Rugby league plays a key part in daily life in Bundaberg, and as such, the local junior league sprung into action to develop a plan that would allow children in the region to get back on the playing field as soon as possible.
The Bundaberg Junior Rugby League committee devised a plan in early May which they hoped would see community rugby league return as soon and safely as possible, working around the COVID-19 restrictions and Queensland Government guidelines.
The committee, led by chairman Wayne Bender, has since had to make a few adjustments to come into line with the Queensland Rugby League’s Return to Play protocols, but they all remain positive about the possibly of seeing as many girls and boys as possible on the field as soon as possible.
The proposal covered areas such as centralising games, proper hygiene measures and seating and social distancing.
“When it first came about when they closed us down and we couldn’t play football, the committee and I came together and put together (a) proposal,” Bender said.
“We have had to adopt and change a lot of that to (suit) what’s present; now we are only allowed to have 100 people in a venue and all that sort of thing.
“The overall of that proposal is what we are working on, so there’s a few changes in it, we are not using dressing rooms, we are going to close those down ... we have closed down all the toilet blocks, except for the ones at the front of Salter Oval, so we haven’t got as much cleaning to have to do as what we first had in there.
“And all the grandstands now, we have closed them down.
“Our theory is there, we are going to tell people to bring their own chairs along and they sit in their own chairs and they take their own chairs home, so that solves our grandstand problems.
“We have changed a lot (of the plan to be able) to go on and play and game, but the basics of what we had, we have just adjusted that, so we are still going to have security at the gate (to help enforce the 100-person rule).”
The committee has also taken a novel approach to scheduling games, aiming to utilise all the space they safely can, and also, spreading out the weekend’s matches from two days to three days.
“Here in Salter Oval, we are pretty lucky, as Wests (Western Suburbs Junior Rugby League) is straight across the road and their main boundary is council ground ... and you can physically actually look onto the fields,” Bender said.
“So, I have talked to Central Division about that, and we are going to use that field for our little ones (under 7s) to play on, so mum and dad can come along, sit on their car and sit along the fence line and actually see the game from outside of the venue, so that made it a bit easier on that one.
“We are doing all of this, but with the amount of games we are trying to play and the amount of people who are allowed in, we have actually got to play football over three days.
“The clubs are talking about it now ... we had a meeting about it the other night with all the stakeholders and the QRL and they have got until June 18 to make their mind up if they are going ahead with it or not.
“But all the clubs are very positive about it and they are all ringing me and they are all doing their COVID plans and all that now, so that’s a sign to me that we are going to move on with it.”
Through it all, the motto of the committee has been to 'plan for the worst and hope for the best' and keep fingers crossed to see play return in a manageable way.
“The worst case scenario is the one we have now, and we are going to have to deal with this one, but ... by the time we start to play football, even after June 18, we have to wait to start Stage 3 and the teams have got to have contact for two weeks in any case, so after that date, we are still looking at three-four weeks before they start playing football in any case,” Bender said.
“In those three to four weeks, it could all change again and we have to take another step, a step up or a step down whichever way we go.
“We didn’t sit back waiting for this to happen, our idea was, as soon as we got the go ahead, and knew what we were up against, we wanted to get it happening as soon as possible.”
If a decision is made in the upcoming June 18 meeting to press ahead with the junior season, following the cancellation of the senior competition, it will not just benefit children in Bundaberg, but also juniors further out in the region.
“(Fraser Coast) only have two clubs over there, Hervey Bay and Wallaroos; and we actually have five clubs in our competition here in Bundaberg – we have Childers, Wests, Easts, Waves and Past Brothers,” Bender said.
“The Childers club, because they are a little township outside of Bundy here, they sort of only field from under 7s.
“(But) this year will be the first year they field an under 13 side in about five years now, so that’s another reason (we want to proceed); they have worked pretty hard and hopefully they can get that team happening this year too.”
For more information and guidance on how clubs can get back on the training paddock, including how to make your club COVIDSafe and key cleaning protocols, visit the QRL’s Return to Play information site.