Reds-to-Regions reconnects rugby with heartland
Strapping Reds backrow prospect Harry Wilson found himself on fencing duties in 40 degree heat in parched Barcaldine last week...and he loved it.
The Reds-to-Regions initiative looked great on paper as hot gospelling to connect the Reds' top rugby players with the communities and country clubs they represent.
The three-day venture to 22 regional hubs from Mt Isa to Mackay, Goondiwindi to Gladstone and Barcaldine to The Big Watermelon at Chinchilla was even better in action.
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Wilson is from cattle farming stock outside Gunnedah so he was always looking forward to pairing up with city slicker Liam Wright for their Barcaldine-Longreach visit.
"You hear about the drought when you are running around green fields in Brisbane but for 1000 of kilometres there's not a green shoot out there," Wilson said.
Added Wright: "To hear how the locals are dealing with the lack of rain, how farmers just get things done with little help and mixing with the locals was a real eye-opener."
Wilson and Wright were billeted at the Dunraven property of grazier Paul Doneley, a former premiership winger with Brothers who is president of Western Queensland Rugby.
The Barcaldine Boars no longer have enough players for a fifteen-a-side club but hardy types will still front for sevens rugby or drive three hours to fill a team in Emerald.
Doneley had a day mapped out for the Reds duo and they got through 2.5km of fencing work.
"It was bloody hot but we helped out and 'Wrongers' will always tell you he's a bit of a country boy at heart even if he's far from that," Wilson said with a laugh.
"It was an awesome experience."
Wright was on track as soon as dropped his misguided attempts at pronouncing the town as "Bar-Call-Dine."
Doneley scored two tries as a pacy finisher in Brothers' 2009 title win over a young Quade Cooper and his Souths side at Ballymore.
Today, he's busy running his 25,000 hectare property and doing his best in drought conditions.
"You get up positive every morning and get to work," Doneley said.
"If the visit may have shown the boys anything, it's that you keep working hard, be resilient and the pay off will come down the track," Doneley said.
Back Hamish Stewart and prop Harry Hoopert, a country product from wheat country at tiny Jondaryan, visited the Roma saleyards and Chinchilla's new tourist attraction.
Reds coach Brad Thorn headed to Goondiwindi and felt the whole exercise was a worthy lead-in to pre-season training.
"It was important the players spent time with clubs, communities and schools who are carrying the flag for rugby and connected with the hardworking people of this state," Thorn said.
"Our players were billeted, not in hotels, and where we could we wanted to help with a bit of work for those doing it tough in the drought."
It was a character-building project that the Queensland Rugby Union will continue to support as a partner with Rural Aid to raise funds for communities affected by the drought.