‘Rocket’ Rod Jensen says his hometown of Ravenshoe is “full of heroes”.
But not for the reasons you think.
Situated on the Atherton Tableland in Far North Queensland, 147km south-west of Cairns, Ravenshoe became national news in 2015.
When an out-of-control four wheel drive crashed into a café last June, exploding a gas cylinder and producing a deadly fireball, it resulted in two deaths and 20 hospitalisations.
'The gestures of people in that town were the basis of the successes I experienced'
In the aftermath, media were glowing in their praise for the swift action of witnesses and the unbreakable solidarity of Ravenshoe’s community.
“But there is a greater story behind this,” says Jensen, the former Cowboys, Raiders, Adelaide and Huddersfield flyer.
“The people who stood up on that day have been doing it all their lives.
“I’m reluctant to say anybody became a hero that day, because it’s not just one time they’ve banded together to help each other out.”
Life on line
When the accident took place, one of the first on the scene was Dick Jensen, who wrenched the unconscious, critically injured driver from behind the wheel and removed him from further danger.
He put life and limb on the line, with a second nearby gas cylinder in danger of also erupting.
A local butcher, Dick Jensen is no relation to Rod – but the two certainly know of each other.
“Funnily enough, Dick Jensen was my first junior rugby league coach at the Ravenshoe Tigers,” says Rocket Rod.
“He’s one of those guys that’s been taking young guys under his wing and giving his time to make the town a better place all of his life.
“I have such an affinity for Ravenshoe and it’s because the gestures of people in that town were the basis of the successes I experienced in my career.
“The local publican used to drive me to junior rep games as a kid, people used to pitch in to help with costs if I ever travelled away, or they’d send me messages of support.”
Cup hits town
The satisfying postscript to all this is that the town with a population of less than 900 has been awarded its first match in Queensland’s state league, the Intrust Super Cup.
Sunday, July 24, will see Ravenshoe host a pivotal Round 20 clash between the Redcliffe Dolphins and the Cairns-based Northern Pride.
It coincides with Country Week, which will also see games go to Mount Isa, Barcaldine, Moranbah, Charleville and Gympie.
The special aspect for Jensen, who retired from playing last season with a premiership at Innisfail Brothers, is that he will return to where it all started, now as CEO of the Pride.
“The venue was wholly and solely chosen by the Queensland Government, but they did ask me for suggestions and Ravenshoe was one of the towns I put forward,” says Jensen.
“A lot of people are saying Ravenshoe only received a game because of the accident, but there’s more to it than that.
“This is about country towns being the life-and-blood of junior football, and a chance to highlight the infrastructure needed to continue that.
“The impact of rugby league in a country town goes way beyond what happens on the field, to the point where you can’t really separate the team and the community. It’s all inter-related.”
Asked if he has aspirations to become an administrator at the NRL level, 37-year-old Jensen baulks.
He is so fresh-faced in the world of officialdom that he still has a clause inserted in his employment contract stipulating he cannot play local league again.
Otherwise, you sense he’d be pulling on his signature headgear and charging on to the field again, such is the temptation of a game which helped transform his life.
“That premiership last year with Innisfail was a bittersweet pill, because as all the guys celebrated, I had to take stock of what I was walking away from,” he says.
“As the boys hopped on the bus to go out and party, I literally went the other direction with my family to the car to go to the next phase of my life.
“I’ve always wanted to taste more of what footy had to offer, outside of just playing, and I’m not just active with the Pride, but also Northern Division in general and QRL’s Indigenous activities.
“I must admit I’m a country kid at heart and I think it should culminate with me giving something back and helping people in the same region that helped me.”
Article courtesy of Rugby League Week: rugbyleagueweek.com.au