KNOCKED out of the top eight, the Northern Pride players could have been excused for being down in the dumps after Saturday night’s final whistle in Weipa.
But the scenes that followed at Andoom Oval highlighted just how successful the club’s Country Round engagement had been – the players found their smiles and got involved in the post-game antics.
It was the week that was for Pride CEO Garreth Smith, his Weipa family and the club itself.
Other clubs in the Hostplus Cup flew into their respective communities on the day of the game, or the day before if they were lucky.
But not the Pride.
The club had representatives on the ground in the Cape all week, starting at the Aurukun school on Tuesday, where local product and Pride under-21s player Travis Cornthwaite was mobbed by the students.
The vibes continued the next day with visits to Napranum and Mapoon, as well as a pre-State of Origin sportsman’s night at the Albatross Bay Resort.
There, head coach Ty Williams, a former Queensland player, and ex-Cairns Taipans star Alex Loughton shared stories of their glory days.
The players flew in on Thursday and immediately hit the ground running, visiting schools around Weipa.
“I got sent to the kindy and it was a great experience,” said Chris Oswald, the Pride’s captain.
“I think being here and mixing with the community makes it a lot more special for the kids because they get to build relationships with the players.
“The club wanted to make it a special week and I think we did that in many ways.”
More visits were held on Friday, as well as a casual nine holes at the Carpentaria Golf Club, followed by a captain’s run that night on Andoom Oval.
Again, the players stuck around to sign autographs, pose for selfies and chat with the locals.
While all that was happening, the Sunshine Coast Falcons had flown from Brisbane to Cairns and had a training run before retiring to their hotel rooms.
On game day, the Falcons were able to enjoy a sleep in before their charter flight to Weipa.
It was slightly different for the Pride players, who had to rise early to be at the Weipa Camping Ground by 7am for a community breakfast and the unveiling of the special Country Round jersey.
Despite the impost, they took it in their stride, smiling all the time as Mapoon artist Luanna de Jersey explained her special design that was commissioned just for the Weipa game.
“This is my contemporary visual representation of the connections to all cultural heritage of our four communities – Mapoon, Weipa, Napranum and Aurukun – thriving with culture that is new, old and adopted,” she said.
After a disappointing 24-8 loss on the field, those same jerseys were auctioned off.
Originally meant to be three up for grabs, auctioneer Dan Tonon “went rogue” and ended up selling off just about every player’s jersey, much to the mirth of the group.
Napranum’s Jason Nixon put in a bid of $1550 to win fullback Julian Christian’s jersey.
A Torres Strait Islander, Christian was by far the most popular player in the team, with his Weipa-based family coming out in droves to support him.
“I’ve not been to Weipa before but I do have a lot of family here and it’s great to visit,” he said.
Christian had a 10-minute spell in the sin bin during the game after a scuffle broke out between the two teams and he said after the game he wasn’t sure why he was the one singled out.
“At least they sent one off from the other team so it was even but I didn’t think I did much wrong,” the star player said.
The Pride might have made a few too many errors on the field, which opened the door for their rivals, but they didn’t put a foot wrong off the field.
The club set a new benchmark for how community engagement should be done by both Hostplus Cup teams, as well as those at the highest level.
For Garreth Smith, he was an exhausted man when his head hit the pillow on Saturday night.
But he would have woken up with a smile, knowing that his hard work had made a difference.