Eels have a place to call home

Chasing a dream. The Pakenham Eels have a new place to call home after their recent move to the Comely Banks Recreation Reserve in Officer. 281375 Pictures: SUPPLIED

By David Nagel

The Pakenham Eels Rugby League Club is set for an electrifying future after recently taking the keys to a brand new purpose-built facility in Officer.

Just seven years since their inception, the Eels have a new place to call home.

The Comely Banks Recreation Reserve – on Bridge Road in Officer – boasts four international sized Rugby League turf pitches, club rooms, eight change rooms for players, and four for officials.

The facility also has full lighting, tiered bench seating and coaches and player boxes.

It’s a long way from the club’s inception year, where makeshift portables and toilets were used as club rooms at O’Neill Road Recreational Reserve in Beaconsfield.

For the last six years the Eels called the Cardinia Recreation Reserve their home.

Eels President Jason Buchanan, a founder of the club in 2016, was excited to see the first games played at the new facility on Saturday.

“It’s pretty incredible to see the facility we now have, but it’s taken a lot of work from a lot of people for a long time to get to this stage,” Buchanan said.

“The opportunities that it’s going to provide, not just to the club and club development, but to the players themselves, and their sporting development, are quite exciting.

“To get access to a full field, or even half a field, for training is something we’ve never had before.

“In the past we’d train in a little corner of a ground and the only experience of playing on a full field was on game day on a week-to-week basis.

“We’re already starting to see improvement in skills.

“From an overall club perspective, this is huge; it’s a big win for us and for the community as well.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for Rugby League and Touch Football in Pakenham and the Cardinia Shire as a result of this facility being built.”

The Eels have entered a record number of teams in the NRL Victoria League, including Under 6 and Under 7 teams in the Storm Junior League tag competition.

The club also has teams from Under 8 to Under 11 in the Storm Junior League Competition, and separate boys and girls teams in Under 13 and 15 age groups in the Club Rugby League Competition.

The Eels also have a senior team competing in NRL Victoria’s Second Grade Men’s competition.

Hundreds of people were in attendance on Saturday to see the new grounds christened by junior teams from five visiting clubs including Casey Warrior, Doveton Steelers, Eastern Raptors, Melton Broncos and the South Eastern Titans.

“I think we’re still all a little in awe of the venue itself and really enjoying our new home,” Buchanan said.

“I’m very happy and also very happy for all the dedicated volunteers and members that have made this possible over the last six or seven years.

“The Cardinia Shire has been a really strong partner in this development and has seen this through.

“We’ve worked quite closely with them, not just with this venue, but with community programs as well.

“This new facility will not only be great for training and development, but also for the many programs associated with the NRL.

“Training and development of coaches and referees…the opportunities are also really big now in those areas as well.”

The Eels have a particular focus on their junior program, with an alcohol-free policy throughout the club purely designed to enhance the sporting experience for its youth.

“Juniors are our main focus and our junior programs have really healthy numbers,” Buchanan said.

“There is still a drop off due to Covid, but we’re really hopeful that we can attract a lot people back to the game and do that via rugby league or touch football in the summer.

“And we’re an alcohol free club that has a strong focus on junior sport – sport being for sport – and not as a vehicle for alcohol sales.”

Touch Football has attracted up to 300 players on the one pitch in recent seasons, with the club now excited it can now share the load evenly and create earlier timeslots.

Only three rounds into the 2022 season, there are still registrations spots available in most junior age groups.

Games are held on Saturday and training takes place on both Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

Those interested in the Pakenham Eels, can find out more by visiting the club’s Facebook page.