This article isn’t about State of Origin. It’s not about rule-changers or rule-breakers. Hell, this article isn’t even about the NRL.
Well, it is and it isn’t.
This article is about that luncheon-sized slice of land in the sandwich of Queensland. The one that stretches from the Capricorn Coast out to the Dusty Western border.
It runs up to the southern range of Mackay, all the way down to Gladstone. Country of coal, calves, and citrus.
I am talking, of course, of Central Queensland, the region in which I grew up.
League was everything growing up in Capricornia. No sport ever came close, and it was superior to any religion or creed.
It is a proud rugby league nursery that has bred the likes of Harry Grant, Cameron Munster, Ben Hunt, Dave Taylor, Matt Sing, Jake Granville, Matt Scott, Rhys Wesser, Rod Reddy, Steve Bell, Travis Norton, Clinton Schifoscke, Ben Hannay, Alan McIndoe, Gary Larson, Jharal Yow Yeh, PJ Marsh, Dale Shearer, Marty Bella, Trevor Gillmeister and Wendell Sailor among many, many others.
If I cheated and included Mackay, you would have enough for two mighty tough sides to beat.
If you played league as a kid in the rural areas of CQ, you know the drill. Saturday was rugby league day. And, truly, nothing in the day went to waste.
Oranges were sliced, cars were pooled, the snags packed in eskies – with more than a few beers of course – the smell of goanna oil slapped on thighs and shoulders in the sheds.
However, I was shocked to hear that, to this day, there has still never been a regular-season NRL game played in Central Queensland.
The best we’ve had is a seventh-place playoff between Scotland and Tonga in 2008 for the Rugby League World Cup and the place was near sold out.
The last NRL action we saw (according to the Browne Park website) was a pre-season trial between the Melbourne Storm and the Broncos in 2010.
I still remember watching my first NRL game as a kid, a truly magical experience. It was the North Queensland Cowboys versus the Canterbury Bulldogs at what was then Dairy Farmers Stadium.
But no, it wasn’t a trip on the train or the bus across the city. The old man wasn’t leaving 20 minutes earlier to beat the rush.
Nope, we drove nine to ten hours to Townsville to see that game. We hit a roo on the way. It was either that or the $600 round-trip Qantas flights out to Brisbane.
It was an extra day off work and a hotel room for the night to drive back the nine hours the next day. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.
I always love seeing an NRL game taken to the country or regional areas. It’s great to see a game played in Dubbo but it always comes with a kind of bittersweet feeling when I swallow down hard.
I wonder what answer I would get if I were ever lucky enough to be graced with the presence of Andrew Abdo or Peter V’landys and asked them why a game hasn’t been taken to Central Queensland yet.
I’m guessing it would be some scrambled robotic corporate speech of the difficulty of logistics, or the financial hit involved, or the lack of an adequate facility to host such a match.
‘What garbage!’ would probably be my response.
Try explaining that one to a former opposition player of mine – 12 years old – rocking around on a dirt bike at 7am in the morning, knocking on doors to get his teammates out for a game to honour his hometown and the visiting side.
Try telling that to the mothers and fathers who would get their youngsters up before 5am to travel the two, three or four hours to another town for a game of junior footy.
To the volunteers who gave more than their time, mowing fields, manning the bars or food stands or ticket stands, strapping players up, washing jerseys, week after week for years.
Tell that to our former fierce rivals from the Central West areas of Barcaldine and Ilfracombe who would sneak out of school for the two-hour ride to go to a training session on a Tuesday or Thursday afternoon.
Now I am not trying to tug at the heartstrings and draw your sympathy – and I’m not trying to pork-barrel either.
These kinds of things would happen in country areas around Australia when it comes to rugby league and sport in general. It is the nature of living in a rural area in Australia. We sometimes forget that we are a mighty large country.
And it isn’t like these people are forced. It’s intrinsically tied to the social life of these communities. People keep turning up because they love to do this stuff and it was and still is – from personal experience – a helluva lot of fun for the young and old alike.
But with the entire NRL now in Queensland, it seems like an opportune time for the NRL to pay back its dues – to return the favour, so to speak.
Even as a proud Capricornian, I don’t think we are ready for our own NRL team. That’s still a ways off.
But if they can sell out the 11,000-seat Apex Oval in Dubbo, I don’t see a problem why they couldn’t get 7000 at Browne Park in Rockhampton.
Give us a bloody NRL game in Central Queensland – you’re well overdue and we have been waiting.