Rugby league stakeholders from across the Queensland Outback met in Charleville recently to strategise the game's future in arguably one of the state's biggest heartlands.
Hosted by Queensland Rugby League, the forum allowed club volunteers to share their feedback on current and future challenges for both their clubs and the region with QRL and NRL staff.
It also provided a networking opportunity to collaborate and share ideas on the best practice for each club, with many exchanging knowledge and experiences to help one another advance.
Overall, 32 delegates attended the forum on November 10, representing clubs in Longreach, Barcaldine, Blackall, Augathella, Charleville, St George, Wandoan; plus, members from the Western Downs, Central West and Western Leagues.
QRL Regional General Manager Glenn Ottaway spearheaded the discussion after collating the results of a recent survey gauging feedback on the issues affecting the game in the Outback.
"What we found was that most clubs are really-well supported, both culturally and financially, which typifies the love for the game in the West," Ottaway said.
"In saying that, a lot of clubs are struggling to recruit and retain new players and volunteers, making it hard for clubs on game days.
"In 2019, we hope to provide further education and development to clubs in the west, ensuring the game continues to prosper on and off the field."
Drought can't suppress rural spirit
Outback QRL Operations Manager Peter Rafter said he thought the forum was a worthwhile event, with positive discussions had between a good number of attendees.
"I thought the forum was a success as we had a good number of representatives from across the Outback areas participate and pass on information to other club," Rafter said.
"All discussions were positive, and I hope everyone walked away feeling the future of rugby league in the Outback is looking healthy and in good hands."
As the Outback continues to battle the crippling drought, a refreshing sign of growth has been the massive 38% increase in junior participation over the past three seasons.
This growth in player numbers has been particularly centred in the Charleville, St George and Roma areas and can be directly attributed to the continued support by the 'Maroon Nomad' driven by Rafter.
Other factors helping to drive up this growth is the annual Adrian Vowles Cup, which was organised to give Under 14 kids in outback areas more footy.
Originally co-ordinated by Vowles with the assistance of Shaun Radnedge and Grant Bignell – all who grew up together in Charleville - next season they are anticipating a further 25% growth with more Under 14 and Under 16 teams expected to take part in the sixth-instalment early next year.
While there has been an overall decline in seniors participants (-11%); it is hoped the strategies discussed at the Outback forum will help with these numbers.
Outback Forum 2018 'By the Numbers':
• 71% were concerned about the future of rugby league in their town
• Over 50% struggled to keep kids in town and get players to participate in away games
• Only 40% of clubs struggled to attract players
• 67% of clubs struggled to attract volunteers
• 71% of clubs believed they had a great club culture