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Aaron Binawel and Jaub Turner know that opportunities in rugby league don’t always just come knocking in the Torres Strait.

It’s something you have to work for and the duo both pour their heart and soul into the game, not just for themselves but for others as well.

And it is these efforts that make playing for North Queensland United even more special.

Binawel and Turner will suit up for the men’s and women’s NQ teams this Sunday, when they travel to Roma to take on the Queensland Outback.

This weekend will mark Binawel’s fourth time representing his region in the United team.

For Turner, it is her debut.

Binawel, a police liaison officer, started playing junior rugby league when he was 10 in Cairns before starting boarding school at St Brendan’s in Yeppoon.

Aaron Binawel.
Aaron Binawel.

A year above fellow St Brendan's student and now Queensland Maroons sensation Ben Hunt, Binawel continued to play the sport all through his high school years.

After graduation he moved back north, playing in the local competition on Thursday Island, before returning to Cairns with the Innisfail Leprechauns in 2011.

The following year he made the Northern Pride system. While it was only a short-lived experience, Binawel had gone out and found his opportunity - he didn't wait for it to come to him.

Now based in Bamaga in the Northern Peninsula Area, Binawel still does what he can to make rugby league a key part of his life and the lives of others.

“There’s a lot of talent up here but the opportunity doesn’t come knocking on your door. You have to go look for it,” he said.

“It was good (with the Pride). I had a good relationship with my coach, Dave Maiden. It was a good experience but I didn’t end up staying because I had a young family so I moved back to Bamaga.

“There isn’t a competition here, there hasn’t been for a few years, so I travel back and forth to Thursday Island on the boat so I can play.

“It’s about an hour each way, weather dependent. If it’s a bit blowy, it’ll take over an hour.

“We say it every weekend when the weather is crap that we do it for the love of the game.”

Binawel’s love for the game extends to the next generation as well.

The 32-year-old, who plays at lock, does what he can for the junior game in NPA and the Torres Strait.

Opportunities are very limited in these areas, mostly due to logistics around travel and cost.

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But Binawel knows what the game means to everyone from this region.

“We’re trying to start a junior rugby league competition in the NPA,” he said.

“The kids love their sport. Seeing us play, it makes them pick up a footy and want to follow in our footsteps.

“Playing for United… it means a lot. Meeting new people, you get to tell them where you come from, where you live. It means a lot to us to represent the region we grew up playing in.”

Turner is another who gives back to the game as much as she gets out of it.

Jaub Turner.
Jaub Turner.

The 22-year-old United debutant only started playing rugby league in 2017 through the Torres Strait Cup, with opportunities for females in the region minimal.

But this year Turner and a number of others started a women’s competition and while there are only three teams and three rounds plus finals, it’s a promising start.

“I was always into rugby league growing up here,” she said.

“I grew up watching it, sitting around with family talking about it.

“Only two weekends ago we started a local competition for girls. It was an idea that we had … we made that happen.

“There’s a lot of girls up here that are interested in playing and really interested in football.

“It is good to see a lot of mothers have something to do on the weekends. Up here all we do is sit on the grandstand and support the boys but now it’s good to see more girls on the field, getting their fitness up.

“Hopefully I can get more involved now and see more girls’ competitions and get more teams travelling down south.”

With such a passion for the game, it’s no surprise Turner is counting down to her debut on Sunday.

One of her main concerns – and Binawel’s too – is that of Roma’s weather, with Turner from Thursday Island where minimum temperatures sit around 20 degrees.

With Roma tipped to hit lows of three degrees, it could be a bit of a shock to the system, but Turner will no doubt be ready for the clash on the field.

“I am excited,” she said.

“This is my first football trip. I’m a bit nervous but mostly excited.

“Because I haven’t played football much I want to learn more about the game and where it can take you. That’s the most important thing I want to get out of this trip.”

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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