If things had gone according to plan this year, this weekend, there would have been more than 400 rugby league players, referees and staff getting ready to ‘go bush’ for Get in the Game Country Week round.
While the competition has been called off for the year, over the past few seasons, the Country Week round has become a hugely popular fixture on the Intrust Super Cup calendar.
However, it takes a lot of forward planning and work to make it all happen, with charter flights, bus (and sometimes ferry) transfers and limited accommodation to contend with.
“If we hadn’t had to call off the competition due to COVID-19, during this past week, I would have been organising Country Week, getting travel and logistics sorted for six venues... including the two teams, officials and everybody else to get out there for each venue,” statewide competitions executive Dinah Glykidis said of the work that went into ensuring things ran smoothly off the field.
Country Week helps boost communities
“It is actually 10 months of planning, but leading into the weekend starts from May and then it builds up each week to the full week – early mornings, late nights, just to make sure everyone has a bed to sleep in.
“The checklist for each venue is a long one. You have to tick off and make sure each team has ‘x’ amount of people travelling, a bed, do they have flights there, do they have a bus to go out there, is there a bus ready for them, are there cars available for them?
“We do it all so our match officials, staff and everyone can get there.”
For Glykidis, who ideally would have “been freezing sitting by the fire with a red“ at one of the venues, the hard work brought its own rewards.
“It is worth the effort,” Glykidis said. “You see the community when you get out there and you see how excited they are to see these players come to their town and play a game and just talking to them; the community lifts.”
Statewide competitions manager Dave Maiden said the important initiative, which receives support and funding from the Queensland Government, was a fantastic way for the game to reconnect with regional areas.
“I love Country Week, just for the sake we got out of the southeast corner, we get out of Brisbane, we get away from our comfort zone, we see how the game is played regionally and community-wise,” Maiden said.
“It makes our clubs connect with those community leagues and understand that the services that we provide at statewide level competitions level are excellent; and I think the players appreciate it more when they see the conditions that some of our community leagues actually play under and just accept.
“From that point of view, it is a great grounding exercise for our clubs and makes them appreciate what they currently have.”
Each year, it is a round that garners plenty of interest, with a growing number of regions putting in their submissions to be a host venue for one of the six Australia-based games.
During recent seasons, Papua New Guinea has hosted their own Country Week games, thanks to the PNGRFL and have taken games to Lae and Wabag in the Highlands with plans to take matches to Goroka and Kimbe in coming years.
“I could set venues for three years in advance we have that many expressions of interest,” Maiden said.
“But we need to make sure that the first thing a potential host club requires is to get the support of the league, the league then needs to get the support of the region and then the region sends in a letter of endorsement as well so we know that all levels are being compliant and the club is being compliant.
For Maiden, it’s “one of the best rounds of the year”, and one he looks forward to each year.
“I have been to a few. I loved Barcaldine, which was one of my first times, I loved Stanthorpe when I went down there,” Maiden said.
“I have been to Winton, Julia Creek and having a feed with the committee and I have been to Ravenshoe, which is my home town after they had the café explosion and that was great to see the game played up there.
“I have to say Pittsworth last year was a cracker, I hadn’t been there for 20 years and that was like a reunion just to see all the people and the players and their sons and their daughters and their grandsons playing the game and the hospitality that it is renowned for was just phenomenal.
“I loved going back to Pittsworth, I went to uni and was out there 20-30 years ago, so it was a really enjoyable experience last year.
“The enjoyment the kids in the community get from talking with the Intrust Super Cup players, the coaches and staff, because they are all accessible.
“The one thing I am proudest about is the fact that our teams are accessible, they are transparent, they make sure they open their doors.”
It is hoped that conditions will allow for Get in the Game Country Week – supported by BHP to return for season 2021.