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By Caelie Jones (member of the inaugural 2012 Rugby Rewards Ultimate Team)
It had to be one of the best few days of 2012. It was a two day trip of a lifetime to Sydney. It was the one and only #Rugbyrewards #ultimateteam competition.
For those of you who don’t know what this competition is, let me explain. First up, you should know that the competition is run by the Qantas Wallabies for Australian Rugby fans. The aim of the competition is to gather as many points as possible to earn yourself a place in the starting 15 – AKA the Ultimate Team! To collect points you could purchase Qantas Wallabies’ merchandise, go to the Castrol EDGE Championship Test matches, accept offers from Qantas Wallabies sponsors, such as Sportscraft and Le Coq Sportif, discover codewords on the Qantas Wallabies twitter and facebook pages, as well as be a pro-active Qantas Wallabies fan on social media. Gathering points ran for several months, finishing with the final Bledisloe Cup game in late October. You could monitor your points tally and see how you stacked up against the top 15 point scorers via the facebook page. The person who gathered the most points overall, was crowned the ‘Ultimate Fan’ and got their very own ‘Ultimate Fan’ medal presented to them at the 2012 John Eales Medal Ceremony.
The top 15 points scorers got to enjoy their reward on the first and second of November – just before the Qantas Wallabies squad flew over to Europe to participate in the Spring Tour.
The lead up to the close of the competition was agonisingly nerve racking. I was ranked eighth the last time I checked, before the competition closed, but it was likely the scores would still change. On the day the results were announced, in trepidation, I checked my emails. Did I get a place? Was I going to be a part of the first Ultimate Team? It was so thrilled to discover that while I had dropped to ninth place, I was still in the team and that’s all that mattered. I was about to embark of the trip of a lifetime.
The Ultimate team members were flown to Sydney and together with the Qantas Wallabies, we stayed at the Crowne Plaza Coogee Beach, a Qantas Wallabies sponsor. (I loved the place just walking through the reception.)
The Ultimate Team were introduced to each other and the organisers of the competition – Michael Briggs and Nadine Kliskey. We received a tote bag from Sportscraft, shoes (our size) from Le Coq Sportif, along with a heap of Qantas Wallabies supporter gear from the WallabyShop.com.au. Following the great start we were taken out for lunch at a local restaurant. We ranged in ages and professions but we all had two things in common – the love of Rugby and the love of the Qantas Wallabies. After an excellent meal we headed down to the beach and may, or may not have, seen the Qantas Wallabies players going for a swim in the tide pool. There were only two girls in the Ultimate Team – Megan and myself and for us; this experience was definitely one to remember.
Following that extravagant moment, it was time to get ready for Rugby’s night of nights – the 2012 John Eales Medal Ceremony. The lads in suave suits while the ladies – Megan and I, came dressed in stunning dresses. We all met outside, near the pool overlooking gorgeous Coogee Beach, to take a few team photos. We were joined by the Qantas Wallabies captain Nathan Sharpe who presented us with our very own, personalised, one-of-a-kind, Kooga Qantas Wallabies jersey. The rest of the Qantas Wallabies team followed, having their pictures taken, wearing polished suits, before we left for the John Eales Medal at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre.
One word – incredible! The whole night was just incredible. During the reception, it was so nice to be able to happily walk up to Nick Cummins and strike up a conversation or talk to David Pocock about his brilliant work with his charity, ‘Eighty20 Vision’. We were served wonderful food and got to experience an atmosphere like no other. Fact: we were sitting in the same room as some of the Wallaby greats and it was quite gobsmacking, now that I think back on it. The presentations were fantastic and the awards were all very exciting. The Ultimate Fan Medal was presented to Allen Gray and he described the moment as indescribable; “I was buzzing, honoured, thrilled, amazed… It’s hard to describe a feeling like that," he said.
You could feel the intensity in the room when the John Eales Medal was about to be presented. First there were five: Will Genia, Berrick Barnes, Michael Hooper, David Pocock and Nathan Sharpe. Genia was out, followed by Barnes and the youngster, Michael Hooper, leaving the medal to go to Pocock or Sharpe. It was eventually awarded to retiring lock, Nathan Sharpe and well deserved it was. Before leaving the ceremony, we got the chance to meet, mingle and get photos with some of the players as well as other people of notability. Although I was slightly starstruck by some of the people I met (for example, Fox Sports commentator, Nick McCardle), it was such a valuable experience. Speaking on behalf of the Ultimate Team, the John Eales Medal was an unbeatable experience.
Before we knew it, the second and final day in the Ultimate Team camp was upon us. We enjoyed a buffet breakfast and a few of us were interviewed on the experience in the Ultimate Team. We checked out of Crowne Plaza Coogee Beach and set off to a Qantas Wallabies training session. We got to enjoy and participate in some of the training which included ladders, passing drills and tackling drills. We chatted to Bob Egerton (Qantas Wallabies Team Manager) about the Qantas Wallabies weekly schedule, watched the forwards practise their line outs and scrums and the backs kicking and playing mini games. It was exciting to see how much passion the Wallabies have for the game. In a mini game, Kurtley Beale received the ball and ran straight through the defence line, scoring a try. Following this, he ran around the field so excited, hugging his teammates with a huge smile on his face. Seeing the happiness in his face, along with his teammates, was absolutely priceless. It makes me happy to know that they love what they do and have fun doing it. We finished the session with a chat with head coach Robbie Deans about his thoughts on the season and the Spring Tour ahead. We got team photos with Deano as well as a few in our personalised jerseys. To round off the trip, we enjoyed a buffet lunch with the Wallabies and grabbed a few last photos and signatures.
What I loved was that you could hop into the lift at Crowne Plaza and you’d have Drew Mitchell joining you. You could casually enjoy a chat and then exit the lift. It was good to discover these guys are not superficial. They are great guys with a big passion for the game of Rugby.
I can’t really describe how awesome the trip was. The people that I met, the things that I learnt and the experiences that I had, are all terrific memories. The First Ultimate Team share a great bond. We reminisce and, thanks to social media, are friends, no matter where we are located in Australia. Nik Sharpe, fellow member of the Ultimate Team, said "The trip was simply amazing! Gave us a real insight into camp Wallaby and the chance to interact with the team at training and the John Eales Medal was awesome. It was also good to share it with fellow passionate Wallaby supporters."
A quick thank you to everyone who made it possible, from Michael Briggs, Nadine Kliskey and Tom Kennedy (photographer and cameraman), to the sponsors (Kooga, Crowne Plaza Hotels and Resorts, Sportscraft, Le Coq Sportif, Blackberry, Lexus, the WallabyShop.com.au and Castrol EDGE), to the Qantas Wallabies playing group and staff who welcomed us into camp and of course to the rest of the Ultimate Team. Speaking on behalf of the ‘Ultimate Team’, it was an incredible trip and well worth achieving.
First XV Ultimate Team 2012
Ultimate Fan: Allen Gray
Two: Trevor Hancock
Three: Alexander Wailan
Four: Matthew Kelly
Five: Stuart Fazakerley
Six: Megan Purdy
Seven: Ray Joeh
Eight: Steve Lenthall
Nine: Caelie Jones
Ten: Manuel Wailan
Eleven: Nikalus Sharpe
Twelve: Toby Lee
Thirteen: James Geary
Fourteen: Sam Walsh
Fifteen: Daniel Heathwood