NRL boss Peter V'landys backs push for Kenya to become rugby league's next market

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A renowned Australian athletics coach who competed internationally has approached the NRL and two clubs about creating a revolutionary avenue for Kenyan players to become professional footballers in Australia.

And Brook Tennant has claimed the move would instantly open another player pathway for NRL clubs outside of PNG, England, the Pacific and New Zealand.

“Rugby league needs a bigger pool and Kenya has the greatest sportspeople in the world. Their endurance, their ability to train, their ability to take lessons – they are great soldiers,” Tennant said.

NRL boss Peter V’landys backs push for Kenya to become rugby league’s next market

Camera IconThe Ruffians and Winam going at it in the Kenyan league. Credit: Supplied

“They are natural and spirited athletes. They won’t come here and cause trouble. If you say to them: ‘Walk through that wall’…they will. The potential is there in future years to have a wealth of Kenyan athletes we can draw on.

“We have a new team in the NRL with the Dolphins and we need a pathway between Kenya and Australia; to build a ladder so players can start coming across and progress. To take on another country like this – this is a fantastic opportunity for the NRL. And you would open up Africa.”

Tennant has worked, trained and educated Kenyan athletes for the past 25 years, mostly long distance runners before, five years ago, introducing the country to rugby league.

And aspiring Kenyan players have already given rugby league its own name in Swahili – Asante NRL Rafiki. In English, it translates to Thank You NRL Friend.

Tennant claimed there were hundreds of tall athletes – with a similar build and speed to Manly’s Jason Saab – playing in an eight-team Kenyan rugby league competition which has 750 registered players, most based around the capital, Nairobi.

The push Kenya gathered heavyweight support with ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys saying: “It’s extremely exciting. Eventually the game has to grow worldwide and this would open up another market.

NRL boss Peter V’landys backs push for Kenya to become rugby league’s next market

Camera IconKenya has an eight-team rugby league comp and 750 registered players. Credit: Supplied

“It gives young athletes in these poorer countries light at the end of the tunnel. If rugby league gives these Kenyan kids hope and a better living, along with potentially being a star in rugby league, then it’s a win-win. Like everything, you have to start from scratch and work your way up.”

Asked whether the NRL would consider helping fund Kenyan players coming to Australia, V’landys said: “Absolutely. We look at all areas of participation.”

Aware rugby league requires more players to cover 17 and then 18 clubs, Tennant last week contacted the NRL, Dolphins and St George Illawarra seeking support for Kenyan athletes in rugby league through training and mentoring.

While Kenyan players would require significant improvement and education to compete at NRL level, Tennant believes NRL and clubs should consider investing in what could become a future and significant footpath into rugby league.

“If you look at Jason Saab, these Kenyans are that tall and that fit. They would make brilliant outside backs. They would do anything to get somewhere in sport,” Tennant said.

“Representing Kenya in the NRL – it would be an amazing inspiration for their people.

NRL boss Peter V’landys backs push for Kenya to become rugby league’s next market

Camera IconManly speedster Jason Saab made a huge impression in 2021. Credit: The Daily Telegraph

“There is already potential for two or three Kenyans to come across and play at Queensland Cup or NSW Cup level for advancement. And I’m talking about athletes who have been to the Olympics, they’re not slouches.

“The Kenya’s Sports Government is looking for other sports to allow athletes to blossom. When they found out about a potential pathway and that someone could take this to the NRL, they were extremely happy.

“I approached the NRL last week and also Craig Young (chairman) and ‘Hook’ (head coach Anthony Griffin) at the Dragons and said if we’re serious about international rugby league – and getting more countries playing – then we must have go-head programs for Kenyans to come over and train with clubs and potentially branch out into the NRL.

“I have also written to the Dolphins and asked for Wayne Bennett to give me a call. The Dolphins would be perfect. If we strike now, we have the entire off-season to try and bring a couple of players over. We would need some funding or sponsorship involved. I know English soccer is looking at the Kenyans.”

Games in Kenya are played on modest ovals but with the same field dimensions under NRL rules.

Tennant, 56, who lives on the Sunshine Coast, was a former distance runner who competed in multiple world events in the USA, Canada, Germany and Spain along with the Junior Commonwealth Games in Brisbane in 1982. He has also trained athletes from Ethiopia, America, Canada and New Zealand.

NRL boss Peter V’landys backs push for Kenya to become rugby league’s next market

Camera IconDragons coach Anthony Griffin was approached to see what the interest would be like. Credit: Supplied

His affiliation with Kenya started with running against their athletes, including the legendary Henry Rono. Rono asked Tennant to start writing training programs for Kenyan athletes. At one point he was training between 300 and 500 athletes.

“I’ve got a very good name in Kenya,” said Tennant said, who sent Kenyan athletes running shoes, boots, footballs and singlets from Australia at a personal cost of $5000 to $8000.

While training the locals, Tennant met former Kenyan Olympian volleyball player, Edina Rotich.

“Edina is on the WADA committee for Kenya,” Tennant said. “She is high-up in Kenya, extremely well respected.”

Tennant and Rotich quickly found rugby league was a discussion point. Rotich then met with the then Kenyan Sports Health Minister about expanding sport, health and goodness across Kenya before slipping in rugby league.

“We started this five years ago, the grassroots of rugby league,” Tennant said.

NRL boss Peter V’landys backs push for Kenya to become rugby league’s next market

Camera IconRenowned Australian athletics coach Brook Tennant. Credit: Supplied

“That was when I started sending training programs and videos of rugby league. A lot of my energy went into rugby league over there, dealing with Kenyan Rugby league and the Ministers. I wanted to build it up to the point where we take it to the NRL and flourish the game.”

Tennant trains the Kenyan athletes via correspondence, mostly runners competing over 5000 metres, 10,000 metres and marathons.

“I help their distance runners with training programs. I have done that for between 15 to 20 years. I have had Kenyans who have come over here to Australia in bloc periods and trained. They have then gone back and competed in countries like England and Germany,” he said.

In another indication about the country’s aptitude towards football, Kenya’s rugby union 7s side is ranked number nine in the world, ahead of the more established Wales, France, Scotland, Japan and Tonga.

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