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In the spotlight: Joel Baldwin

Joel Baldwin had two big goals ahead of season 2023 – make his Hostplus Cup debut and help the Townsville Blackhawks return to the Hastings Deering Colts grand final.

The 20-year-old rake ticked off the first of those in Round 14 of Cup, when he earned the call up from Blackhawks coach Aaron Payne to come off the bench for Townsville against Ipswich.

As for his second one, that is still in his sights.

The Bundaberg product missed the cut for last year’s under 21s premiership decider, named at 18th man as the Blackhawks trumped the Redcliffe Dolphins 46-32.

He still got to enjoy the lead up experience, but this year Baldwin wants to know what it feels like to actually play in the big dance.

With the Blackhawks sitting in sixth on a very tight Hastings Deering Colts ladder, going back-to-back as premiers is certainly a goal still well within reach.

Joel Baldwin after the Round 11 clash against Redcliffe Dolphins. Photo: Rikki-Lee Arnold/QRL
Joel Baldwin after the Round 11 clash against Redcliffe Dolphins. Photo: Rikki-Lee Arnold/QRL

“I was 18th man for the grand final and it was an eye-opener, definitely,” Baldwin said.

“We went down and stayed at a real flash hotel in Brissie and it felt super professional. It was an unreal experience, that one.

“Getting there again, it would be an absolute dream to get back, run it back again and hopefully get to actually play in this one.

“For the rest of the year I’d like to get some more Cup games under my belt and hopefully steer the 21s to another grand final.”

Baldwin’s rugby league journey started in Bundaberg at the age of six, where he followed in the footsteps of his three older brothers and played for the West Panthers.

Baldwin in Round 11. Photo: Rikki-Lee Arnold/QRL
Baldwin in Round 11. Photo: Rikki-Lee Arnold/QRL

A one-club kid, Baldwin stayed with the Panthers right up until under 18s.

At the end of 2019, he moved to Rockhampton to play with the Central Queensland Capras in the Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup, but his time there was short-lived after the 2020 season was cancelled due to COVID-19.

He returned home for one final year with the Panthers, unsure of what other opportunities may lie ahead.

“That was my first ever time getting out of Bundy and getting into one of the QRL statewide competitions,” Baldwin said of his move to Rockhampton.

“It obviously hurt a bit to finally get my opportunity to step up and it be cut short, but I moved back to Bundy and played an 18s season in Bundy. And that’s when I got picked up by the Blackhawks.

“A fella down in Bundy knew the manager up here so I moved to Townsville at the end of 2020.”

Two of Baldwin’s brothers were with the Army and were also located in Townsville, making the move easy for the then 18-year-old.

His first season in the Hastings Deering Colts saw him play just one game at the under 21s level, getting in most of his rugby league that year with the Charters Towers Miners.

Then in 2022, he played nearly every match for the Colts team before earning his highly-anticipated Cup debut this season.

And after one taste, Baldwin wants more.

“At the start of the year, because we got told that heaps of (North Queensland) Cowboys players would be coming back to the Blackhawks, I didn’t really expect my Cup debut this year,” Baldwin said.

“If it was, I thought it would be later in the year so for it to come as early as it did, it was surprising.

“It was unreal. Going up from 21s to Cup, it’s huge. You’re actually versing men and you have to give everything at 110 per cent.

“It was pretty cool to make my debut at a club like the Blackhawks.”

Baldwin, who says his parents are the biggest influences on his rugby league, also has hopes beyond this year.

But at the moment he is focusing on what’s in front of him, in particular those grand final and Cup dreams.

“I want to pursue my dream and make the NRL one day,” he said.

“I want to get signed and make an NRL debut. But at the moment it would be just to play consistent Cup over the next couple of years and get my opportunity along the way.”

Baldwin will come off the bench this Saturday as the Blackhawks continue their push for finals against the Western Clydesdales.


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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