Who would have thought that a donation of just over $20 would have culminated in 50 years of rugby league celebrations? But that’s what it took, back in 1966, for Proserpine parents led by Warren Barry and Barry Barrett to launch the Proserpine Junior Rugby League Club.
Funded by a $20.50 donation from the Proserpine Senior Rugby league with the majority of the funds to affiliate the inaugural club with the North Queensland JRL, the club has gone from strength to strength over the past half century and has become the breeding ground for some of the league’s finest players.
Early tensions flare
However, the start wasn’t always easy. The club struggled to field full teams with some boys playing twice on the same day to make up the numbers. In addition, there was some strain between the Junior Rugby league and the Senior Rugby League. These tensions led to the junior matches being held at the Proserpine state high school and the formation of a junior referees’ association, solutions that allowed the fledgling club to grow.
The joy of junior rugby league
The first match was held on Anzac Day, 1966, and teams were fielded in Under-10s through to Under-15s. While success on the field was rare, Barry Barrett said “that didn’t matter as we all had a good time. My motto was that anyone can be a good winner, but a champion is also a good loser”.
Throughout the years, the club has been the starting block for many fine players. Three players in particular have made their presence felt not only for their football prowess, but for other reasons as well.
Natural talent cut short
The first is Russell King. King was the first North Queensland Junior Rugby League representative from Proserpine. His first coach was Barrett who recalls ‘his natural talent and ability was so great, he was widely regarded as the best winger of his age group in North Queensland”.
Selected to play in the North Queensland junior 14-years grade team to tour New Zealand in 1968, King played in all the major fixtures, and despite injury, ended up top try scorer for North Queensland. King was contracted to Townsville Souths but unfortunately passed away in 1969 at the age of 15. Barry has no doubt that with application and further coaching, “Russell would have made the grade in senior football at least to Queensland level”.
First Brahman in Origin
Move the clock forward to 1995 when Proserpine junior Paul Bowman made his First Grade NRL debut for the North Queensland Cowboys against South Sydney, the start of a football career that spanned 203 First Grade matches and 12 State of Origin appearances for Queensland over 13 years. He is the first Brahmans junior to represent Queensland in the State of Origin series.
In 2008, the Proserpine Whitsunday Junior Rugby league club launched the Paul Bowman Challenge, an annual two-day carnival for Under-9 teams across the state. The carnival is based on participation and fun, with an emphasis on good sportsmanship and being a good competitor, a fitting testament to the quality player Paul Bowman was. In its inaugural year, the carnival attracted 16 teams. In 2015, 48 teams made the annual trek to Proserpine to compete.
Tragedy strikes again
Sam Faust was born and raised in Proserpine. When he was 15, he was selected to play for the Queensland Open Schoolboys team which led to him being named in the Australian Merit team. In 2007, he was picked up by the North Queensland Cowboys playing in the latter part of the season, and developed a reputation as one of the Cowboys finest upcoming players.
Sam went on to play 24 matches for the Cowboys, before he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in 2009. In 2011, at just 26 years old, Sam lost his battle with cancer leaving behind his wife and three daughters.
The Proserpine Junior Rugby league club pay their respects to Sam at the Paul Bowman annual carnival with the Under-9 team relay called the Sam Faust Memorial Relay.
Mighty Maroons make memories
The passion the club and its executive members have for rugby league is apparent not just for their commitment to organising regular fixtures, but for stepping outside their comfort zone, and going above and beyond what’s expected to give the players and the community real rugby league experiences.
In 2015, the Queensland State of Origin Annual Fan Day was held in Proserpine, a joint venture between the Proserpine Whitsunday Junior Rugby League and the Proserpine Senior Rugby league. The Fan Day united the community and saw the Queensland State of Origin team fly into Proserpine for a street parade, a luncheon and junior training clinics, making memories that will stay with the young players for life. They weren’t the only ones left with lasting memories, however, as thousands of people from around the region travelled to Proserpine to meet the Origin stars.
While Queensland went on to win the 2015 series, the annual fan day went on to win the Whitsunday Regional Council Community Event of the Year at the 2016 Australia Day awards, which was just rewards for the efforts of the club and the community.
Celebrating 50 years
To commemorate this prestigious 50th anniversary, the club have planned a major celebration starting with a Golden Jubilee Reunion Dinner to be held at the Prince of Wales Hotel on Friday, July 8, followed by rugby league fixtures against the Bowen Seagulls and the Sarina Crocodiles on the Saturday. This will coincide with the unveiling of the new clubhouse showcasing sporting memorabilia from the past 50 years. There will be the obligatory old boy’s grudge match between ex-junior Brahmans and ex-junior Bowen Seagulls, and an Under-6 to Under-16 relay. Saturday night will see the birthday celebrated in true Brahman style with food and entertainment for the entire family.