It was ironic that mud would mark the end of a 43-year drought for Young’s first grade rugby union team who sloshed their way to a victory over Cootamundra at Cootamundra Country Club’s sodden grounds last weekend.
The Young Yabbies prevailed in the wet conditions which saw the Tricolours defeated 12-5 in a closely fought game that had supporters from both sides tightly clutching their brollies until the final seconds.
Not the least of which was Yabbies head coach Justin “Sambo” Sampson who had driven some 2500 kilometres or – if you like – 30 hours – just to get there.
The CEO of Active Farmers had AgQuip last week. So, after travelling to Gunnedah to set up Monday, Sambo drove back to Young for Tuesday night’s training, then straight back up to Gunnedah post-training and came back for Thursday night’s training.
The astonishing commitment of their coach was reciprocated 15-fold as the green and white soon turned to black as the lads threw themselves onto a swampy field in a game that Sambo said was equally matched but won simply on resilience and determination.
“The closer we got the harder they trained,” he said. “We knew we had perfected our game plan, we stuck to our philosophy about how we wanted to play the game and our fitness would get us there in the last 20 minutes.”
“There were so many heroes in the game, they all did their job well, they had a real trust of each other and that’s why it was a tough, gritty, typical grand final game where there wasn’t much between the two sides and you battle it out,” he said.
But Sambo says myriad little things make up the culture that helps drive a team and that came down to coaching staff in Cameron Rosser, Ned Mullany, and team managers Nick Duff and Strath Yeo who laid strong foundations to the team throughout.
“It’s always good to bounce ideas, opinions and different perspectives with the team leadership group – Will Munday, Angus Howard and Will Wennerbom,” he said.
But Sambo is also somewhat a secret weapon.
A latecomer to the Hilltops town of Young – he was a COVID-19 arrival, putting some rusty farm skills to use on a friend’s farm while he waited for the borders to reopen.
Here the stars aligned for the lad from Cobar who is now the town’s adopted son who hasn’t just brought rugby pedigree to Cranfield Oval, but from the old bank building on the corner of Lynch and Boorowa streets, runs a national organisation hell bent on the health and wellbeing of all regional communities.
“Yep, COVID worked well for me,” Sambo said.
In rugby, you name it, he’s done it. A former teen Cobar Camel, he rose through the ranks to represent Australia in rugby union, he’s played provincial and for NSW Country, faced The Lions and the All Blacks, before heading overseas to play and coach internationally – in Japan, Singapore and Indonesia.
He’s travelled worldwide to promote rugby by conducting coaching clinics, fundraising activities and other events for local and national rugby union, also presenting and providing expert rugby commentary on international games.
But the shiny new listing on his CV is what he describes as his “greatest coaching role” with the Young Yabbies where he picked up the nickname “Ricky” and also the record for “most front front backs” in a single sitting – 125. Not even he knows what that means.
But with the Yabbies’ victory now a week old he’s back to his day job of commandeering Active Farmers, filling the very big shoes of founder and former CEO Ginny Stephens who has taken a step back.
Now based in Young, Active Farmers is a not-for-profit organisation with a grassroots focus on the health and wellbeing of small rural communities through group exercise classes for farmers and regional families across NSW.
By drawing people together regularly it helps to address isolation concerns and the rising prevalence of a declining mental wellness.
Since 2015 it has expanded from the Riverina to 45 small farming communities across Australia with trainers out on grounds (or indoors) every week doing their bit to improve the health and wellbeing of their communities and collectively take over 200 classes per month with over 1500 participants.
It has also evolved to annual challenges in the form of Active Farmers Games (think tough mudder for farmers), Ride for Resilience (fundraising bike rides) and Run for Resilience (fun run and walk).
Now Sambo’s ready to take the organisation to a new level.
“We’re at a really good crossroads at the moment and I’m looking forward to using my sponsorship and fundraising background to go and get the money that we need to expand our network,” he said.
For a guy who grew up on 95,000 acres on the Wilcannia Road west of Cobar, whose father was a cloud seeding pilot, Sambo feels he has come a full and very satisfying circle.
“It’s funny that with all I have done in the past – developing a skillset around sport and fundraising and sponsorship dinners – that has all come together to be able to help small communities like the one I grew up in,” he said.
“The world works in mysterious ways.”
If you would like to know more about Active Farmers and their activities, visit their website here.