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South Burnett's 'more than footy' approach to develop next generation

The South Burnett has produced a number of quality rugby league players over time with the likes of former Queensland Maroons greats Steve Renouf, Willie Tonga and Gavin Cooper all hailing from beyond the Bunya Mountains.

But four years ago, the production line of talent was on the verge of coming to a screeching halt when the proud rugby league region struggled to field junior representative teams for an upcoming carnival.

After being left embarrassed and having to withdraw from that event, a South Burnett legend lit the fire in the belly of four guys who hardly knew each other to do something about it and restore and revitalise the greatest game of all in the region.

One of those guys was Scott Prendergast, who is the area's representative coordinator.

"South Burnett is a really proud area for rugby league and it’s produced some really great players and we were struggling to fill representative sides... we had club sides but no representative sides," Prendergast said.

"We have to give it to Alan Trunks – he put the shame into us that we had to recover and regain the pride and a couple of blokes who didn’t know each other very well got together and we’ve now got what we’ve got."

Without the direct investment of an Intrust Super Cup club in the area, the League put their heads together to solve the problem and the by-product of the motivating words of wisdom was the creation of Beyond the Nest.

It is a development program for under 13 to 16 players with a sole focus on development, but not just on the footy field.

The program is also aimed to shape the next generation to be better members of the South Burnett community when they finish.

Former South Burnett NRL game development officer Blake Mara, who is still involved with the program, said he hoped the skills and advice given allowed the youth involved to get the most out of life.

"When we got together initially, we went… well, we do all this training and inevitably, they’re going to get better at footy, but a lot of it is not so much about footy," Mara said.

"It's about when they leave footy and join the community that they’re better members of it and they lead a better life and they get the most out of their opportunities.

"Last year we spoke about leadership and trust, so we cover an off-field topic every year. We also get guests in so our sponsors will come in and talk to the boys about what they look for when they employ someone.

"It’s more than footy. It’s great to get them out there and get them used to bashing each other up and doing all those meathead things, but it’s also about making them better people and if they’re better people, it’s inevitably a better community."

Beginning in June 2018, Beyond the Nest involves development sessions throughout the season in addition to an annual camp, with the 2021 instalment held at the weekend in Murgon.

But the weekend wouldn't be possible without the band of volunteers who give up their time to give back to the community each year.

"It was a perfect storm really. It was people with a common interest and there’s about 20 people here who make it happen," Prendergast said.

"You’ve got Candice in the kitchen, you’ve got your first aiders, you’ve got welfare… it’s everybody volunteering to make it affordable for the children.

"I think that to me is a proud thing for South Burnett and South Burnett Rugby League... everyone is putting in for the common cause.

The Beyond the Nest development camp was held at the weekend in Murgon. Photo: Cameron Stallard / QRL
The Beyond the Nest development camp was held at the weekend in Murgon. Photo: Cameron Stallard / QRL

Fellow South Burnett representative coordinator Carl Braithwaite agreed.

"It’s a big thing for our kids here to make things affordable and the community getting behind what were are doing here is just amazing to us," Braithwaite said.

"We have to thank our sponsors hugely for that."

Now four years into the program and a countless number of players bettering themselves on and off the field, the organising team are hoping their long-term goal of linking with an Intrust Super Cup club to provide a pathway to the top grade is not too far away.

"If there’s an Intrust Super Cup club out there that’s interested in getting some good kids into their 18s and 21s, reach out to us because we’ve taught these kids how to train and stuff," Mara said.

"They now need the opportunity to go… what is next from here?

"They’ve done a few years of this and they’ve got really good.

"They’re going to finish school soon and need that opportunity for someone to go… ‘hey, we’d love to link up with that… sounds like a brilliant program and we want to whack our logo on it and provide your boys an opportunity to come and trial with our team'.

"If we can get that out of this, it was be hugely beneficial because that’s where we’re at as it's been our long-term goal."