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McConnell. Photo: Mitch Townsend/QRL

Bailey McConnell rarely stops talking footy.

The Burleigh Bears five-eighth started playing rugby league when he was four and he’s been at the club ever since, living and breathing the game.

Now this Saturday, he hopes to rewrite Burleigh’s history books, as the Bears go into their first ever Mal Meninga Cup grand final against close rivals the Tweed Seagulls at Redcliffe’s Kayo Stadium.

For himself and his father – who is an assistant coach for the Mal Meninga Cup team – it’s a significant moment.

“It felt pretty special to get through,” he said.

“Burleigh hasn’t really gone too well in the Mal Meninga in the past couple of years so it’s good to bounce back from that.

“I started with Burleigh when I was four… my dad sort of just brought me into it at a young age and my love for Burleigh is just there now.”

McConnell. Photo: Mitch Townsend/QRL
McConnell. Photo: Mitch Townsend/QRL

One of the reasons McConnell lives and breathes rugby league is because his father is former Burleigh and NRL playmaker, Brent McConnell.

Not only do they spend evenings at Burleigh headquarters training together and working through game plans, but they go home and dissect everything together.

“My dad... he’s been a big influence and taught me most of the things that I know,” McConnell said of his father.

“He coached me through a fair bit of my juniors and he’s the assistant coach of our team now.

“It means a lot to have his support and to be in this grand final together. We’re always at home talking about the team and what we can do to be better. It’s good teamwork.

“My dad’s always talking about footy and mum hates it.”

McConnell – who is captain of the Mal Meninga Cup team – has seen a big turnaround in the club’s prospects at this age group over the past 12 months.

This year was the first time Burleigh even played finals in the competition and now Saturday presents the first chance to bring the silverware back to the club.

After a tough few years, the young skipper feels they are finally reaping the rewards for hard work and loyalty.

“With the group of boys, (the grand final) was our goal and to improve on how we’ve gone in the past,” he said.

“I was part of the squad the past two years and we only won two games each year so there’s a big difference.

“The culture has changed and our coaches are driving our principles into us and making each other accountable for what we’re doing. That’s what’s been the difference this year.

“It’s about not being complacent, honouring your mates, respecting your mates, doing your job.

“I’ve just really liked the way we’ve come together this year. It’s like we’re a big group of mates who love playing footy with each other.

“Playing footy with them is fun and they’re easy to get along with… that’s been the difference.”

While he is currently unsigned by an NRL club – despite formerly having a two-year contract with the Gold Coast Titans – McConnell is firmly within the sights of Hostplus Cup coach Luke Burt.

He did a pre-season with the Cup side off the back of their 2023 grand final appearance and is expected to return once the Mal Meninga Cup season is finished.

“It was so good. I did six weeks there and learnt so many little things I’d never thought about before,” McConnell said of his pre-season with the Cup team.

“It was the little specific ball-playing details. I learnt a lot off Guy Hamilton and Connor Toia. They taught me what to look for in defence and when to take on the line.”

McConnell in pre-season Hostplus Cup training. Photo: Rikki-Lee Arnold/QRL
McConnell in pre-season Hostplus Cup training. Photo: Rikki-Lee Arnold/QRL

Burt, who will watch on at Kayo Stadium on Saturday, said he expects to see more of the same from McConnell this weekend.

“Watching last year in the juniors and for his school football, he’s one of those real little competitors that would compete on every play,” Burt said of McConnell.

“He’s very brave defensively and is a Burleigh style player. We didn’t think twice about giving him that opportunity in pre-season.

“This weekend, it’s about doing nothing more than what he’s done all year. He plays a great role alongside (halfback) Coby Black and they’ve combined really well.

“I want to see him take the game on.”

McConnell is no stranger to big stages, having represented Palm Beach Currumbin as high up as the National Schoolboys final down in Sydney.

He said while the grand final is special and a win would mean “everything”, he knows the key is to treat it like any other game and that is the message he is passing onto his teammates ahead of Saturday.

“I don’t really try to think too much about it or stress myself about it,” he said.

“I focus on what I have to do and how we’re going to win.

“It’s obviously a big occasion but we’ve had 11 rounds and a quarter-final and a semi-final. It’s another game of footy that we know we have to win. It just means a little bit more.

“It would mean everything to win it, especially against Tweed. It’s a big rivalry and based on the last couple of years it was a struggle for us.

“To come out the other side and be playing in a grand final, it really means a lot to me and I can’t wait for it.”

Catch all the Mal Meninga Cup grand final action live and free at and Kayo Freebies.

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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