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Maroon nomad thrilled to be on the road again

The wheels on the maroon bus are finally going round and round again.

Four months after being restricted by the government mandate on travel, Queensland Rugby League outback operations manager Peter Rafter has finally been able to hit the road once more.

"I've spent 15 weeks at home, and whilst it's been good to be home, especially when my third grand daughter was born, it was great to get back to the outback and see everyone," Rafter said.

"The clubs out here have been so welcoming and friendly, so nothing has changed since I last left.

"I've only been able to see about half my clubs so far, so I'm looking forward to catching up with the other half soon."

The 'maroon nomad' typically spends a good half to three quarters of the year travelling around the remote parts of the state as a vital member of QRL's regional staff, to assist clubs in playing our great game beyond the black stump.

Rafter at a previous visit to Birdsville State School with NRL Development's Rod Dahl.
Rafter at a previous visit to Birdsville State School with NRL Development's Rod Dahl.

But despite being more than 500 kilometres away from his second home for a considerable amount of time due to the worldwide pandemic, the tyranny of distance is something that always has - and will be - a major factor for those way out west, so needing to adapt to technology to communicate wasn't anything out of the ordinary for Rafter's local clubs and leagues.

Keeping in frequent contact with each other, as soon as a return to play looked imminent, the warmly, charismatic, buoyant, 'she'll be right' attitude always shown by outback communities allowed them to begin plotting their resumption dates, starting with Roma juniors Saturday.

"It was a very successful day and what really worked in Roma was that they held games at two venues and all the clubs pitched in and helped out in different ways," Rafter said.

Action kicked off in Roma last weekend.
Action kicked off in Roma last weekend.

"For example, Wandoan, who are only new and come from Western Downs this year to join the Roma competition [due to that competition not playing in 2020], had their secretary time-keeping in the under 6 game. 

"That's the sort of things they do out there, everyone helps each other out.

"It made it an absolutely amazing day."

Further competitions will get underway in the west this weekend with the Balonne / Barwon Junior Rugby League kicking off on the Queensland / New South Wales border.

"Dirranbandi and Lightning Ridge will head to St George this weekend, and then the following weekend they'll head to Dirranbandi," Rafter said.

"After that, they're planning to head to Lightning Ridge where Walgett will also join in that day, but they've actually got restrictions down in New South Wales at the moment where only one parent can go to the games, so those clubs have had to work in with that."

In Charleville, junior games are going to be held on Fridays and Saturdays during the next few weeks with players from Cunnumulla, Quilpie and Augathella invited to join in round robins across the different age groups.

And in the central west, a meeting with all senior clubs on Sunday will cement a State of Origin concept between the six clubs.

The Dirranbandi Frogs will feature in this year's Balonne / Barwon competition.
The Dirranbandi Frogs will feature in this year's Balonne / Barwon competition.

"The Eastern Greys and the Western Reds will be partaking in a cross-region clash," Rafter said.

"The Greys will consist of Blackall, Barcaldine and Alpha players and the Reds will feature Ilfracombe, Longreach and Winton.

"The two teams will play a number of games across the different towns and then after they play four or five games, they'll head down and play two games against Charleville and Cunnamulla before returning to the central west to play one more game against their south west rivals."

With the relentless drought still an everyday challenge, despite the COVID-19 crisis dominating the headlines, the return of footy has been able to reignite the flame in an otherwise dull time.

"I think it's been a frustrating time for all out here in the outback because they haven't had a single case and one thing COVID didn't do was get rid of the drought, so the drought is still happening and now COVID is happening," Rafter said. 

"But in saying that, the people are always so upbeat.

"Being in Roma on Saturday was unbelievable... it was probably the best feeling I've seen at junior rugby league in a long, long time and I'm expecting that at every ground you go to this year.

"Everyone is back together with kids running around and playing together and parents catching up with old friends from the next town that they haven't seen in a while.

"It's allowed old friendships to be picked up again and everyone just wants to talk footy.

"The sooner we can get more footy played, the better everyone will be."