10 January 2024

South Wales Jets keeping focus on mental health ahead of Challenge Cup debut

10 January 2024

A community rugby league team established just a year ago primarily as a means to raise funds and awareness for mental health charities are preparing to make their debut in the Betfred Challenge Cup on Saturday.

South Wales Jets qualified by virtue of having soared unbeaten through their first season in the Welsh Premiership, and will take on seasoned Challenge Cup campaigners Stanningley in Ebbw Vale.

And while they harbour ambitions of bringing higher-level rugby league back to the region, the club’s founder Liam Price is determined that the mental health message will stay at the front and centre at the Jets.

Price, a former local rugby union player, told the PA news agency: “The idea to form a club came during furlough when I discovered how much I missed the social aspect of being involved in a rugby team.

“Before Covid I was something of a workaholic, and going from 80-hour weeks to nothing really affected me. I was one of those people who never really saw mental health as an issue, and all of sudden I found that I physically couldn’t get out of bed.

“After speaking to some of my friends who were going through a similar experience, the idea came up to start what would essentially be a charity sports team that would play a few union sevens tournaments raise some money and awareness.

“It got to the point where we decided to step up it and switch to league in order to enter the Welsh Premiership. But the mental health message will always remain central.”

Since their inauguration, the Jets have raised over £12,000 for a number of charities, chiefly the community-based Signposted Cymru, which has pride of place on the club shirts, and helped refer 17 young men for mental health counselling.

After a stellar first season, on-pitch ambitions involve a potential move to the Southern Conference League, but Price is wary of the fate that has befallen previous attempts to kick-start the sport in the region, most recently West Wales Raiders, who resigned from League One at the end of the 2022 campaign.

Four ex-Raiders are currently part of the Jets set-up, while former Super League players and Welsh internationals Ben Flower and Lloyd White have been working with the club to help prepare them for the daunting challenge of facing Stanningley.

It got to the point where we decided to step up it and switch to league in order to enter the Welsh Premiership. But the mental health message will always remain central

Ebbw Vale itself is no stranger to league, having boasted a professional side that competed regularly in the Northern Union, and were the last Welsh club to be dissolved in 1912. But for Price there is still some way for the undoubted talent in the region to be realised.

“There’s a lot of talent in South Wales but the code is just severely under-funded,” said Price. “We looked at moving into the SCL but because of the distance between the teams it’s not financially viable at the current time.

“We’ve got a longer-term plan but we don’t want to make the same kind of mistakes that teams like the Raiders have done. We know we’re probably too strong for the Welsh league but it is important for the club that we do things properly.”

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