Respect, comradery, and team spirit – these are the words that sum up this year’s Rees Orman City Country Cultural Exchange.
Held over the last weekend of June, 72 players and a coaching staff of 16 travelled from the Queensland Outback on a 28-hour bus trip that started in Mt Isa and collected players along the way to Coolum, on the Sunshine Coast.
As well as the Outback, players also came from Central Highlands, St George, Tannum Sands, Brisbane, Warwick and Sunshine Coast, with under 14 and under 16 age groups for the boys and under 14 and under 17 for the girls.
Queensland Rugby League’s Queensland Outback league and club coordinator, Peter Rafter, said the feedback from the event proved to be unanimous – it was an outstanding success.
“Every year I hear stories during and after this event of how different it is and how enjoyable for players, coaching staff and refs,” Rafter said.
“This year is no different with parents, players and coaching staff extending their thanks for providing opportunities for their children to play footy and experience the totally different atmosphere at this carnival.
“Some of the feedback included, comments like, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if all footy was played in this spirit?’ and ‘It is so good to see players out on the field encouraging the opposition team’.”
One person said they actually got goosebumps watching the way players interacted with their opposition, congratulating each other on scoring tries, while one referee commented on how respectful the teenagers were across the entire weekend.
On the Friday night – June 24 – there was a cultural awareness session held with the highly entertaining Kerri Neil from the Sunshine Coast, where the players sat in amazement as they were educated on, and heard, many Dreamtime stories from the region.
As part of the event, there was also a coach education session provided in the lead up for the Queensland Outback coaching staff, which included a team meeting with Australian Jillaroos mentor Brad Donald, former NRL coach Neil Henry, and Redcliffe Dolphins game development manager Shane Morris.
There were also sessions with NRL staff Amy Bock, Beau Condon and Tim Thomas, and Sunshine Coast Falcons coach Brad Henderson and Redcliffe’s strength and conditioning boss, Anthony Wood.
Rafter said these opportunities provided “valuable education to coaches who really care about the players and want to provide them with the best coaching they can.”
He said overall, there was a lot to be learnt and a lot that was shared across the entire carnival.
“The quality of the football and the comradery continues to showcase how rugby league can be played when given the opportunity,” he said.
“I am sure that all players would be looking forward to playing here again next year and catching up with their newfound mates.
“There are many people to thank for running this carnival - Josh, Candice and Stewie, and all the volunteers from the Coolum Colts junior rugby league who host the event and ensure the weekend runs as smoothly as it does.
“Jason and Bruce from the Sunshine Coast Referees Association who provided many young up and coming referees this experience.
“The coaching staff from all teams who show leadership to the young players and play a big part in helping to make this event what it is.
“Chris from Coolum Surf School, who provided surf lessons to players from the Outback. A total of 18 players - 16 of them girls - took up this opportunity and there were others who wished they did.
“And a massive thank you to the Queensland Rugby League for supporting this event which provides some players from the Outback their only footy games for the year.”