. For all these reasons and more, completing the trek – before playing a rugby league match against the ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’ – was a challenge that the Young Guns Development Academy (YGDA) was keen to undertake.
Founded to enhance the development and skill-set of young men between the ages of 12 and 16, the YGDA introduces its participants to opportunities which may be out of their assumed reach and assists them on their journey to becoming the athlete they desire to be, with a focus on individual needs and requirements and constant feedback for development and growth.
Maguire was there to complete the trek alongside Assistant Coach, Wayne Collins, Development Coach, Matt King and the group of determined young players. Maguire praised the man behind the concept – Rabbitohs under 16’s coach Jason Peterson – as he explained the experience to Rabbitohs.com.au.
“Jason Peterson, our under 16’s coach, put a group together over some time,” said Maguire.
“It was about two years where he’d spend some time with young kids learning how to train and just life skills – basically everyday living – and I think his concept has grown into a squad of about 20 kids plus.
“From there they decided why not pitch together and head over to Papua New Guinea and walk the Kokoda Trail.
“I think there were nine of us that did the full trek and from there, the kids came over halfway through and they walked into the bush and had a great reception when we all met together – it was quite a great moment.”
The Rabbitohs mentor admitted to being tested both physically and mentally during the course of the trek, citing that the history behind his surroundings helped to spur him and his group forward.
“It’s a big eye-opener – it’s a great experience,” admitted Madge.
“You’re spending hours where you’re maybe on your own or with the group walking through the bush. You’re either coming up for two hours, or coming down for two hours. So there’s a lot of stress on the body and there’s a lot of thoughts going through your head – ‘why am I doing this’.
“But once you actually get the story of what Kokoda is all about and how the Australians had to join up with the Papua New Guineans in the War against Japan – it’s an amazing story.
“If you actually understand the surroundings they were in – it’s quite remarkable what the Australian and the Papua New Guinean people did to win back their land. The story pretty well added that it was quite easy in comparison to what went on in the early 40’s.”
The trip was highlighted by a rugby league match that saw locals trek from all over the area by foot to get their fill of footy.
“They came over from far and wide – the Papua New Guineans,” said Madge.
“I think some of them walked for two or three hours just to come and watch a game of rugby league.
“It (the ground) was surrounded by a lot of hill district and they were walking over the hills to come and watch this game of rugby league and the cheering of about two and half to three thousand people put a lot of noise around the place.
“It was very special for these young kids who have spent a lot of time just working hard three mornings a week, getting up, training and doing the things they’re doing.”
Donate by visiting: ygda.com.au/foundation
Or call: 0418 268 973