WHEN Kingaroy Red Ants junior Chris McQueen made his Maroons debut last year, I phoned his former club to find out whether his home town believed he would ever crack State of Origin.
“Nah mate, he wasn’t much chop when he played here. I’m pretty shocked to be honest,” an official, whose name I won’t repeat, said.
“He wasn’t the most talented kid in his team. There were other guys more talented, but they were never interested in moving out from Kingaroy and dropped out of the game.”
That statement is why rugby league must invest greater resources and money into country areas throughout Queensland.
For the past 20 years, journalists and rugby league officials have bemoaned rugby league’s slow death in the bush and for 20 years, only half-baked ideas and lip-service has been produced from that frustration.
We are not doing enough.
This round of the Intrust Super Cup however is a great start and a concept the NRL should mimic.
With the backing of the Queensland Government's Get in the Game initiative, the QRL takes the second best rugby league competition in the world to country Queensland, with games played at Kingaroy, Emerald, Moranbah, Longreach and Mareeba.
Last week I drove from Townsville to Cairns to watch the Intrust Super Cup top of the table clash between Northern Pride and Tweed Heads, and oh, there was an NRL match on after too.
On the way I passed Gordonvale, the home town of Origin star Nate Myles, Innisfail, the hometown of Origin star Billy Slater, and Tully who can now claim another NRL player in Pride five-eighth Shaun Nona who would tell me later in the day he was set to sign with the Melbourne Storm.
Of the 17 players in the Maroons’ Game III team, nine were from country towns.
Only five were from greater Brisbane (Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Corey Parker, Matt Gillett and Johnathan Thurston.)
That statistic right there is proof of regional Queensland’s importance to rugby league.
In Cairns last Sunday, I drove past Barlow Park at 10.30am to witness Rabbitohs fans lined up outside the gate for a game that didn't kick off until 3pm.
That passion is rarely witnessed in Brisbane.
The NRL should create a “country week” in its 2015 schedule to harness that passion.
Yes, NRL clubs would lose money and attendances would drop significantly simply because of ground size.
The NRL however has a future fund and clubs could be reimbursed from this fund.
The country is often viewed as rugby league’s past, but the reality the origins of our current Maroons illustrate, is that the country must be part of our future.