The second year of the Under 14 Central Outback Challenge has just been completed with the finals played at St George.
The winners this year were the Roma team for the second year running, the boys only lost one game during the season which consisted of five rounds and three games each round.
These rounds were held in Miles, Blackall, Roma, Charleville and St George.
The boys played in all conditions this year with the first round at Miles played in the heat.
There was that much rain in Blackall leading up to the day and during that it was more suitable to have a Life Guard on duty rather than a Sports Trainer, while Roma was just what you would expect for a great day of footy.
Charleville was the coldest and wettest day of the year with temperatures equivalent to 1.5 degrees.
Team managers started the buses up with the heater going so the boys had somewhere to warm up before and after the games.
This year, the season was supported by the Brisbane Broncos who supplied some gear and trophies for the players.
Paul Dyer from the Broncos and development officers Mick Hancock and Mick De Vere (both former Broncos, Origin and Australian Test players) attended the day at Charleville.
Despite the extremely cold conditions, both Micks ran the lines as well as refereed games.
Their efforts have been greatly appreciated by the players as well as coaching staff who attended coaching clinics run by the Broncos.
The Outback Challenge came about as there is not much organised footy for age groups after Under 12 in the Outback.
Now the boys get to play at least 15 games as well as some rep footy games so all up most of the boys play over 20 games a season.
They travel by bus organised by some very dedicated people with some teams travelling almost 8000kms this year just for the Central Outback Challenge.
When you consider most of these boys also played in the Outback Muster at Winton, then travelled to Coolum in June for the City Country Cultural Exchange they would have clocked up over 11,000kms for seven days of footy.
It is not just a matter of turning up on a Saturday and start playing, most teams do not get to train together between rounds and get together on the Friday before they play sometimes meeting each other for the first time.
Costs are kept to a minimum with players paying up to $50 for a weekend away which includes their travel, food and accommodation.
Accommodation for the teams who participate in the Outback Challenge is supplied from the kindness of the hosting clubs.
Teams that stay overnight bring their swags along and sleep on the floor at the rugby league clubhouse or at the local showgrounds courtesy of the local Council.
Mostly they cook their own meals, but at some venues parents from the hosting club cook and serve up a variety of dishes and desserts for the teams.
The Central West team, who do the most travelling, stop on each trip at Fanny Maes in Tambo where the owner Mardi Noonan feeds the boys for free.
Sportsmanship is a standout during the season. If the players see that a team may be short of numbers they do not have a problem with putting their hand up to play with an opposition team.
As the season progresses, the players improve, the hits are bigger, the tries are more spectacular and there are a lot of friendships and memories made which will last a lifetime.
This is the real grassroots of rugby league and these players, parents and coaching staff have not experienced anything different and love what they do.
Playoff for 3 v 4: Miles defeated Charleville
Grand Final – Roma 28 defeated Central West 10
Central Outback Challenge Player of the Year – Cody Fechner (Roma)
Central West Player of the Year – Mikey Wilde
Charleville Player of the Year – Jarra Briggs
Miles Player of the Year – Will Crosby
Roma Player of the Year – Adam Hodgson
St George Player of the Year – Rhyley Petfield