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Waratahs to begin their great 2014 road trip

Getty Images and James Mortimer     22 Jan 2014     Getty Images

The Waratahs Volvo Community Roadshow will see the full NSW playing squad travel doing their best to connect with every community they pass through during a 675-kilometre journey down to Albury on the Victorian border.

Events will range from open training and signing sessions to a trip to the Bradman Museum and a get together with locals at Bowral Oval.

But despite revealing a taste of what’s in store, Michael Cheika plans to make sure there are plenty of surprises for the rugby community – and the players – along the way.

“We want to make it a really good experience along the way for the rugby and non-rugby people,” said the coach.

“We want them to feel, and be a part of, the things that we will be involved in as a head to Albury.”

Split into four teams for the journey which starts next Tuesday (January 28), all the players know so far is that their first stop is a public training session at The King’s School, one of the oldest rugby playing schools in the nation.

After that, there’s a half day lesson in safe driving with partner Volvo at Eastern Creek. Day one ends in Wollongong.

To help share in the team’s excitement, fans across the state can turn to the Waratahs facebook page, as well as other social media channels, for regular updates on all the activities, with highlights posted at the end of each day.

Wednesday morning will be all about school visits, before it’s off to the Bradman Museum followed by a get together with the locals at Bowral Oval. On Thursday, the Waratahs continue to motor south for a day in Goulburn, where they will hold a public training session at Goulburn Workers Arena.

Friday remains under wraps, with the exception of a captain’s run session at the Albury Sports Ground, where hundreds are expected to turn out to check out what might be in store the following day.

With limited information about their route, excitement is high ahead of tomorrow’s Volvo Car Auction, when the teams will go head-to-head as they bid to secure their preferred methods of transport for the trip south.

Throughout the pre-season, players have been amassing team dollars through a series of challenges and training incentives. Tomorrow will see the four teams bid for wheels, with the team’s jersey sponsor Volvo supplying a variety of cars, including an XC60, XC90, S60, V40 and V60.

Despite the friendly rivalry being created amongst the squad, Cheika is making it very clear that the focus of the exercise is firmly on the fans.

“A lot of the lads come from the country areas and as well as a bit of team building, the purpose of all the stops and activities along the way is to help renew our links with the rural community of NSW.

“Some of those places have probably felt some connection to the Brumbies in the past but if it’s in NSW, we would love the people to want to support their state’s team.

“It doesn’t matter what team or code you follow, if you’re from NSW, you can support the Waratahs.

“I’ve been a part of strong teams, both as a player and as a coach, and those teams have had a strong connection between their fans and the team.

“For me the fans run the game. Power to support the team, passion to drive the team to become better, even though a lot of our country fans are not able to get to the games, there is strong support for rugby in the country and we want to make stronger support for Waratahs in the country.

“Fans are like an extra man for a team. When we travel to the country and players see the support they get it makes them feel a real sense of responsibility to the fans. We are playing for all these people, and that’s the sort of responsibility we want and need to carry.”

Despite the 1300 kilometre round trip, the coach is also adamant that this is not an away game and the NSW country can expect more in the future.

“Since it’s in NSW, we see this as a home game. We will have to wait a couple of seasons for the possibility of taking our Super Rugby matches to the country areas so any chance we can we want to play in front of our country supporters.”

Cheika is one of the driving forces behind the team’s continually expanding community program, Tahs Together.

“We have done a lot out in the country over the past 12 months and we are going to be doing a lot more with a country blitz for juniors later in the year.

“We want to get to the juniors and young kids following the games, watching us play and getting excited about possibly playing for the Waratahs in the future. As a state representative team it’s really important that they are doing that.”

After their one-and-only win over the Waratahs (by two points) in 2013, the Rebels are the current holders of the Weary Dunlop Shield. Adding to the rivalry, the match will see Kurtley Beale and Nick Phipps will take on former teammates, while new Tahs assistant coach Nathan Grey will coach against his former club for the first time after spending three seasons in Melbourne.