A record number of Under 8 teams converged on Artie Gofton Oval in Ingham last weekend to participate in the second annual Dean Schifilliti Shield hosted by Herbert River Crushers Junior Rugby League.
A total of 21 teams travelled from far and wide to take part, eight more than last year which included Cairns, Hope Vale, Mackay, Richmond / Hughenden, Tully, Palm Island, Townsville and Innisfail.
Dean Schifilliti was again present at the carnival and stayed all day where he was obliging with fan photos, signing autographs and introducing himself to all teams.
Schifilitti began his rugby league career in the Ingham district before starting his professional career with Ilawarra Steelers where he was in 2006 named in the 'Team of Steel' on the club's 25th anniversary, as one of the best player in the club's history.
During his career, he played a total of 184 first grade games for South Sydney, North Queensland, Adelaide Rams and Parramatta Eels, while in 1995, he was the first player to be signed with North Queensland Cowboys in the club's inaugural year.
In the junior tournament, no scores are kept and there are no winners or losers, so everyone that participates and rugby league in general are regarded as the real winners.
The non-competitive carnival which promotes fun, participation and sportsmanship has a Spirit Award on offer.
A spectator Nellda Mathieson posted the following comment on social media:
"I watched Hope Vale play in my hometown of Ingham and they displayed hardcore footy. They also played really well against Matty Bowen's team."
Hope Vale were undefeated in Pool B and received the carnival's Spirit Award, which was a great achievement as the team were participating for the first time..
At first, the Hope Vale youngsters weren't to sure what to do and sat there for a brief moment until they realised they had won and then excitedly ran up to collect the trophy.
This was a proud moment for everyone that had travelled to watch them play and it was impossible to wipe the smiles from their faces.
The team really enjoyed themselves, at first there were a few players who were homesick, as being so young, this was probably the first time many of them were away from their families, but they all provided moral support to each other.
Most of the team are related which made it much easier knowing they had cousins on the trip with them.
The youngsters gained the experience of being away from home and having to be more independent, as well as playing against different teams.
Former North Queensland Cowboys legend, Matty Bowen was also in attendance as his son was playing for Central Coast (Townsville) team.
Central Coast were getting the better of Hope Vale side in the second half, until Hope Vale managed to score a couple of run-away tries and secure the win.
In their local competition, Hope Vale play the same team for 12 rounds, so having the opportunity to play different teams made them think about their game plan.
While Hope Vale had one of the smallest built teams on the field, however what they lacked in size they made up for in heart. The players put on a show which was exciting to watch.
Due to Hope Vales's remote location, they can struggle to obtain sponsors to assist with the costs of attending carnivals.
This year, the team had tremendous support from Hope Vale Shire Council, Cape Flattery Silica Mines and J A Pearson Constructions.
Hope Vale PCYC also assisted with sponsorship and Teneille Nuggins was responsible for organising the trip for the Under 8 team to Ingham and also wrote letters to the sponsors asking for support.
Nuggins said the game is thriving in Hope Vale, as this year alone the number of registrations in senior and junior competitions have increased.
She also said QRL Northern Division had been amazing with the support they had given them throughout this season by providing training opportunities for volunteers and for remote players to compete at a regional level.
"It's great, a few years ago there wasn't a lot of opportunities and now there are which is good news for the game in our region," Nuggins said.
"It also would be beneficial to have a major corporate sponsor to assist the regional areas only as (the cost) for teams to attend carnivals is a lot and teams will be given more opportunities."
Herbert River Crushers junior rugby league club thanked all the volunteers, referees, coaching staff, players and supporters for their hard work on the day and in the lead up to the carnival.
Wilmar and B J Murray Contracting were thanked for their generous sponsorship of the event.
The club also thanked Schifilliti for attending and mingling with teams and supporters and organisers are predicting the carnival will be back even bigger and better in 2020.
Main image: Former NRL legend Matty Bowen with the Hope Vale Under 8 team who won the Spirit Award at Dean Schifilliti carnival in Ingham.