Anthony Hammond’s rugby league love affair was sparked in childhood in Gulargambone, on the banks of the Castlereagh River in the central west plains, and was rekindled in Tamworth as a young man. Now the 39-year-old faces his greatest challenge in the sport.
As Bendemeer’s inaugural coach in Group 4’s dramatically reshaped 2018 first-grade competition, Hammond is shouldering the expectations of a highly ambitious club and a town’s fervent league supporters.
His ambition and passion is mirrored by Mountain Men president Paul Craig, now in his second year in charge. It was Craig who suggested to Hammond that he apply for the first-grade coaching job. Craig guided the side to the Second Division finals last season after a winless 2016.
Hammond played in that side, used off the bench as a hooker. He will continue his three-decade playing career this year.
Craig was impressed with the advice Hammond gave him as an unofficial assistant coach in 2017. Hammond made his coaching debut with Manilla in the Second Division in 2016, steering the club to a second-tier grand final loss to Walcha. It was the Tigers’ first grand final in more than 20 years.
Craig said: “We believe Anthony was a good coach. And we wanted to get a coach as quickly as possible, with the changes [to Group 4] being made. We wanted to make sure we had a coach in place so we could attract players, just like the other first-grade clubs.”
Craig said Hammond’s coaching stint with Manilla, the input Hammond provided him last season and his “good rapport” with his teammates won him the job. He also believed that Hammond would attract players. He said the good player numbers the club was getting at pre-season training and “a few new signings” augured well for 2018.
Hammond is a true bush rugby league journeyman. As a young man he moved to Tamworth from Gulargambone, located 98 kilometres north of Dubbo. He has also seen lower-grade action at North Tamworth, Werris Creek, Dungowan and Manilla. Intriguingly, 2018 will mark his elevation to first grade.
“It’s been a long time playing footy but I love the game,” he said.
He added: “We know it’s gonna be a strong comp but we’re up there and we’re ready to take it on … I know it’s [first grade] a lot different to the Second Division – a lot more fitness [is required].
“We want to be real competitive and hopefully make the semis or maybe the grand final. Most of all we want to come in and be really, really competitive.”