Cutters await the calm after cyclone

As Mackay Cutters coach Steve Sheppard bunkered down with his wife and two young daughters in Mackay on Monday night, whatever shapes the PNG Hunters might throw at his team on Saturday evening paled into insignificance.

It's easy at times to get caught up in the narrow rugby league world we inhabit, but after a stirring win over Wynnum Manly last weekend; the Cutters players and coaching staff were quickly brought back down to earth by the impending ferocity of an enormous weather event that was bearing down on their region.

The Intrust Super Cup reaches into communities from the New South Wales border all the way up to Cairns, so when something the magnitude of Tropical Cyclone Debbie is on a path of widespread destruction that takes in as many as four of our clubs – we all hold our collective breaths.

As I watched the news on Monday evening tracking Debbie's progress, I couldn't imagine how anyone in the affected areas would be able to sleep that night.

The answer according to Sheppard was simple; they didn't.

Rugby league was put on hold for a few days in Mackay this week, but yesterday (Wednesday) the Cutters players gathered again at BB Print Stadium to go through video and do some training indoors, the playing surface unfit as it continued to be inundated with heavy rainfall.

Co-captain Andrew Davey was the only player absent, as his path from Walkerston was cut by floodwater from the rising Pioneer River.

Sheppard however remained hopeful that they would get at least one field session before hosting the Hunters.

That the Cutters can play at all this weekend is a small mercy in itself, but now that the game can go ahead, it provides an important outlet for Mackay residents to gather and share stories about the harrowing experiences of earlier in the week.

“I've been through a few cyclones, so when things like this happen you just stay indoors until it's over,” said Sheppard, who grew up in Mareeba.

“It has been very, very windy and very wet, but the region’s not doing too bad compared to poor Hamilton Island, Airlie Beach and Bowen.

“Even though we've got a few little problems, it's nothing like those poor buggers.

“We lost a bit of signage and there's a bit of water in our Level 2 corporate area because of an inch gap in the window tracking, but we've got power at the stadium. (*Editor’s note – the stadium has since lost power after this column was submitted, but appears on track to be back on in time to prepare for the game.)

“A few of the boys in the team lost power, but thankfully they and their families are all safe and well.

“It's a good opportunity now to get the community together and they can share their stories and their feelings and hopefully we can put a few smiles on a few people's faces.”

There were similarly nervous waits and disruptions for Intrust Super Cup clubs in Cairns, Townsville and Rockhampton, with the Capras having to head indoors for the second week in succession, while the local league looks like it will be another washout.

But they'll be back on the field this weekend doing their own community service, giving local footy fans who might be doing it tough something to look forward to.

Did you know? with Tony Webeck

CQ Capras are searching for their third win in a row this week when they travel to play Norths. If they can come away with the win, it will be the first time they have done so since 2009. Kim Williams' team revelled in playing at Cbus Super Stadium prior to the Titans-Cowboys NRL game last Saturday, registering a big win over Tweed Heads and backing up their Round 3 win over Burleigh.  

A former editor of Big League, Tony Webeck is the Chief Queensland Correspondent for NRL.com.