"It was really nice to be recognised as the little club who has been plodding along but refuses to quit."
This is the story of the Dirranbandi Frogs - located just under 600 kilometres west of Brisbane. Although they may have only had seven active players this season, their involvement proved critical for the survival of the Balonne / Barwon Junior Rugby League competition.
So much so, their willingness to be the 'saviour' of junior footy in the far south-west along with their impeccable community spirit has earned them this year's Queensland Rugby League club of the year title.
Involving teams from both Queensland and New South Wales, the immediate future of Balonne / Barwon was in jeopardy when the decision was made to close the state's borders earlier this year, but with the Frogs being based smack bang in the middle of the 'border bubble', they proved to be the gateway to keeping rugby league alive and kicking in the early stages of the recommenced season.
"I guess we did have that advantage being a central location to everybody which obviously had its benefits during COVID because we were within the ‘border bubble’", Dirranbandi club secretary Jen Miller said.
"Lightning Ridge and Mungindi could travel to us, but couldn’t travel to St George, and vice versa – so St George could travel to us but couldn’t travel to Lightning Ridge or Munginidi."
Being in the middle of it all, the diminutive population of 640 grew exponentially as the community became a rugby league hub for the regional league.
"I think definitely on our game days, there was an influx of activity in our town," Miller said.
"We’re a very small town where we’ve got a service station, a takeaway store, a food store and usually the little boutique shop will open on a Saturday when we have game days because they usually get a bit of business through.
"There was especially a great benefit to the food providers in our community because they definitely reaped the benefits of having additional business on those days."
Not withstanding the financial benefits of returning, the positive social impact rugby league has on the community was the biggest reason all four clubs persisted to get back on the field after the shutdown.
"I think that’s probably why the season ended up going ahead for our region this year because there was always going to be challenges with COVID," Miller said.
"It was always going to be easier to just say… ‘no, we’re just not going to go ahead’, but I think for the community’s benefit, there was a push – particularly from all the club presidents – that yes, we do want this to go ahead and yes, our communities do need a bit of a social outlet.
"They need something positive within the community for the year.
"The kids need an opportunity to get out there and run and have some fun with each other when it’s been such a challenging year with everybody, so we’ve been very fortunate that we’ve been able to do that."
Challenged with dwindling player numbers as a result of the ongoing crippling drought, some people may question why so much effort is put in to keep the Frogs hopping along.
"I think it’s probably just the history of the club. It has in the past been a very, very successful club that has had quite a large number of players – this is going back several years," Miller said.
"But I think also because our club is central to all the other community locations within our competition, I think it’s pivotal for the Balonne / Barwon competition.
"It’s also the community spirit and the opportunity for the community to get together in a positive way to enjoy some outdoor time. Everyone from the properties gets to come in and have a bit of a chinwag and it’s just a positive community spirit.
"[The win] was very unexpected because we didn’t even know we had been nominated, but it was really nice to be valued and recognised as the little club who’s been plodding along but refuses to quit.
"With all of the celebration among it [within the town and across social media] you can see there is a lot of support from the community for our little club."
Gearing up for 2021, the club is on the lookout for more players to try and increase numbers to allow them to don on the mighty Frogs colours once again.
"With our small numbers, other than last year, our kids haven’t been able to play as a Dirranbandi team in the Dirranbandi jerseys for a long time," Miller said.
"Fortunately, last year, we had a full under 8s team which was absolutely fantastic.
"But our kids often have to join St George, Mungindi or Lightning Ridge when they play on game days, so it does make it a little bit tricky because they obviously don’t get to train with those other communities… they’ve just got to rock up and intermingle, but it’s good because all the kids get to know each other so it works out in the end, but it is a shame we don’t see the Dirranbandi jerseys on the field.
"We’ve always got community volunteers though so that’s the big thing that makes our game days work because we have a lot of community support to assist in the running of the day.
"They don’t have to do it, but they give up their time and they’re the people that make it happen.
"We now just want a few extra players."