Let's double up on Country Week: Walker

Former Queensland State of Origin player writes for QRL.com.au each week.

 

My philosophy in most respects is: "You can't have too much of a good thing."

That's why I'm proposing that we have two rounds of Country Week fixtures in the future – not just one!

I went out to Goondiwindi on the weekend to watch Redcliffe v Easts and it's easily one of the most enjoyable things that's happened in rugby league this year.

There were games held in regional centres all around Queensland, from Goondi in the south to Cooktown and Normanton in the north.

To add more fuel to the fire, the people of Papua New Guinea went crazy for the PNG Hunters' first game in Lae, with reports 25,000 people lined up to get into the 6000-seater stadium.

My wife Courtney and I are both from the Darling Downs, so trekking out to Goondiwindi allowed us both to get back in touch with our roots.

Passing through all the towns like Fassifern and Warwick and Inglewood brought back memories of sporting events growing up as kids.

When Courtney and I arrived in Goondiwindi, the rugby league field was one of the first things we saw.

I always love when that's the case with any destination.

There were already some nostalgic emotions welling up inside.

But then I saw the Intrust Super Cup clubs out on the field, running junior clinics for the kids and it really took me aback.

There wasn't a person out there who didn't genuinely love what they were doing.

It was all that's great about rugby league and returned some of the innocence to a sport that's image often gets bogged down at the top level in officialdom, expectations and the bottom line.

I hadn't been to Goondiwindi in about 20 years, but I was pleasantly surprised.

There's something about country people that makes me warm to them instantly.

They welcomed us with open arms, whether it was the man on the street or the town mayor, and at the official welcome dinner everyone was friendly and the hospitality was amazing.

On game day I went out and bought a pair of RM Williams to inject a little something back into the community, and I'm sure everyone that trekked out there spent money in some way that will contribute to the community.

We went for breakfast and pulled up a table next to the local school bus driver and his wife.

We got chatting pretty much straight away and could have stayed there all day talking footy.

They are the priceless little moments from Country Week that aren't captured in the results.

Speaking of which, it was a privilege to not only be in Goondiwindi, but to have a chance with Channel Nine to be one of the commentators for the game, which ended in a 16-14 thriller to Redcliffe.

There were close to a dozen NRL players taking part in the contest and the contest was a top spectacle befitting the occasion.

I think for the country people to see QRL Chairman Bruce Hatcher and other directors and top officials mingling in with the crowd was really heart-warming.

At the end of the day, the guys in the front office are footy fans too and the general public probably doesn't get a chance to see them in that environment enough.

Another special moment I'll take away from the weekend was when an Easts player went down injured.

The score was still in the balance then, but everyone in the crowd was just concerned for the player's wellbeing.

The spectators were still concerned after the game, which is an attitude that perhaps gets lost in the bigger stadiums.

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, everyone thankful to have the Intrust Super Cup in town, it brought out the best aspects in people as true fans.

I know there are financial and logistical hurdles involved, but I'd love to see us have a Country Week in the first two months of the season too – maybe add Round 6 to Round 19.

The NRL should throw their weight behind it, because that was PR that you can't let slip by.

There were some big distances involved in the latest Country Week, so maybe we could split it up so that each club has a Country Week game that takes less than five hours travel, and one that takes a bit longer.

Anyway, I just want to say what an unbelievable event it was and thank you to everyone who made it so special.