Zone carnival at the Ridge

This year’s Zone 5 Carnival was held in Lightning Ridge, even though the Ridge is slightly over the border. However, they still play in our Queensland competitions including the Zone 5 and the Balonne Barwon Junior Rugby League. 

The carnival is a weighted rugby league competition that commenced in 1966 as schoolboy footy and is still alive and well, even though it left the school system many years ago.

All teams still contest the Vic Jensen Cup with the original trophy still being used today.

Zone 5 is Under 43kg and Under 12 carnival comprising of eight teams from Central Downs (Allora, Clifton) Balonne Barwon (Lightning Ridge, Mungindi, St George and Dirranbandi), Cunnamulla, South Burnett, McIntyre (Tenterfield, Goondiwindi), Western Downs, Warwick and Wynnum. 

These teams come together once a year and enables players who have been playing against much larger opposition all year the opportunity to test themselves against players their own size.  As a result, the games are always close with very few injuries.

One of the big plusses for carnivals like these is they are organised for kids who love their rugby league, but because of their size do not get as many opportunities as their bigger opposition to play rep footy. 

At the end of the carnival, each team nominates four players and are placed in teams for a City v Country-style game as the finale of the week. 

Teams also supply the Player of the Match awards for the opposition teams.  Each team nominates awards for their Best Back, Best Forward and Most Improved with the overall carnival awards selected by a panel from the list supplied.

The carnival commenced with the weigh-in on Sunday afternoon (July 3) where some players were given a second chance to get the weight right after they went under a quick weight reduction of running around in garbage bags to lose that extra kilo or two, the carnival was then officially opened on the Monday by South Sydney try scorer extraordinaire, Nathan Merritt.  

Games were played over five days with all teams playing each other once and the winner presented the Vic Jensen Trophy on the Friday. 

In between, there was a bowling night, movie night and disco night for the players. 

The Wednesday of the carnival started with a march down the main street involving all players and coaching staff where the town of Lightning Ridge came to a standstill.

This was followed by an athletics carnival then a coaching clinic in the afternoon with rugby league legend, Ronnie (Rambo) Gibbs.

These Zone competitions are run by an extremely dedicated group of people including some like Pat Cavanagh, a dairy farmer from Allora. Even though Pat has never had a child compete in this carnival, he has been helping run it since 1969 and is still coaching the Central Downs team. 

There are many others involved like Pat who have been helping out for more than 20 years.

Many well known players have participated over the years who have gone on to make a name for themselves at a higher level including Neil Wharton, Grant Rix, Dale Shearer, Shane Webke and Darren Lockyer as well as a couple players who went on to represent Australia in Rugby Union – Chris Roache and Greg Holmes.

This year was also a year to honour with Life Membership for Lawrence Anderson (Cheesey) from Cunnamulla for his 10 years of contribution to the Zone 5. 

Another bonus this year was the fact that the local Balonne Barwon Bandits took out the carnival.

A week like this in Lightning Ridge obviously takes a lot of planning and thanks to Neil McIntosh, Scott Haverhoek and the entire Lightning Ridge Junior Rugby League it is a week that many junior Rugby League players and parents will remember for a long time.