Stuart Ridley
Business and Technology Journalist

Stuart Ridley is the Smarter Business™ Print Editor and has covered trends in small business, tech and marketing for two decades

Engineering a winning future

Stuart Ridley
Business and Technology Journalist

Stuart Ridley is the Smarter Business™ Print Editor and has covered trends in small business, tech and marketing for two decades

Some of the best ideas come from people who don’t have an engineering background ... but they play rugby.

How a country engineering firm became a rugby legend

Rural industry must diversify

“In a country town you have very little industry so I had to look outside Boorowa for more revenue. We’ve been repairing farm equipment since 1992 and we now also do shop fixtures and fittings for Harvey Norman globally. Outside income is vital to a small business like mine and word of mouth has spread our scrum machines far and wide. They are used by schools, universities and clubs as well as elite teams, here and overseas – a diverse client base to protect us from downturns elsewhere,” said Matthew Corkhill from Enforcer.

Video interview transcript

Matthew Corkhill: “Interestingly enough, I played league first up. But my older brother was playing rugby union and representing Country and you always want to do what your older brother does.

When I went to Sydney to do my trade, I took up rugby union there and have played rugby union ever since. A lot of the machines that we used early in the piece were old dinosaurs.

We used to come off from after a scrum session and you’d be tingling and you’d have pins and needles and you’d be looking at your hooker and your prop and saying, ‘what a great scrum!’ I contributed half my ailments to poorly designed scrum machines. I did have the engineering business here and I had played a fair bit of rugby in the front row… I was asked this day by a mate of mine from Yass whether or not I would be interested in building a scum machine. And I said to them, ‘Look you guys, you can just buy one of these machines out of NZ – why don’t you just do that?’ and this old prop or hooker said to me, ‘Mate, you’ve got to be kidding. We’re not buying one of those from NZ. I’m patriotic, we want you to build us one, we want an Aussie-made machine’. So I said, ‘Well righto, what ideas would you like me to incorporate?’ He said, ‘Well we like the basic sled design, we like the fall-on pads, we’d like some wheels so we can wheel it in and out of the shed and we want a seat. I want to be able to sit on it and look down the back line of the scrum where the energy's going and make sure everything’s spot on.

We have the transport wheel system, we have the seat that you sit on and then we incorporated the brake system onto the sled, which is quite unique so that’s where the resistance comes from. The demo machine I took up to Eastwood in 1998, 1999 for them to trial… Ewen McKenzie was there at the time and Ewen said, ‘Look, we think it’s terrific, can we have a look at it next year with the Brumbies?’ I used the Brumbies as my guinea pigs, because Canberra’s only an hour, an hour and a half away from here. So I’d take it over and we’d try it. Ewen would look at it and say, ‘Yep yep, I’m happy with that, that looks great’ or ‘Change this’ and then I’d have some ideas and we’d to and fro til we got it right. He went from there to the Wallabies, which Rod McQueen was then coaching as well. So I pretty much went from the Brumbies straight to the Wallabies, straight to the top.

I think in the last World Cup, seven of the 10 sides were using the Enforcer. If you're exporting a machine, you want to keep it simple so it doesn't break. They come with a two year warranty because I over-engineer them so we don’t have problems. That off-farm income is vital to a small business like mine: you write out one invoice the club or the school, they pay the invoice, then you ship the machine out. I think the revenue flow is extremely important. I mean, if you’re developing something, if you have an idea, you have to put the hours in after work. We’ve put thousands of hours into developing these machines and some of the other rugby equipment that we’ve developed.

I think the initial order for the Wallabies was very exciting, to get that phone call from Rod McQueen to say, ‘Listen, we want one of your machines. Can you please get it up to Caloundra for us?’ and taking it up there personally and spending time with them, taking the machine around to World Cups, to Lions tours was very exciting. Having the ability to manufacture the machines and other bits and pieces and knowing that you don’t have to outsource it, I think also makes me quite proud – we have to actually manufacture things here to stay competitive. Because there is a lack of manufacturing in Australia now, there's a lack of apprentices – I put through maybe 20-30 students every year through work experience and if I see someone with potential, I’ll take them under my wing.

We can manufacture and repair anything from a scrum machine to a wheelchair, to welding a handle on the wok for the local Chinese restaurant – we can do all of that here. Enforcer makes other rugby equipment as well – we can make specialised equipment, we do get asked to make one-offs for some of the elite sides. They have an idea and say ‘Let’s give this a go’. I think the Enforcer brand does have a bigger, brighter future. We have just gone into a deal with Gilbert, we can complement each other, I look after the steel and structural side of things, they look after the footballs, hit shields, apparel. I think the future of Australian rugby is looking strong – I’ve been with the Wallabies now for nearly 15 years and I think we’re in for some very exciting rugby within the Australian ranks over the next few years.”

Brumbies footage courtesy of Chris Appleby, appstarmedia.com.au

Photography: Joshua Morris

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