Men’s A grade rugby league is under way in Queensland for 2023, with all but one team in the Central West competition taking to the park so far.
Longreach-Ilfracombe is off to a roaring start in no small part thanks to the inspiring return to footy of centre ‘Boof’ Matheson (pictured above), who notched a hat-trick in the season opener on his comeback from a health battle that kept him off the field last year.
The Tigers celebrated a 30-10 win in the clash with a young Winton Diamantina Devils on March 4 – a game the two teams brought forward to create the sole Round 1 contest.
Longreach-Ilfracombe backed it up with a surprise 28-8 win in an unusually wet home clash against defending premiers Barcaldine Sandgoannas on Friday night, while a surging Alpha Brumbies downed the Devils 34-22 on Saturday.
Tigers co-coach Kien Dickson said seeing ‘Boof’ find immediate success was pleasing in an otherwise "rusty" season opener.
“He doesn’t say much, does ‘Boof’,” Dickson said.
“He got crook last year… he had a year off footy, lost a bit of weight and I think he’s come back faster and ‘steppier’ than ever, so he had a really good game first game back.
“He lives out of town in Jundah, which is 200km away from where we train, so he usually comes in on Friday night and has one training session with us and then he plays. He’s pretty fit for a bloke who doesn’t do much training.
“He's got the bug back and it’s good to see.”
There’s a healthy optimism around the Tigers this year with plenty of returning players and young guns emerging, including the likes of workhorse, 17-year-old backrower Tommy Harris.
“We’ve got a fair few returning players and a lot of young fellas coming through too who’ve been training with us from before they were able to play A-grade and we have some of them coming on now playing good footy,” Dickson said.
“Winton was a really young side and they did really well against us all things considered. If they can keep that side together three or four of five years, they’ll be a handful in a few years’ time.”
Blackall will get the chance to open their campaign away to Winton this weekend.
The earlier than usual start for Central West was prompted by a desire to ensure the season was completed prior to representative opportunities with the Queensland Outback side.
Next off the block will be two huge South East leagues, with the BRL and Gold Coast A-grade men's competitions starting this weekend.