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Behind the Cups with Jack Evenden

“Behind the Cups,” is a new series where we sit down one-on-one with people from club land for an in-depth conversation discussing their rugby journey. Behind every cup are the unsung heroes that help build upon the legacy of our game.

This week I sat down with Jack Evenden, the 2022 Tuggeranong Vikings Club Captain. Jack was born and raised in Canberra playing in Juniors and 1st XV at Marist College then Vikings Colts before debuting with Tuggeranong first grade in 2019. Jack has a passion for rugby and leading in his local community both on and off the field.

Jack Evenden

Thank you so much Jack for sitting down with me. What were your thoughts when we first reached out to you?

I thought it’s cool to be out there and have some exposure in the community especially in the BentSpoke John I Dent Cup. There are so many young kids coming up in local footy, so I thought it’s cool to help get their names out there too.

Given your experience in and around rugby we made sure you were on our list of people to reach out to. So, let’s jump into the questions, have you always grown up in Canberra and when did you first get involved in rugby?

Yeah, I’ve always lived in Canberra, been here my whole life. I’m the oldest of three kids. Our family has always been around the Southside. My Mum teaches in Woden and my Dad works in Tuggeranong so always been a part of the south. I started playing when I was ten years old and attending Marist College. My Dad and my uncles all went there, so it was a no brainer. I got into rugby straight away. I know it was the best decision I've ever made.

I came from playing rugby league where I got started at a young age, playing for the Woden Rams. But as soon as rugby union became available my dad being a rugby head put me straight in, I haven’t really looked back. I played all through school from year four to year twelve playing in division one. I’ve just loved it, loved it, loved it. Loved everything about it. I loved the differences from rugby league. When I was that age, I loved how in union you can hold onto the ball for as long as you wanted without having to give it over. You don’t really kick when you’re that age so holding the ball was unreal.

Playing rugby with the kids I went to school with was awesome. Playing touch on the school field at lunch and then playing the real stuff on Saturday was something that we loved. Being ten-year-old masterminds, we’d run through our own plays at lunchtime and then try and do it on the weekends, from then it’s all I’ve known. Dad got us in to other sports playing cricket, oz tag and ACT touch rugby, but rugby union is my main winter sport. It’s what I put all my attention into.

Wow, that’s cool being so involved from a young age. At what point did you start playing half-back and five-eight?

I’ve always played in the halves, sort of chopping and changing through Juniors, because at that age you don’t really have a set position, you’re finding your rhythm. I was mainly a half-back up until first 15s in year twelve. That’s when I moved to 10, playing with Seamus Smith who is the 9 now at Vikings. When I started in Colts in 2017 at Vikings, I was the half-back until Seamus came and then I moved into 10. I’ve been at ten ever since.

The only time I’ve played a different position was in year twelve after coming back from injury. They brought in a new ten since I missed most of the season and to keep cohesion, I played full-back for the last four or five games.

Playing half-back or flyhalf can be tough, they are key in linking the Forwards and the Backs. At times their influence can make or break the game. You really need to be versatile.

Yeah, you can ride the waves of the big losses and the big wins, you can take it personally with what happens on the field. But that’s what I love about the position, you love it when it’s good and hate it when it’s bad. It’s the fun of it, I enjoy taking the responsibility of the position. With the goal kicking being that one guy who steps up and makes that decision. Playing from that position for so long it’s a lot easier because it’s all you know.

How do you handle the pressure of decision making in the game?

Every game you feel that pressure when other players look at you as a play maker, wondering “what should we do now?” The other week we were playing Queanbeyan. We were down by two or three tries and we had to chase the clock. We had to decide whether we play with it or try our chances and kick, looking at our field possession.

Those games are when I love my role as a Flyhalf and being the team’s goal kicker. I have been fortunate enough to kick some very important goals over the last couple of years, which has been a huge highlight and created my fondest memories with the Vikings boys. With the most recent being over Queanbeyan in Round 8 this year where we won 32-29.

It’s all those games that are close, the ones where you start to go “Oh, no! What do we do now?” It makes it easier when you have someone like Seamus who just lives and breathes rugby as well. He’s a bit of a mastermind. We work well together since we’ve played together so long. I know what he’s thinking, and he knows what I’m thinking. I’d say the semi-finals and grand finals are the ones that you love, and you hate.

You’ve spoken highly of Seamus, your friendship, and your connection with your teammates. How did you strengthen your relationships in your team?

I love my team! One thing we pride ourselves on at Vikings is that we’re not just mates on the field, we’re mates off the field too. You get so much closer with them because at the end of the day, I know it sounds corny but it’s like you go off to war with those guys. You put your body on the line with them. Then there’s nothing better than catching up with them outside of rugby and building those relationships. That’s one of my roles as the club captain this year, to dabble in all the little groups. To get to know everyone on a personal level.

Being that you are so young, how do you plan to make a difference this year as the Club Captain?

We’ve had some great captains in the past. We had Jake Simeon last year who did an awesome job and then some big names like Karl Smith, Joe Langtry, and Michael Henry. It’s been good coming in under their leadership. Being involved with the club for a long time, from the age of three, having my dad there has made it easier. That’s where my experience comes from. I’m a familiar face, I know the older community, those who run the club and the younger ones too. I enjoy helping bring everyone together and overseeing the social events.

The leaders in the past made the club what it is, so there’s not much of a difference I need to make. I’m just trying to make the club the best it can be on and off the field. I love the responsibility. I am humbled to be the club captain for 2022 it’s a great honour at such a successful and proud club.

For yourself Jack, how do your experiences with rugby influence not just your leadership but your work ethic?

Well, rugby gives you a lot of skills. You can relate everything to it. The way you relate to a team at work, the way you communicate with others and how you work under pressure. You figure out how to work with people. On the footy field you can have a hot head and you must take time to calm down and get a clear mind.

The people you’re around make a huge impact. I’m grateful to be at Vikings and with my family. I wouldn’t be the person I am if I didn’t play rugby. Rugby gives you so many life lessons. It teaches you to empathise with people.

You mentioned your family being a huge part of the club, can you share a little bit more on them.

I don’t have a big family, but it’s been my dad’s side that has the rugby background. My Pop played high-level rugby back in the day. Dad played for Marist at nine and ten then went to Vikings with his mates from 1988 onwards. He played over one-hundred games at Tuggeranong Vikings and then continued to coach first grade. That’s why I’m so involved in the club for so long. I was born and then down there on the sidelines at the park. There’s a photo of me and Baden Stephenson (Melbourne Rebels, CEO) during the 2002 grandfinal.He’s running out as the captain and I’m holding his hands, I’m probably 2 or 3 years old.

That’s one of my first memories at the club. Dad was the first-grade coach that year. We were in the locker room, and he had ducked out. I just sat on the bench, couldn’t even touch the ground. The players are doing their whole pre-game rev up and I’m there crying my eyes out. Baden grabbed my hand and ran out. Now being back there at my age as a player,it’s special, it’s a whole family affair. The club feels more like a family than a rugby club.

Jack Evenden & Baden

Is that something you’re hoping for in the future, one day to raise your own kids on the sidelines of Vikings?

Yeah, definitely! It would be awesome, that’s something I want. Maybe when I’m older whether I’m coaching or sitting on the sidelines watching. Maybe I’ll have my son or daughter playing for the juniors or seniors. I’ll be there with my Dad and there’s three generations around the club.

It’s awesome seeing other older coaches and their sons there cracking jokes and playing. It’s a great feeling to be a part of that red army there on the sidelines.

It’s awesome when your club experience changes from being a sporting club to a family club. Within your rugby career you’ve been able to travel to various countries in the pacific on rugby tours. Is playing internationally something you hope to do moving forward?

I’d love it! Since I’m only young I hope I can take it to the next level whether that is playing for Vikings or with Brumbies and their representative side. Going to Japan or Europe or anywhere overseas would be awesome. I wouldn’t turn down an opportunity if it came to me.

I have been on several overseas tours with the Vikings, including Singapore in 2018 and Fiji in 2020. I am so grateful to be a part of such a professional atmosphere at Vikings, where I have been able to develop all my rugby skills, under elite coaches and professional players such as many current Wallabies. I am grateful for the mentors that have developed me from colts to first grade, such as Nick Scrivener, Brendan Allardyce, Isaac Thompson, and Rodney Iona to name a few. 

From all your tours overseas, what one has had the biggest impression on you?

My first experience playing Rugby Union overseas was when I was in year twelve. I was lucky enough to travel to New Zealand with the senior rugby squad in 2016, where lifelong memories were made. The tour included games against famous schools such as Christchurch Boys High, and Christs College.

It was our first experience as a group to play internationally. We’d walked through the big school grounds and see photos of All Blacks players on the wall. It was an amazing experience to play such prestige schools.

Playing in Singapore with Vikings was unreal. I learnt a lot playing with more experienced players. Travelling as a Colts player but with all the first-grade boys. It made the season a lot easier and more fun.

After that experience of learning from older, more experienced players. What advice would you give to other Colts players who are coming up?

I remember benching games and games of first grade my first couple years of colts. I’d either not get on or I’d get five minutes at the end. I’d say keep working and earn your spot on the bench.

It’s good because there’s a chance you’ve already met players from other clubs or teams you’ve been a part of whether at school or in juniors. Looking at it now, I’m in the position other players were at when I started. I like helping, whether it be kicking or running drills before training to help the younger players. My brother is fourteen, I love helping him out and it won’t be too long until he’s running around as a colt too. Hopefully my body holds up when he comes up.

No matter your age, whether you’re playing in fourth grade or a young girl or boy just starting out, some advice I’d give would be to just give it a go. If you’re only showing up because your mates on the team, that’s alright. There’s so many life skills and lessons you can learn from rugby. Club footy welcomes so many diverse groups of people. The amount of people you meet are great, you can make lifelong friends.

It's great having senior players mentoring younger players on and off the field. Who are you off the field and outside of rugby?

I’m a personal trainer and I also study exercise physiology. I’m almost finished my degree, hopefully I can work in the rehab sector once I’m done. Outside of that my girlfriend and I love to take our van up and down the coast to all the beaches. We bought the van about a year ago, we ripped it up and decked it out. It’s a campervan we try to take away on the long weekends. It’s great to get away as much as we can. I love the gym and travelling.

Both you and your team are having a strong season. What are some of your future rugby goals?

In terms of the future, it has always been a goal of mine to take my Rugby to the next level, and play at the highest level possible, whether that is in Canberra, interstate or overseas. For Now, I am focussed on being part of a successful season with the Vikings and taking out the John I Dent Cup for 2022!

I wish you and Vikings all the best Jack! Before we finish up, we have a fast round of questions for you.

What was the last song you listened to?

Movie Star By Jack Harlow

Who was the first person you texted this morning?

Probably my mum, asking her what coffee she wanted.

What is your most used app on your phone?

Instagram

Who is your favourite rugby hero?

Cooper Cronk (NRL Half back) was always my idol but right now it’s Richie Mo’unga (All Blacks & Crusaders five-eight).

What is your go to snack on game day?

Oh, muesli bars as a snack. For breaky it’d be eggs on toast. It’s sort of an awkward time for snacks, games are at 3pm. You can have a big breakfast but then you don’t want to have big lunch, or you’d be wrecked for warm up and the game. Some guys on our team can eat a whole foot-long sub half an hour before the game but I couldn’t do that.

Also, the nerves can kick in, you don’t want to eat anyway. I sit in the grandstand and see the colts and second grade players eating sausage sandwiches and always want some but just can’t.

What is your top 3 favourite movies?

I just saw “Top Gun: Maverick,” that was unreal. Another great movie is “The Gentlemen,” and “Baseketball,” is always a good laugh.

Thank you again Jack for meeting with me and good luck for the rest of the season.

Jack Evenden 2

*Notes about Interviewer: Georgia Rae Abel was raised on the sidelines of the rugby field watching her dad coach and brothers play before strapping on the boots herself. Playing in Junior rugby, on her high school teams and in Women’s Premier 15s. Georgia Rae has a wide background in rugby on and off the field.

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