“Drag is not a contact sport”, Ru Paul said famously. But, when Alex Catalini stepped on to the  field on Saturday for South Australia’s first gay and inclusive rugby team, the Adelaide University Sharks’ debut game, it was not unlike him stepping on to the stage as popular drag queen Jmon.

Growing up, Catalini had often been told that he would be a good rugby player – one piece of advice he had never followed up in until last year. A friend mentioned to him that a new inclusive local rugby team was looking for players, and he decided to turn up for a training session – he confesses he knew nothing about the sport.

“The thought of joining an all inclusive rugby team was exciting. I remember growing up, people always told me that I would be a good rugby player. So, I thought why not give it a shot? If I don’t like it I can always decline,” recalled Catalini.

Turning up for that first training session was not an easy decision for Catalini. “I have always said that Drag was my sport, so when joining The Sharks, I was concerned if I’d ever be good enough for such a rough sport and if I’d be tough enough.” He decided to stay on after that session and found a place in the team as a front rower.

“I learnt to play rugby at a compatible level, became fitter and it helped me identify my strengths and weaknesses and built friendships with 30 guys who I can trust and rely on,” said Catalini.

 According to Peter Stephen, who founded the team, the idea behind setting up The Sharks was to find a way for the local LGBTQI community to connect, develop friendships and find a safe and inclusive space in sports. The team came together in July 2019 with 12 players and now boasts 30 players who have trained for the 2020 season.

“A sense of belonging”, is what Elijah Bedson found with The Sharks. Bedson had previously played for another rugby team. He joined The Sharks after starting gender transition. “Joining the team has been amazing, the lads and club have been just amazing and made me feel comfortable and at home,” said Bedson.

Leigh Harder, had played previously with other gay rugby teams like the Sydney Convicts and Melbourne Chargers and was keen to share his knowledge and experience with his new team members.

“As a young gay man growing up in rural NSW I remember finding a lot of solace looking up the Convicts and knowing there were other guys who played rugby and were comfortable being open with their sexuality. It’s slightly surreal now being in that position myself and pioneering it for South Australia,” said Harder.

 The Sharks made their debut on Saturday June 27.  Though they lost the two half games to Souths Rugby and North Torrens 26-5 and 22-5 respectively, the team’s spirits are not dampened. They are now looking to their first full match this weekend.

The team hopes to qualify to join the International Gay Rugby community that comprises around 107 gay and inclusive rugby teams around the world and compete in the the Australasian Purchas Cup in 2021 and the Bingham Cup in Ottawa, Canada in 2022.

“One of the most remarkable parts of our journey is being able to field a full Rugby Union team of gay and inclusive players in South Australia, an AFL state where most people don’t even know that a Rugby Union competition existed,” said Cameron Forster, conveyor of the club who plays in the second row position.

Forster played AFL but says as he grew older he found it difficult to fit in. “Being able to play a sport with like minded guys where I can be who myself has been a really humbling experience… The Sharks hope to continue to build on the success of the team and culture in the coming years and pave the way for an inclusive sports model in South Australia,” added Forster.

You can connect with The Sharks on their Facebook page.

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