In the north we love a challenge.
And one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced in recent years stems from our annual and beloved Foley Shield.
This carnival used to be the pinnacle of rugby league in our fine corner of the state – teams from all over the north took part, including Whitsundays, Ayr, Babinda and Mount Isa.
But today just three teams remain fighting it out for the prestigious shield: Townsville, Mackay and Cairns.
There’s no denying it’s not the same carnival it was 30 or 40 years ago.
But that doesn’t mean it is any less of a competition.
Many have told us we wouldn’t be able to keep it going, but here we are, back for another year and ready to only get stronger when it all kicks off again on Friday, April 29.
It always makes it easier when the leagues are in absolute support of the Foley Shield concept and they get right behind us for both the male and female players.
This year we have seen all of the leagues assemble some really strong sides and looking across those teams, I can guarantee there will be quality games.
And, in a rugby league first, we’re also playing the Foley Shield in conjunction with the North Queensland Games, which is a really exciting partnership.
It’s wonderful to see that while Foley Shield has a huge history, through keeping the Foley Shield going and alive, it enables our current and future players to learn about that history.
All three leagues this year are talking to their teams about the history of the Foley Shield and who represented their regions and how the game was portrayed as the flagship of representative footy.
But what we’re also trying to ensure is that while we recognise and celebrate that past, we do evolve moving forward.
The region’s vison for the Foley Shield beyond 2022 is to re-engage Mount Isa/Mid North into the Foley Shield and to have the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula area represented into the future.
That’s step one.
Another vision is around the women’s game and how to continue their involvement in the Foley Shield carnival.
While we don’t know what that future might look like yet – with the chance of a North Queensland Cowboys NRLW team and possible additional northern BMD Premiership teams to come – you can be rest assured that where there is something on offer for our males up here, there is something on offer for our female counterparts.
We live by our beliefs, about being inclusive, and that’s one thing that inspires me most about our people in the north – they’re about embracing each and everyone one of us, no matter what.
And it’s something we see not just with our senior footy, but our junior footy as well.
All of our junior competitions have kicked off now – from Weipa to Mount Isa to our Cooktown juniors.
It’s really exciting to see it all up and running and the way inclusivity is growing through those areas.
One example is our Cooktown competition.
The Bloomfield River State School have this year entered a team into the comp because their principal – who is a rugby league tragic – wants to offer the opportunity to all kids to play footy every fortnight.
The efforts that people, teachers and volunteers go to around the regions to provide opportunities for kids to play our great game is so inspiring.
They’re doing it out of their own time, but it keeps rugby league going.
Cooktown is also thriving at the moment with the arrival of the Roads to Regions tour this week.
Our NRL game development team are in Cooktown and surrounds, delivering educational programs and clinics to help support our regional areas and give them access to our “heroes” of the game.
We have Tahlulah Tillett, Gavin Cooper, Trent Hodkinson and Mitch Allgood there at the moment and I have no doubt the community will be buzzing with rugby league excitement.