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Community Corner: 'Rugby league is the language everyone speaks'

Welcome to Community Corner.

In 2022, we will bring you a weekly column straight from the mouths of Queensland Rugby League's three region managers - Adam Vanzanten, Rob Crow and Renae Kunst. 

The column will celebrate rugby league across our mighty state, keeping everyone up-to-date with the latest news, events and milestones in all three regions.

But before we kick-off our new column next week, here's what you need to know about our three managers and their regions.

Adam Vanzanten - QRL South East

Adam Vanzanten may hail from Junee in New South Wales, but don’t hold that against him.

A former Junee Diesels player, Vanzanten has been working in rugby league since 2009 and moved to Queensland in 2019 to take on the role of southeast region manager.

Since that time Vanzanten, the game of rugby league and Queensland have faced their fair share of challenges – or as Vanzanten sums up the past few years: “COVID, COVID, still COVID, floods”.

Southeast region manager, Adam Vanzanten.
Southeast region manager, Adam Vanzanten.

But what he has quickly learnt in that time is not just what rugby league means to his region, but how tough the southeast is.

“It’s definitely the resilience of the community in the southeast that has led to footy being able to return every time we’ve faced a hurdle,” Vanzenten said.

“They’re always ready for it.

“I’ve already seen it with the (2022) floods. The Karalee Tornadoes for example, their clubhouse was going under but they put up a Facebook post seeing how they could help others first.

“The willingness and offers of support are already there for when the time is right. Many clubs have opened their doors to help people eat, shower, sleep.

“There’s a massive clean-up coming but we know that sense of community is coming with it.

“The southeast is a place that I’ve always understood to be somewhere that you can turn up as a player and make friends, then stick around for a few years and those friends become family.

“You want to keep going back and they want to stick together, play together. It has a brilliant sense of community.”

While the southeast certainly has some challenges ahead as they begin the clean up after the devastating floods, there is also plenty to look forward to in 2022, including celebrating 100 years of Brisbane Rugby League, the inclusion of a 10th team in the BRL A-Grade competition, and the trials of under 12s girls’ competitions for the Gold Coast and Ipswich.

But Vanzanten said first they would focus on getting their community back up and running following the floods.

“The work that needs to be done will be done,” he said.

“What I learnt last year and from the year prior’s shutdown, it is that we know we need rugby league back for the wellbeing of the entire community.

“It’s made us more resilient.”

Rob Crow - QRL Central

For Rob Crow, rugby league was a family game. His grandfather played it, his father played it, and his three brothers played it.

So did he.                                             

Central region manager, Rob Crow.
Central region manager, Rob Crow.

A former captain of the Central Queensland Capras and a member of the 1988 Queensland Residents, Crow said rugby league had been a “lifelong journey”.

He has been with the QRL for 12 years and finds central to be a very diverse, interesting region, from the beaches to the outback.

Also a member of the QRL Outback Committee, Crow works to ensure rugby league is available for as many people as possible, particularly in the more isolated areas of Queensland.

His biggest goal in 2022 is to see continued growth, with rugby league a “way of life” for many in the region.

“We’re very excited to see our numbers grow throughout our region overall but there are some areas that are dropping,” Crow said.

“One of our focuses is to work with the leagues to sustain the game and attract the young folk – men and women – who want to keep playing the game.

“Rugby league is a way of life for a lot of people in the region. In some of these smaller areas - the rural and outback areas - it can be the glue that holds towns together.

“When we’re lucky enough to move carnivals into those areas, the economic benefit is enormous. The towns always get behind these events and it’s always great to see the smiles on the faces.”

Like the southeast, parts of central have been hit by Queensland’s recent floods, including Maryborough, Gympie and the Sunshine Coast.

The clean-up has already started in many of these towns and Crow hopes to see more support over the coming weeks.

“After the start we’ve had with the floods, I’d like to see supporters of our game and volunteers of our game show that rugby league spirit,” Crow said.

“I’d really like to see that call to arms. I want to see the game prosper and I will work hard to keep the game going and to find new ways to excite people to play the game.”

Renae Kunst - QRL North

Renae Kunst is a pioneer of women’s rugby league.

A World Cup-winning captain and former Queensland player, Kunst did not get to enjoy all of the opportunities available to female players now, but she paved the way for this generation and future generations after taking up the game at 10 years of age.

She has been working in rugby league for more than one decade, including as a game development manager for the NRL, and joined the QRL as the north region manager in November last year.

Renae Kunst in her days working with the NRL.
Renae Kunst in her days working with the NRL.

Based out of Mackay, the north region is a large one to take care of and Kunst said the pride they had for the game was the reason she did not take her job lightly.

“The rewarding thing is rugby league is in people’s blood,” Kunst said.

“It’s the fabric in the community.

“Rugby league is the language everyone speaks. We’re such a diverse region far and wide, but it’s the language that everyone speaks.

“Everyone follows or knows of someone involved in rugby league. The game means so much more than the playing itself. We have to continue nurturing and providing opportunities for everyone to be involved in our game.

"Up in the Torres Strait our people jump in their dingy to get over to a field to play their games, then turn around and head home, no matter the conditions. This is what rugby league means to people. It's truly inspiring.

"Another example is our Mt Isa folk just spent 16 hours on a bus on the weekend to get to Charleville for a carnival.

"What our volunteers and coaching staff do for these kids to provide opportunities is commendable and we wouldn’t be where we are as a game without these amazing volunteers and referees."

Kunst is particularly proud of the diversity of rugby league in her region, particularly their work around all abilities rugby league, with a tri-series to be held between Mackay, Townsville and Cairns in June.

In 2022, Kunst hopes to see more growth in all areas of the game as well as continued development around the streamlining of governance of rugby league in the north.

“It’s about ensuring we’re evolving and streamlining so that we’re consistent in what we’re trying to achieve in our great game,” Kunst said.

“Growing our game is important. It’s the ability to impact community and the people that is of the utmost priority to our great staff and team here.”

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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