Each week former Queensland State of Origin strike weapon Chris Walker writes exclusively for QRL.com.au.
Across the state, all throughout this month and next, there will be children playing their first proper club game of rugby league.
The lasting memory of my first game was cheesing my older brother Shane right off.
I was aged five at the time and Shane was playing under 7s with Toowoomba Valleys.
There was no team in my age division, so I played up two grades for Shane’s team.
I’d hassled Dad enough for him to get sick of me and give me a go with the older kids.
That first game I scored two tries and I’m pretty sure Shane was filthy at me afterwards.
In the junior ages Shane was pretty quick, even though he slowed right down before it came time to play NRL.
Coming from a family of four brothers, we’d keep a tally each season of who had the most tries, and it was pretty competitive.
There was one season where Shane scored 74 tries and I scored 63. I think that was under 9s. Most other times, I reckon I beat him.
Back then, scoring as many tries as we could seemed to be more important than anything.
But the truth of it is that, looking back, the thing that made me so enthusiastic about rugby league was getting to hang out with my mates and all the special relationships that were formed.
You’d be looking forwards to catching up with your buddies as much as anything.
Our family didn’t own a TV for 11 years and, honestly, that formed the best days of my life.
The tuner on the back of the TV stopped working one day and Dad put it in the cupboard and said he’d fix it soon, but he never did.
Typical of Dad, it took him until my oldest brother Ben signed his first contract with the Broncos until we upgraded to another telly.
Us boys probably didn’t need to join a football club. Without a TV in the house, we played enough backyard cricket and footy to last us 10 lifetimes.
Yet it was the friendships that kept us eager to catch up with our mates when the offseason was over.
I remember some epic battles with Newtown Lions in particular during my junior days.
We had a few grand finals against them and they were always tough opponents, full of kids that knew how to play.
Dalby and Gatton also had decent teams. Part of the excitement, and of my memories to this day, was getting to play kids who were from out-of-town.
Things like that make junior footy an event, rather than just a sport.
You might be stuck at home all week, but on the weekend you hop in the family car, go on a trip, and everybody stops what they are doing to come and watch you play.
I guess I’m seeing it from the perspective of a country kid, but Brisbane is so spread out these days, I’m sure parents and kids can relate.
And trust me mums and dads, you might feel like you are stretched thin at times, but your kids will always remember you running around for them and the sacrifices made.
They’ll probably pay it forward by driving their own kids around to all different sports venues when it comes their turn at parenthood.
Then, as a grandparent, you get to rock up on gameday to see your grandkids play without going through all those freezing cold nights at training during the week.
I wouldn’t trade my memories for anything. My junior footy experiences will be part of who I am until I’m old and grey.
In my mind, those teams we faced - those players and clubs as a whole – are frozen in time to a degree.
Recently a team from the Toowoomba league, the Oakey Bears, held a Legends of League event after a few seasons of struggling.
I was only too happy to be involved and, in some small way, help them out to raise some funds.
I heard later that they also won all three grades in their next game.
That’s the thing that comes to strike you as you grow older.
You might have rivals in your younger days, but in the long run, we’re all in this game together.