Rugby league keeps going from strength to strength in the South East, and it's not only to do with our boom in female participation.
Overall, we've had 27,700 participants in the region in 2023, an increase of 3.78 per cent year-on-year.
It's a fantastic result as we've achieved continued growth over a number of years now.
I think back to when the Player Development Framework (PDF) was introduced several years ago. The South East piloted that program to some opposition at the time, but I think it's bearing fruit now for what's been implemented with those kids coming through at a young age.
They've now started to progress through to senior football and our participation rate at senior level is increasing as well, so there's more people staying in the game now, which is really good.
The female numbers are going off the charts (11.4 per cent increase) like they have been for a number of years, which is really exciting, but the males (2.77 per cent increase) are really holding their own.
In the male space, the 10 to 12 age group has traditionally been a challenge to maintain consistent levels of participation, so to see we're kicking goals is a real highlight.
From a junior female point of view, we've had a 15 per cent increase across the region.
The female game started from a top heavy place and there has been a real shift in mentality to try to start building from the grassroots up and bring the girls through from the younger age with designated programs from under 8s, which has been a particular winner on the Gold Coast, where we've had 20 per cent growth in participation in women's rugby league - and it's more than 40 per cent in the 14-16 age groups.
All these efforts to boost the junior base will even more so flow through to our community competitions, and for those who want to go further, the under 17s, Harvey Norman Under 19, BMD Premiership and NRLW.
In general, Rugby League Brisbane was the biggest improver across the region with almost 16,500 participants, an increase of just under 5 per cent.
We've also made significant steps forward in Ipswich, where we've had a 3.2 per cent increase in participation, setting us up for future development in a rapidly expanding corridor.
But arguably the best thing is we've had at least a 7.88 per cent increase in registered volunteers helping out their local club, so we're growing faster than on-field participation.
I say at least as that number is likely significantly higher, so if you're a volunteer, make sure you're registered at the club you're assisting so we can get the full picture and really highlight and showcase the work each of these individuals do at each club.
While our 'Volunteer of the Year' awards do that in a big way, there's a number of ways we can appreciate all of these people with the work that they do.
Something else the participation data shows us is that we're creating a safe, healthy and enjoyable environment for people from all walks of life, and it will only get better as the Positive Environment Program grows in stature at our clubs.
Many of those aspects were celebrated at the Rugby League Brisbane awards night last week with a great event at Victoria Park Golf Club.
The award for Brisbane Rugby League A grade player of the year, voted by the referees in a 3-2-1 system, was shared between two players - Normanby halfback Brad Campbell (pictured below) and Valleys halfback Hayden Rowbotham.
I would like to personally thank all the boards of our leagues, club volunteers, referees, ball kids and QRL staff who made 2023 a successful one and we can't wait to see you all again next year.
We're now right into strategy mode preparing for 2024 to look at our priorities and the common goals us and the NRL can collaborate on to make your experience even better.
Two amazing volunteers had special mentions at the Rugby League Brisbane awards. Congratulations goes to volunteer of the year Shane Dunn, the president of Browns Plains Bears earning the honour for the second year running. He's super passionate about the game, not just at his own club, and has rendered us plenty of assistance in all the work we do at Logan Metro Sports Complex. Brisbane's female volunteer of the year was Mel O'Sullivan from Greenbank Raiders, who was the driving force behind an under 9 girls gala day in zone 4 held earlier in the year.