Footscray will send one of its most multicultural squads into battle in the Victorian Rugby Union this season.
The Bulldogs have long had overseas connections, with players from as far as New Zealand, Japan and England in recent seasons, but this off season they have added new players from Argentina, France and Italy.
First-year Bulldogs coach Tia Suemai could not be happier with the melting pot of nationalities joining the local contingent.
“It’s fantastic,” he said. “We want to be a club that’s diverse in background, diverse in colour.
“They love rugby … it’s a great sport to bring everyone together.
“Every training, we’ve been talking about one team, one culture.”
Suemai understands the demographics of the western suburbs.
As a development officer for the Melbourne Rebels, Suemai worked in schools and clubs in the west, gaining first-hand insights into what makes the region tick.
Suemai was born in New Zealand and has travelled abroad for rugby, so he knows how big a role a club can play in the life of a travelling worker or student.
“A couple of them are here for work, a couple of them study at Victoria University – they just live in the area and want to play rugby,” he said.
“There’s one or two that have a lot of potential to play in our first team.
“They just want to be part of that rugby culture and belong to a team because they don’t have much family around here. It’s a family club and they’re already feeling a part of that … it’s a credit to the boys for making everyone feel welcome.
“That’s what we want – whoever loves rugby, come down, train hard and we’ll support you.”
The start of season 2017 will pose stiff challenges for Footscray, with powerhouse clubs Melbourne Unicorns, the current Dewar Shield holders, and Harlequins, last year’s runners-up, on the schedule for the first two matches.
The good news for the Bulldogs is that both games are on home turf, with the Unicorns the first team to visit on March 25.
“They’re the biggest two clubs here in Melbourne,” Suemai said.
“It’s great for us to play them straight away – I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“That’s the best way to see where we’re at, when we’re playing against these top teams.”
In his first pre-season, Suemai has been delighted by the collective buy-in of the Footscray players.
Everything he has set out on the training track has been followed to the nth degree so far.
“We want a structure that will not only focus on the top-end team, but will filter down to all of the other senior teams,” he said.
“It’s still a learning process, but the boys have really picked up a lot of the stuff.
“They have really embraced the values and the culture that we’re setting out.
“The feedback we’ve been getting from players is they’re enjoying their training.”