By HARRY CLARKE
WITH lead-up tournaments done and dusted, rugby league communities across the Western Downs and South West are thrilled to finally be kicking off the 2021 season on April 11.
And, as officials thought, what better way to herald the return of the beloved game following last season’s Covid-cancellation than by introducing a new team to the competition?
Joining the Roma & District Rugby League draw this year will be the newly-formed Western Ringers, an outfit comprising players from the proud sporting districts around Charleville, Cunnamulla, Augathella and Quilpie.
Those towns previously held their own competition but dwindling participation over the years eventually saw the draw reduced to just two teams – Charleville and Cunnamulla.
The clubs would run a mini-season early in the year, then players who were keen for more footy would join the Mitchell Magpies and participate in the Roma comp.
But a dedicated group of players and organisers in the South West have now breathed new life into organised rugby league in the region by forming the combined Western Ringers team.
The Roma competition, now in its 38th year, will this season have seven teams – St George Saints, Wallumbilla-Surat Red Bulls, Roma Cities, Mitchell Magpies, Miles Devils and Chinchilla Bulldogs, as well as the Western Ringers.
The Wandoan-Taroom Battlers will join the competition as the Ringers’ Reserve Grade side following a five-year affiliation with the Miles Devils.
The Ringers’ Cunnamulla-based president, Ethan Capewell, said the team was warmly welcomed by opposition clubs when they played a friendly pre-season competition in Miles mid-March.
“Everyone involved was really welcoming in having us there and they were really supportive,” Capewell said. “Off the field, between games, there was good friendly banter.”
“The lads just love footy and we’re stoked to be part of the comp this year. It’s a bit unfortunate to see our competition disappear but we’re doing what we can to keep playing footy.”
The elephant in the room is the enormous amount of travel that will be required for players, officials and supporters throughout what will inevitably be an exhausting 14-round regular season.
Players from Quilpie and Cunnumulla will have a round trip of roughly 14 hours every time they play an away game against Miles, Wandoan and Chinchilla.
For the players living in outback properties, the drive will be even longer.
“It’s a big ask of our players and supporters. It’s a long way to drive, but we get to play a bit of footy and hang out with our mates,” Capewell said.
“We’re getting four home games in Charleville and that’s pretty amazing – to get the opportunity to play in front of our friends and family.”
Training is another clear challenge for the team but twice a week players able to attend will gather at the Charleville showground under the coaching leadership of Shane Peacock (pictured above with player Charlie Aiken).
“This year our objective is to be competitive, to get through the year and to look to the future,” Peacock said.
“We want to secure our future in this competition and I think we’ve got a side that could upset a few teams throughout the season.
“We’ve got a fair spread of players so hopefully we can keep getting a few to training and slowly build. Everyone’s keen to do it and I’m sure once we get travelling things will go well.”
BATTLERS CHARGE TO VICTORY IN THE TERRY CHARLES
In a warning shot to opposition clubs ahead of the 2021 season, the Wandoan-Taroom Battlers secured a convincing victory in the annual Terry Charles Memorial Cup.
The annual Western Downs rugby league tournament, honouring the former competition president killed in a car accident in 1966, was held in Tara as a final hit out before the regular season begins.
The Battlers beat the Chinchilla Bulldogs 32-6 in their first knockout game and overcame hosts Tara Panthers 32-6 in the final.
Coach Brian Argus said pre-season form, especially following the club’s victory in the Lindsay Williams Trophy tournament two weeks earlier, was promising.
“We’ve got a lot of new young players this year. They seem to be coming from everywhere,” Argus said.
“Our defence has been really good. They’re a good bunch of fellas and they all seem to be doing the right thing.”
He said it was hard to chose standout players in the pre-season but named back rowers Clancy Stanford, Rob Patterson and Justin Becker, dummy half Brendan Dann and centre Tom Phipps as strong performers.
IMAGES FROM THE 2021 TERRY CHARLES CUP BY LINDA STEINOHRT.