A tireless group of volunteers in the Central West have made sure 42 young players in the area were able to enjoy rugby league and learn important life lessons in 2023.
The group, led by Ben Palmer, Katherine Stewart and Jeremy Barron, with the help of Jo Winkleman, Will Grey and Ian Cridge, are the major players in organising under 15 and under 17 teams to travel to the Central Highlands to play as Central West, compiling a season total of about 25,000 kilometres.
It's their second successful year in a row making this effort for players aged 13 to 17, with the Central West having challenges providing regular games in their individual communities over a number of years.
During these ages, a lot of eligible players head off to boarding schools, leaving only small numbers in the area.
While in the past individual families took the onus on themselves to get to the Central Highlands to participate - which enabled the career of champion Queensland Maroons and Australian Kangaroos prop Matt Scott - in 2022 the Central West crew have come together to do everything they can to make the experience better.
These volunteers are the same each weekend, driving the bus and at times private vehicles to get to their venues. The longest trip is Dysart, when they leave Longreach at 4am and return at 10pm for a return trip of 1100km.
When the Central West have a pre-season game, or they need to play an extra game over the weekend for catch up games, the leave on Friday night and return on Sunday morning, sourcing accommodation in their swags at the local clubs, PCYC, local indoor cricket centre - basically anywhere they can find showers and toilets.
They then cook all their meals for the players and at times are putting their hands in their own pockets to shout the players takeaway, which is considered a luxury for these kids.
All this effort is on top of completing accreditation so they can fulfil their roles as coaches, sports trainers and first aiders, with the regular five or six volunteers interchanging through both teams.
The players not only get to enjoy the game they love, they gain a lot of life experience and learn how to work as a group, manners and how to look out for one another.
This year they catered for 18 under 15 players and 24 under 17 players, who relish the chance to also catch up with their mates who have headed off to boarding school.
The cost of fuel alone to make all this happen can be up to $500 per trip, with the yearly total close to $6000, with their story inspiring Shell to come forward with the generous offer of a number of $200 fuel vouchers to help out with travel costs.
This is only a fraction of the cost of putting players on the park, with generous sponsors helping as much as they can to reduce the amount volunteers are dipping into their own pockets - the likes of Ben Palmer even doubling up on sponsorship.
This group of volunteers are some of the greatest and most humble people you could possibly meet and I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones to know these people and many more in the Outback who give so much time and effort to their communities.