It only takes a small spark to start a fire and there is no doubt the excitement, fun and fantastic rugby league that arrived in towns throughout the state for Activate! Queensland will help inspire a new generation of players.
This past weekend, seven regional and rural areas of Queensland hosted 14 Intrust Super Cup teams; with players, match officials and fans – both local and from out-of-town – soaking up the experience.
Enjoying his second Country Week outing, for Souths Logan Magpies forward Rory Ferguson, the week was a chance to change up perspectives and give back to rugby league fans who don't have the same opportunities as those in the cities.
“It’s exciting, going out to Country Week, the boys get pretty excited just to get away from the city and see what it’s like in the country,” Ferguson said of the team’s time in Richmond this year.
The trip included opening up their captain’s run to fans, cheering on local juniors in their League Tag games and a community breakfast.
“I think probably one of the most exciting parts of the trip was just being able to give back to the community and having the kids there was pretty unreal," Ferguson said.
“They were all just so excited to see us and it just made us players just as excited to run drills and hang out with them (at the captain’s run), that was probably everyone’s highlight, that was really good.
“And even the next day (on game day), we were playing around again, I guess that that’s quite a rewarding thing you get playing footy as well, its not just all about playing, it’s also about giving back to the game.”
Overall, the Country Week round gives back not only to the game, but to the broader community.
In Chinchilla, locals watched on as Wynnum Manly Seagulls and Burleigh Bears had their captain's runs and took part in junior clinics before then players and staff joined with locals ahead of their Intrust Super Cup clash at Bulldog Park at a dinner to help support Drought Angels.
The charity provides direct and timely financial assistance, essential resources and meaningful relief for primary producers across the country impacted by drought and natural disasters.
Charity co-founder Tash Johnston told Chinchilla News she was excited to work with the QRL and educate players on the important work they do.
“We would love to build on a relationship with the QRL, so many of the players in the football codes come from the bush, so I think it would be a lovely partnership because I think we’re a great fit,” Johnston said.
“It’s amazing to be able to share our story because the more people that know who we are and what we do the better.”
Johnston said players and staff asked a lot of questions and it was "really lovely" to share the importance of what Drought Angels did.
Johnston said aside from the dinner, the day of football was "the biggest day for the Chinchilla Bulldogs in a very, very long time... it was great to see so many people there".
In Quiplie, the Ipswich Jets and Redcliffe Dolphins were not the only star attractions in town, with Queensland Maroons legend Johnathan Thurston also swinging by to catch the Cup game and visiting schools and junior players as part of his work with his academy.
Across the northern region of the state, the Northern Pride do a lot of work on the ground throughout the season in the region and had players and staff on the ground in Atherton in the lead-up to the match for development clinics.
Their opponents PNG Hunters soaked up the spirit of the week as well and coach Matt Church said the engagements and interaction with junior teams in the community helped his side get into the mood of their Round 14 match.
“This is a good experience for our players and it was a chance to get away from Runaway Bay where we’ve spent most of the year,” Church said.
“It was still a challenge to come here against a team like the Pride who have played some excellent football this year. But our guys embraced the opportunity and made the most of it.”
Back in Richmond, the Townsville Blackhawks enjoyed the majority of “home ground” support from the crowd, having established the area as part of their development footprint.
As has become a Country Week tradition for the club, the team also sported specially designed jerseys which featured the maroon of the Richmond Tigers and an image of tourist attraction Kronosaurus Korner, to celebrate the town for the match.
“After our first year in 2015 when we visited Charters Towers, we decided we needed to do something more to assist the town we were visiting in raising some money for their clubs during the occasion,” Blackhawks football operations manager Adrian Thompson said.
“Our 2016 Country Week game was in Mount Isa (and) we thought locals would be more prone to donate towards a Blackhawks jersey that incorporated their own local emblems and attractions.
“We have followed the same plan each year of incorporating the local football club’s colours into our jersey design, a significant landmark, council logo or emblem and local footy club logo.
“Our club donates the full set to the club for them to raffle or auction or use of their choice with any proceeds raised to go direct to their club.”
While the distance to travel is much longer than normal and the dressing sheds may not be as big as they are used to, and the fields not quite as soft to get tackled on, Ferguson said the overall experience was rewarding and eye-opening for all players.
“The whole thing... everyone was so welcoming, just so friendly,” Ferguson said.
“You can see they love footy and that’s why they had a good crowd out there and I guess that (shows) we are fortunate to play week-in, week-out, different teams; but out in the bush, you have to play the same people and they just play it because they love it.
“I think going out to these country rounds, definitely you realise how lucky you are to play footy and just how lucky you are … we have it pretty good really, we get looked after well.
“I know that’s the whole point of coming out to Country Week, just giving back to the community, it’s a good thing the QRL do and definitely should keep that going.”