Keen young players in Mt Isa have been training hard and are ready for rugby league to return to the field this weekend.
Games will return to the region in stages, with juniors getting the ball rolling with the under 6 to under 11 age groups launching the new season, with the under 13 and senior leagues starting from August 1.
“It’s back,” QRL Northern Region operations manager Sarah Bax said.
“We are going to see how we go over the next two weeks, as two clubs are not returning, but those kids that were with those clubs have been offered a pathway to still play... all those players are all being permitted over to Cloncurry to play with their club (for this season), as they are struggling for some numbers.
“The other two clubs who are also returning, Town and Wanderers, are quite strong, so we thought we’d put them into that team.”
The seniors and under 13s will be the next players back in action, with the seniors competition going ahead almost as originally planned.
“We have had one team pull out in the seniors, so we are back to a four-team competition, and they will play over six weeks, with a three-week finals series," Bax said.
“We have had to delay our season, but originally we aimed to play 10 rounds; so it hasn’t (really) affected the length of our season.
“We have four teams, Wanderers, Black Stars, Town and Cloncurry (taking part); and Brothers pulled out this year."
Older female players in the region will also have their opportunity to play.
"Before COVID hit, we launched a two-team women’s competition," Bax said.
"To keep the momentum of this, we have created a Town of Origin series that will see a team from Mount Isa take on Cloncurry the ultimate battle of the outback towns.
"We are looking forward to the ladies getting back on the field and the town what the women of the outback can do.
“We will also have a new program running a City v Country under 17 girls league tag competition.
"We hope that by offering another form of the game, we can create more interest in the girls rugby league space in regional towns and eventually these players develop into our senior women’s teams.”
In more exciting news, the League will also have two new grades starting up this year, with a new format taking place in the boys under 15 and under 17 age groups.
“This group of players haven’t had a proper competition in more than 12 months and have had very low numbers in these age groups in the past,” Bax said.
“For this season however, a new City v Country format will be trialled to try and get as many players involved as possible.
“All players train together during the week and will then be split into teams to play their games.”
Games nights will kick off on Friday, July 31 and will occur on August 7, August 28, September 4, September 11 and September 18.
“We have modelled this off a school competition State of Origin that ran last year against the two high schools in town,” Bax said.
“We had to work in with the school and when they are due to go on school camps, we do have a bigger break (between games) in August.
“We have done a lot more liaising with the schools than previously to just try and pull those kids in.”
Overall, it is set to be a busy season for players in Mt Isa and Bax was as excited as the players to enjoy the games.
“We have a jam-packed season in the later half of the year,” Bax said.
“It is definitely good news to have the football coming back.
“You can definitely tell by the training (yesterday); all the kids were happy to come back.
“On game days, it will just be a learning curve for everyone with the new things (around COVID-19), but I think once everyone learns the new protocols and implement that social distancing and how to get in and out of games, I think they will find it so easy.
“I don’t think there will be much change after that, it will be the new normal.”