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Pictured: The late Mick Purcival's parents Dave and Sue.

If crowd numbers are any indication to the support rugby league has, then the 2014 season should be a bumper one for the Clermont Bears. 

Saturday night saw a huge crowd at the Clermont Sportsground when the Bears played their annual pre-season game against the Biloela Panthers in honour of former player and Biloela local Michael ‘Chicken Burger’ Purcival.  Most significantly, it was also the 10th and final year for this memorial game. 

Michael played in the winning grand final team for the Bears in the 2004 Central Highlands grand final.  Unfortunately, he died on the Wednesday following the game.  The Bears initiated the challenge with Biloela following his death, and the contest has been highly anticipated ever since. 

It has become a wonderful tribute to Mick and a reminder of the fragility of life.  It also forged a great relationship between the two clubs. Mick’s parents, Dave and Sue have not missed a game, and this year presented both clubs with a wall clock, a continual reminder of the link between the two towns.  In return, the Clermont Bears had a jersey made with one half the Biloela playing colours and the other half the Clermont colours.  Each member of the Purcival family was presented with one.   

In 2014, the game was won by Clermont which saw the scales evenly poised with five games a piece, a fitting end to an emotional reunion.  On the field, the game was filled with plenty of highlights including dominant performances by Clermont fullback and man of the match, Clayton Reynolds and centre, Sean Haufe both of whom scored two tries. 

Biloela Panthers captain coach Peter Rogers said the game had special significance because it had united the two teams, and provided great club rivalry.  “It has always been a close battle and it was fitting that the final result was five games each over the 10 year period.  It’s been a great way to remember Percy.” 

Coach of the 2004 grand final, Justin “Besser” Barrett made a special guest appearance assisting in the coaching duties on Saturday night.  Barrett was instrumental in organising the inaugural game, and has coached every team since its inception with the exception of this year’s team.  The night was certainly a poignant moment for him.  “Mick will never be forgotten in our club.  He would have loved the spirit in which the game was played, and it’s uncanny how it ended up with five games each.”  

Clermont co-coach and player Brendon Finger played in the 2004 grand final alongside Mick and said. “It was a really good game played in great spirit in front of a crowd that clearly understood the significance of the occasion.” 

He too believed it was a fitting ending to what has been a decade of great games.  “Mick was a great bloke, and a loyal friend.  He loved his footy, and wanted nothing more than to win a premiership which he did with the Bears in 2004.  The friendships we have formed over the past decade and particularly the bond the club has developed with Mick’s parents will continue despite the shield ending.” 

While it may have been the end of an era for the Mick Purcival Memorial Game, it was also the start of an era with the Clermont ladies team wearing the Bears jersey for the first time in front of the parochial home crowd in their curtain raiser game against the Longreach Fillies.  Judging by the positive response to the game by the crowd, this competition will certainly become a favourite throughout the upcoming season.

Coincidence or not, but every Mick Purcival Memorial Game the Bears have won, they have gone onto win the Central Highland grand final that year - perhaps an ominous sign for other Central Highlands teams competing in the 2014 season and a great year to be a Bears supporter.