Joel Morgan.

The 2012 National Rugby League season is nearly upon us with the competition shaping up to be as competitive as ever. A host of clubs have brought in top signings to fill gaps in their line-ups and push toward finals contention, but not without Central Queensland’s fair share of player representation among all levels of rugby league.

Central Queenslander’s are again ever present in the NRL, with juniors competing for 13 different clubs at elite level. However since the inception of the NYC competition alongside the Queensland Cup this has only provided more junior talent from our region great benefits with increased opportunities to experience professional coaching environments and develop into NRL players. The CQ NRL Bid are already focussing strongly on player development through initiatives such as CQ NRL Bid Junior Development Program and Schools Program and the Scholarship Program which are both initiatives sponsored by QR National. Imagine the NRL player community work that will transpire for smaller communities in Woorabinda to larger towns in Emerald when we get our own CQ NRL side.

2012 NRL All-Stars

The NRL All-stars event is the first major game of the year, one that symbolises large significance with Indigenous population, the culture and bringing together of all fans. It allows the Indigenous players to “play for their people”, while celebrating the Indigenous culture and its strong contribution to rugby league. A CQ NRL TEAM will help provide this opportunity to our large junior base here and allow these kids to not only dream but believe. Central Queensland’s next generation of indigenous and non-indigenous players need role models to be inspired by and what better way to provide that inspiration by having our own NRL team allowing the kids to see their own heroes in action in Central Queensland. If you talk to many local enthusiasts
there are numerous stories of juniors with great talent who move south and aren’t given a chance or choose to stay at home with family rather than move away. An opportunity close to home will help greatly reduce homesickness, provide professional coaching access and increase the chance of progressing from regional schoolboy graduate to NRL debutant.

The 2012 NRL All Stars match featured 6 Central Queensland selections representing regions as far North as Mackay and south to the South Burnett with Dave “Coal Train” Taylor, Ben Barba, Jharal Yow Yeh, Travis Waddell, Chris Sandow and Scott Prince. However, Central Queensland talent was not only on display in the NRL Allstars, but at junior representative level with the U16 Queensland Murri drawing 16 all against the U16 NSW Koori side in an Australian Rugby League Indigenous Interstate Challenge at the Gold Coast event. Central Queensland coaching talent led the Murris with Sid Domic as Head Coach (CQ NRL Bid Junior Development program), Lionel Harbin as Assistant-Coach (CQ NRL Bid Junior Development program) and Ron Tasker as FAO/strapper (Capras). CQ talents were rewarded with selection in the U/16s Murris Side in Julyess Jarvis (Rockhampton), Noah Saumalu (Gladstone), Sebastian Steigler (Emerald), while Woorabinda Whiz-kid Hakeem Sullivan pulled out due to a trial with a Sydney NRL club. A further two original 26 man squad members were Jessie Domic (Bundaberg) and Levi Douglas (Bundaberg) who missed out because of injury.

Women’s Rugby League

Women’s Rugby League is also gathering pace with the increased recognition by the NRL and ARL of the female involvement in Rugby League (not only players but administrators, managers, supporters, officials, etc) – WOMEN play a vital part in shaping our talent and growing our game at the GRASSROOTS level. The inclusion of a Women’s All-stars event in recent
seasons has seen a lift in participation rates for women and girls in rugby league. The Women’s Indigenous All-stars played the Women’s All-stars with a host of Central Queensland Women representing our region. Indigenous selections were Myisha Saltner (South Burnett), Natalie Gala (Bundaberg), Amber Saltner (South Burnett), Natasha Baggow (Mackay), Naomi Bobongie (Mackay), and Kaitlin Moss (Rockhampton), while Tegan Rolfe (Rockhampton), Heather Ballinger (Central West), Renae Kunst (Mackay) and Kelli McLean (Mackay) were selected in the Women’s All-stars. Last year 7 Central Queensland women were selected in the Queensland Maroons Women’s team, including Tegan Rolfe (AUS selection), Nicole Curtis (North Burnett), Heather Ballinger (AUS selection), Renae Kunst (AUS selection), Natasha Baggow, Natalie Gala and Kaitlin Moss. Selected in the 2011 QWRL Emerging Squad were Kellie McLean (Clermont), Margaret Grant (Bundaberg), Amber Saltner and Tori-Leigh Nagas. The Mackay and Bundaberg competitions have been established in recent years with 6 clubs in Bundaberg (Cherbourg, Brothers, Hervey Bay, Western Suburbs, Across the Waves and Eastern Suburbs) and 4 in Mackay (Wests, Pioneers, Magpies & Brothers). A Central Queensland Women’s Rugby League competition has been confirmed for 2012 to feature clubs from Rockhampton (Norths Chargers), Yeppoon (Seagulls), Gladstone and Central Highlands with Queensland player Kaitlin Moss (Norths Chargers) and Central United representative Amanda Ohl (Yeppoon) leading each team. There is no doubt WOMEN and FAMILY play a big part in the CQ NRL BID’s SUPPORT.

World Club Challenge

The annual World Club Challenge will be staged in England on February 18 featuring Manly against Leeds with Mackay’s Daly Cherry-Evans (Australian Kangaroos selection in rookie year) and South Burnett’s Matt Ballin (former QLD Maroons player) featured.

Central Queensland – NRL PLAYER SPOTLIGHT

In 2012, CQ fans will see 26 Central Queensland players with NRL experience, while another three are plying their trade in the English Super League with a remarkably high number of these CQ juniors being selected for Queensland or internationally in their career and this number is only on the increase!

Our spotlight starts with Blackwater product DAVE “COAL TRAIN” TAYLOR who earned his nickname from his father who is a coal train driver. His breakthrough year in 2010 was when he made his State of Origin debut and was selected in the Australian Kangaroos Squad for the Four Nations in the UK last year, but pulled out with injury. With a new coach at the helm and Rabbitohs finals-less since 2007 the pressure will be on the young (23 year old) Central Highlands product to step up this year.

BEN HUNT is facing the pressure of filling the position left by one of the greats of the game, Darren Lockyer. At 21 years old, the Blackwater junior has played 41 NRL games despite being behind Lockyer and Wallace or interchanging as a hooker. The Dingo product will need to step up a notch to reach his potential and earn a starting position.

RLIF World’s Best Prop, MATT SCOTT will look to put in another bumper year at club, state and international level. With over 120 NRL matches, 8 games for Queensland and 5 for Australia at only 26 years old. Scott has taken over the mantle of Best Prop in the game from Steve Price and Petero Civoniceva and looks to maintain representative selection of years to come. Matt is a proud product of the Central West town of Ilfracombe with a population less than 300 and came through the successful system at the St Brendan’s College school in Yeppoon.

Cherbourg sensations CHRIS SANDOW and WILLIE TONGA will team up at Parramatta after making moves to the club while both had solid years in 2011. Sandow will face the most pressure having to guide the team back into the finals, while the experienced Australian and QLD representative Willie Tonga adds some firepower to their backline and will look forward to playing with his brother ESI TONGA.

SCOTT PRINCE, a Mt Isa junior is one of the most experienced halves in the NRL with over 250 matches, but faces pressure in 2012 to lead the club back into the finals from an abnormal season for the Gold Coast Titans, finishing near the bottom in 2011. The challenge is nothing Prince hasn’t faced before, after his comeback from two major injuries early in his career and being released from the Broncos to going on to play for Queensland, Australia, the NRL Indigenous All-stars and in the process winning an NRL premiership and a Clive Churchill medal.

CHRIS “LIGHTNING” McQUEEN had a turn of fortune last year after two injury plagued seasons in 2009 and 2010. The utility back showed some excellent form to be selected in the Kangaroos train-on-squad and played for the Prime Minister’s XIII against PNG. The Kingaroy junior has started the year off 2012 with a selection in the QAS Emerging Origin Squad.

YOUNG GUNS

DCE – DALY CHERRY-EVANS has an almost faultless rookie season in 2011. The halfback played 27 NRL matches and capped it off with an NRL premiership ring and a host of individual honours including Dally M Rookie of the Year and the RLIF world half-back of the year. Daly went from QCup player of the year in 2011 to Kangaroo tourist and Australian debutant in one season.

PAT O’HANLON has been highly rated at Parramatta and regarded as being in a similar mould to Nathan Hindmarsh. At 20 years old the Mackay junior debuted in the second half of 2011 and finished with 9 NRL matches. The former Australia Schoolboy player will look to sure up a regular spot in Parramatta’s Top 17 in 2012.

Barba Brothers – BEN BARBA has been a sensation since his move from utility player to fullback. 15 tries regularly coming off the bench in 2010 and an almost try a match performance in 2011 leading to the top NRL Try Scorer with 23 tries from 24 matches have Barba rated up there with the most potent strike weapons in the NRL. With solid form in his second NRL Indigenous Allstars appearance he will be well in contention to earn a spot on the Australian or Queensland bench with some star performances early in the season. His younger brother MARMIN BARBA at Parramatta U20s is not well known but reports suggests he is as talented as brother and has 20 tries in 19 NYC matches being the third highest try scorer in 2011.

Rockhampton junior JAVARN WHITE could be set to make his debut with Gold Coast this year at 24 year old after given an opportunity at the club after a stellar 2011 season for the Norths club in the Queensland Cup. In the mould of Matty Bowen and Preston Campbell, the livewire fullback spent time in the NYC U20s & NSW Cup for the Roosters than a couple of seasons at Brisbane Norths where he was rewarded with the 2011 QCup Player of the Year scoring 20 season tries. Javarn is the nephew of former NRL player Sid Domic and cousin of Rhys Wesser, while related to a number of notable former players with strong representation across Central Queensland and Queensland.

DANE GAGAI and JOSH HOFFMAN– the Mackay cousins of Wendell Sailor are similar in ability, but Gagai only 21 years old compared with Hoffman at 24. Hoffman has already played 42 NRL games for the club whilst earning their 2011 Best and Fairest award. Hoffman has both Torres Strait Islander and New Zealand heritage, which lead to him being selected in the
Kiwis 2011 squad only for him to pull out due to injury. Gagai is at a different point in his career after graduating the NYC with 39 tries in 61 NYC matches and with speed to burn he has shown worthy glimpses in his 7 NRL matches to date with 4 tries. Gagai will find competition from other young players for a spot in their backline, up against five other fringe players for a spot in the centres or on the wing.

CQ Representation in the NRL

Currently there are 26 Central Queensland juniors that have debuted in the NRL connected with clubs, another 4 over 21 year old players yet to debut (contracted to NRL squads) and a further 3 with NRL experience now in the European Super League such as Brett Seymour, Antonio Kaufusi and Tony Martin (currently over 300 combined NRL and ESL matches), while a numerous players in lower grades in Australia, UK and France with prior NRL or NYC experience. Central Queensland has 8 Internationals still participating at professional level, including Australian players; Daly Cherry-Evans, Scott Prince, Jharal Yow Yeh, Matt Scott, Kaufusi (also Tongan International) and Willie Tonga, while Neville Costigan has played for the PNG Kumuls and Nathan Fien a RLWC winner with the NZ Kiwis. In the game’s State of Origin clashes it has seen 11 current players pull on the Maroon jumper with Taylor, Prince, Yow Yeh, Scott, Nielsen, Kaufusi, Costigan, Tonga, Ballin, Lillyman and Fien. The QAS Emerging Origin Squad selected Central Queenslanders Daly-Cherry Evans, Ben Barba, Maurice Blair, Chris Sandow and Chris McQueen for 2012.

With the inception of the National Youth Competition in 2008 it has seen a large rise in regional representation for our CQ  juniors with now at least 21 players contracted to NYC squads with a handful of players in the SG Ball (NSW U18) Cup and over 120 players coming through the 3 Mal Meninga Cup (QLD U18) and Cyril Connell Cup (QLD U16) clubs: Central Capras, Mackay Cutters and Central United (players not based in Rockhampton, Sunshine Coast or Mackay regions – i.e. Gladstone, Central Highlands, Wide bay).

The CQ NRL Bid’s plan for our own CQ NRL TEAM allows the competitive strength of the NRL to be maintained through recruiting from within our own region and that will happen through the development of players throughout the CQ NRL TEAM’s own established Academies, Systems and Development Pathways. The quality junior base and development initiatives underway alongside proposed development programs will allow the club to meet the 70% local makeup of the
NRL Program promise, meaning more chances to progress for our talent and allow for less dilution for the NRL at the top level.

The fact that CQ juniors have never been stronger with numerous selections in Queensland and Australian junior teams combined with the strong representation in the NRL and lower grades shows Central Queensland has the talent in our own backyard for a competitive base into the future. This opportunity just may give a chance for a player from Woorabinda, or the next star from Sarina to progress to the NRL and IGNITE THE DREAM for all of CENTRAL QUEENSLAND.