Former Redmen junior inspirational on and off field
RUGBY UNION: Saturday July 7, 2012 will always be remembered as the day a barrel-chested former Redmen junior single-handedly inspired Grafton to one of their greatest victories.
Languishing in last place on the Far North Coast rugby ladder, Grafton faced defending premiers Lennox Head Trojans in front of a parochial home crowd.
No one gave them a glimmer of hope, not a snowball's chance in hell of toppling a side littered with representative players.
Enter former Western Force front-rower A.J. Whalley.
Whalley showed his intentions early. After receiving the kick-off, the rampaging prop powered his way 60m downfield, leaving defenders sprawling across the turf.
Grafton stunned the visitors with a stirring 28-18 win on the back of a Whalley double, but more importantly it was the tight forward's ability to lift the side to record an unlikely victory.
"Yeah, I do remember that day,” Whalley laughed. "It was a special day. I hadn't played for the Redmen since I left school.
"I think I only played three games since I retired in 2010 and two of those were with the Redmen against Lennox.
"My in-laws now live at Lennox so I bump into a few of those guys who played in that game and they still remind me of that day.”
A PE teacher and director of pastoral care at The Armidale School (TAS), Whalley still remains heavily involved in the 15-a-side game.
"I coach the first 15 and have recently taken on the role as director of coaching,” he said.
"The TAS rugby carnival is the biggest under-12 carnival in Australia. We get over fifty-odd sides and also a few Waratah and Wallaby players help out, which is fantastic.”
Whalley played 27 games for the Western Force in Super Rugby and also had a stint with French side Dax.
So how did he feel when the Force were axed from the Super Rugby competition?
"It was disappointing, it's a bit difficult to crack the AFL market. We started to make inroads in Perth and at the time they folded we had a few home-grown professional players,” he said.
"There is such a huge expat community so rugby is very strong over there. I think Western Australia has the third biggest rugby population in Australia.”
At 37 years old, Whalley is probably past his prime but amid injury concerns just his appearance at Redmen training last Tuesday could provide the right tonic for their clash with Lismore City tomorrow.