Dual international Lote Tuqiri is among several retired NRL players who want to see beach fives rugby thrive as a sport in Australia.
The game, catering for both men and women, features five players on the beach at any one time for each side, with up to seven reserves on the sidelines. There is unlimited interchange.
The play focuses on fast handling and stamina, with no scrums or lineouts to slow the game down.
It is not full-tackle, or touch, but rather something in the middle – a two-handed “grab” is allowed, with players having to release the ball if they take control or are held for two seconds.
Newcastle’s Nobbys Beach was the venue for the Beach 5s Australia Day Festival on Tuesday, with teams made up of players from rugby league, rugby union and touch football.
Tuqiri knows what it is like to play both rugby codes, having represented the Kangaroos and Wallabies.
He is enthusiastic about the hybrid game’s ability to bring together people from both sports, as well as touch football.
“It’s another type or form of rugby, rugby league, to keep everyone stimulated [in summer],” Tuqiri said.
“I don’t know if it’s an alternative (to other codes), but it’s certainly something that’s catered well for us here in the southern hemisphere, in Australia.
“We love the beach, we love the sun and we love our footy – and this is pretty much all of these things intertwined.
“It’s a bit of a party atmosphere down there [on the beach] as well.
“Hopefully, in the next couple of years, it can get bigger and better.”
Tuqiri believes there is potential for international beach fives rugby competitions.
“There are a few associations in the northern hemisphere that we are affiliated with,” he said.
“At some point I reckon we will head up there and take a couple of teams. If you look online, you can see clips of people playing in Portugal, Spain, France and a couple of other countries.”
Retired rugby league international Willie Mason also took part in the Nobbys Beach tournament.
He gave beach fives rugby the tick of approval, although he admitted it took some time to get used to the rules.
“We had to adjust to the rules a bit quicker … it’s like union rules, there is no play-the-ball,” he said.
“That is a little bit weird for most of us league players out there so it took us a while.”
Another former NRL player to hit the beach in Newcastle was Knights 1997 premiership winner Owen Craigie.
He enjoyed the game, but noted that playing on sand was “10 times harder” than on a rugby league field.
“I played it today and I’m buggered,” Craigie laughed.
“It’s the first time I played it. It’s different. It’s hard and I was puffing in the first couple of minutes.”