Born and bred Yorkshire man Chris Parker moved from England to join the Axemen to share their joy, despair, close calls and everything in between. FOCUS sat down with Chris to find out more about what brought him to the other end of the world and how the Axemen fared this season. Go the Axemen!
So why Rugby League in Coffs Harbour?
I used to play Rugby League in the UK for a team called Gateshead Thunder, which is where I played for two years. After almost eighteen months of recovering from a knee operation, I got the chance to play for the Orara Valley Axemen. It was a massive and life changing decision to move to Coffs Harbour, but I knew it would be an amazing opportunity to challenge myself and have a fresh start.
Moving from England must have been a big change for you. What do you love about the Coffs Coast?
Yes, it definitely was a huge change, uprooting your whole life and leaving your friends, family and partner behind was emotional, to say the least. What really makes me love the Coffs Coast is its amazing beaches and scenery. It’s an idyllic place to live, and I’ve met so many new people in Coffs Harbour. Another thing I love about Coffs is of course the coffee – Coffs Harbour by far has the best coffee I’ve ever had!
How did you become interested in Rugby League?
I started out playing soccer, but I’ve always followed Rugby League since being a young kid. Both my dad and my grandfather played Rugby League, so it was always a part of my growing up. After deciding soccer wasn’t for me, I decided to finally follow in my grandfather’s and father’s footsteps and give Rugby League a shot. I started out playing for a local Rugby League team, and within four years I signed at my first semi-professional club, Featherstone Rovers.
I’ve been very fortunate growing up to have such a supportive family, in particular my dad, whom I cannot thank enough for all his valuable advice over the years. I’ve also been extremely fortunate to have some fantastic coaches, who have all contributed to making me the player I am.
What a long way to come! How has your first season at Orara Valley gone?
It’s been an amazing year so far! I’ve been made to feel so welcome and a part of the club. Initially it was a case of adapting to the different playing style of Australian Group Two Rugby League, but after three months of intense pre-season training, I soon settled in. The toughest part for me was without a doubt having to acclimatise to the heat and the humidity!
After a few tough years for Orara Valley, it’s been a challenging yet enjoyable, positive season so far. Although we have improved significantly from recent years, there is a consensus within the club that we have massively underachieved this year. After we narrowly lost on the opening game of the season to last year’s premiers, Grafton, everyone within the club felt that this could be the year we finally reach our potential.
Orara Valley are known as a brilliant community club. Is there a good feeling within the club?
Everything is based around family, friendship and the community. The club has a proud history, and hopefully we can start winning some more trophies again! There are a lot of hardworking and dedicated people within the club that keep the club going year after year who play an integral part to the Axemen and deserve a huge thanks.
What I think makes a strong community feeling within the club is the age diversity of both players and supporters. At the moment we don’t have an under eighteens team, so a few of the young lads have had the chance to step up and play reserve grade. The older lads have really made them feel welcome, and the younger players have integrated well into the team. Not only has this been a great experience for the younger lads, but it has also provided them with an exciting challenge of playing open age Rugby League. In the first grade team we have a broad range of ages, backgrounds and cultures, which has added immense value to the Axemen.
What has been your most memorable match so far this season?
My favourite has to be the second game of the season. We travelled to Bellingen on a cold and wet Sunday afternoon, still licking our wounds from the previous week’s narrow defeat against Grafton. I remember at half time the scores were tied, and the other players and I were struggling to keep warm and dry in the changing rooms. I sat thinking to myself, it’s like being back in drizzly, old England playing in the pouring rain again – just like back in my university days! It was certainly a far cry away from what I imagined East Coast Australia to be like. We ended up winning the game, and the feeling in the changing rooms at full time was indescribable. Singing the club’s victory song for the first time with my new team was an amazing experience, which I will never forget!
We’ve heard that you’re a big Robbie Williams fan! What kind of music do you like?
Yes, I’m a huge Robbie Williams fan; it’s my dream to see him perform one day. Everyone cringes at my taste in music, as I’m obsessed with ‘90s pop music and boy bands. At a recent club fundraiser, I even treated our supporters to my karaoke talent, where I sang a classic Backstreet Boys hit – I Want It That Way! I’m sure they won’t forget that experience anytime soon.
So Chris, the 2015 season is coming to a close; what’s next?
I’ve got a list as long as my arm! I feel really lucky to be in such a beautiful part of the world. Australia is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before, and the Coffs Coast has some of the most amazing coastlines. I’m planning to go travelling around the East Coast of Australia and maybe try a few festivals. I’d love to swim at the Great Barrier Reef and learn to scuba dive, but that’s only to name a few.