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Former Maroons utility on mission to unlock Outback talent

A six-week skills clinic run under the eye of John Doyle has given the former Queensland utility high hopes for increasing opportunity and accessibility to rugby league in Mt Isa.

Around 70 children aged 11 to 17 took part in the skills and drills program that ended earlier this month, comprising of 30 players new to the game, including 18 girls.

FOG #118 Doyle, who played three State of Origin games for the Maroons in 2001 and 2002, said it was a great outcome as efforts ramped up to grow participation and give young people every chance to succeed.

"What we're trying to do is encourage participation, get all the clubs back, a healthier competition with some more discipline and standards, not just players, but staff, coaches and everyone," Doyle said.

"We've got a lot of talent out here. The talent pool is crazy when you think of the restrictions we have.

"I experienced (Origin) and it was great and I loved it and I'd love to see some of these kids who have the talent to be able to go all the way and experience it as well. I'd hate to see it go to waste."

Doyle has made a home in Mt Isa, where he operates a gym and fitness business, with his family over the past decade and been involved in coaching and supporting local talents, including recently guiding the Queensland Outback men's team to success in 2023.

And inspired by his league-mad children, he hopes to contribute to seeing them and other boys and girls playing as much footy as they can close to home.

Five junior clubs operated in a 12-week competition in the Mt Isa Rugby League in 2023 in under 6, under 7, under 9, under 11 and under 13 age groups in 2023.

In under 15 and under 17 age groups, split between male and female participants, the clubs combine for a two-team, six-week 'City versus Country' competition played between some of the longest road trips imaginable to carnivals such as the Adrian Vowles Cup.

Doyle said there was plenty more talent in the community not yet involved in organised club rugby league.

And like it did for the Rockhampton-born Yeppoon junior, he believes rugby league can be a powerful tool in incentivising good behaviour for young people.

"I go to schools twice a week... and I just play touch footy to help with behaviours and give (students) an outlet and they can get all that excess energy out, and it's something for them to look forward to," Doyle said.

"And all those who come and play, 50 per cent of them, if not more, aren't playing rugby league... and we can get that same fun, learning environment in a training atmosphere and on the weekends then we'll go a long way to creating a better, healthier competition."

Following the skills and drills blitz, Queensland Rugby League CEO Ben Ikin embarked on a listening tour to Mt Isa to assess how best to support the city's existing volunteers to deliver even more footy programs.

Ikin met with rugby league volunteers, local politicians and representatives from education and other community sectors, the outcomes Doyle felt would be hugely positive for the city moving into the future.

"We've got enough really good people and influential people on the ground to help it be successful and it might take a year or two, but once we create a better structure and environment and atmosphere, we'll have a truckload of kids coming back," he said.

"I'm adamant that I'm going to make sure it's right out here because I know what (rugby league) gave to me and what it kept me away from."

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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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