WEIPA will host a professional rugby league match for the first time when the Northern Pride brings a Country Round game to the Cape in July.
The Cairns-based club has a footprint stretching across the Far North and has previously hosted matches on Thursday Island and at Bamaga.
Northern Pride CEO Garreth Smith, who grew up in Weipa and Napranum, and raised his family in the Western Cape, said it would be emotional to see the Hostplus Cup players run onto Andoom Oval.
His two sons, Denzel King and Seamus King-Smith, are both in the Pride squad and will be hoping to get on the park when the Pride play the Sunshine Coast Falcons on July 15.
“There’ll definitely be emotions but it’s not about me,” the CEO told Cape York Weekly.
“I think it means everything for Weipa and all the communities surrounding Weipa, and in the Cape. This game has been a long time coming.
“Not only is it going to be a great game, but it’ll also be a good event that brings those communities together.”
Pride coach Ty Williams – a former Cowboys and Origin star – said he was looking forward to spending time in Weipa and putting on a show for what should be a sell-out crowd.
“The Cape is an important area of our footprint and to play a game in Weipa will be special,” he said.
“It’s pretty exciting for us to play in a place that’s surrounded by Indigenous communities but also a working-class town. That probably typifies us at the Northern Pride.”
Williams said it was crucial that the club built a profile in regional and remote areas.
“We’re based in Cairns and that’s OK, but we must remember to look outside and see what we represent,” he said.
“It’s not only important to myself or Smithy as CEO, but holistically as a club.
“Places like Weipa and the Cape are the reasons why we are here.
“We want kids from these areas to aspire to be Northern Pride players.
“If Denzel or Seamus get an opportunity to don the jersey in Weipa it’s going to be even more special, for sure.”
Smith said the Weipa business community had backed the game, providing sponsorship to help cover the costs of bringing two squads of players, plus referees, to the Cape.
“They demonstrated what they always do and came together because they saw something important was going to happen,” he said.
“It was quite overwhelming for me, to be honest. I went up to see them and there was no hesitation.
“They just jumped on with their support.”
Expect to see the Pride in Weipa in the week leading into the game, Smith said.
“We don’t want to just fly in, play a game, then fly out. We’ll be doing a lot of community engagement on the ground,” he said.
“It won’t just be in Weipa, either. I’m expecting us to get to Mapoon and Napranum as well.
“I’m sure the Sunny Coast Falcons will be doing the same. That’s a role we’ll share.”
Smith said he had no issues with the standard of the Andoom Oval surface or facilities.
“The field will be safe and I think it’ll be great for the players to come and get changed in facilities that aren’t quite what they are used to,” he said.
“Hopefully it makes them appreciate what they have a bit more and see what some places have got to go without.”
More details will be forthcoming closer to the match, but expect the Hostplus Cup match between the Pride and Falcons to be a twilight contest – provided the Andoom Oval lights are fixed in time.
There is also talk of a curtain-raiser and a women’s exhibition match to be played on the day.
“Myself and Dave Maiden (QRL competitions manager) visited Weipa and we had a look at the field and talked about leaving the facility in a better state,” Smith said.
“The money that comes through the gate should be going back into the local community.”
Weipa is one of seven regional centres that will stage Hostplus Cup premiership matches in July.
With the state government extending its sponsorship of the Activate Queensland! Country Week initiative, the QRL and its clubs are now busy preparing for the logistical exercise of taking every round 18 game to rural and remote communities across the weekend of July 15-16.
Sports Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said Country Week had become a much-anticipated annual event that rewarded regional Queenslanders.
“This is one of my favourite rounds on the Hostplus Cup calendar and this season it’s great that we’ve been able to work with the QRL to bring Country Week games to Weipa, Wondai and Miles for the first time,” he said.
“The footprint across the state is quite remarkable, with other games to be played in Proserpine, Biloela, Kilcoy and Stanthorpe.
“It’s shaping up to be another terrific weekend of rugby league, that doesn’t just provide a tremendous boost for local communities and businesses, but also helps instil community pride and inspire the next generation of Queensland Maroons superstars.”
Maiden said Country Week would bring people together through various game-day activities and school and community visits.
“We expect to have contact with 10,000-plus participants over the duration of the event,” he said.
“It’s a great leveller for our players and our competition as it reminds everyone how tough it is for some of these communities who have to travel four or five hours to play a game of rugby league and the conditions they often play under.
“It’s also a reminder for our players of where they come from, and to never underestimate the parents, volunteers and the people from junior clubs who help get them to where they are now.”
Maiden praised the Hostplus Cup clubs for their ongoing support.
“Our clubs over the past few years have really embraced it, and have opened their doors to welcome people in from community clubs to see how they operate,” he said.
“They’ve helped make it a really inclusive event that communities enjoy, so much so that we now have a long list of people from various regional and rural centres who want to host future games.”
Activate Queensland! Country Week – July 15/16
Biloela: Ipswich Jets v Central Queensland Capras
Kilcoy: Brisbane Tigers v Tweed Seagulls
Miles: Redcliffe Dolphins v Burleigh Bears
Proserpine: Souths Logan Magpies v Mackay Cutters
Weipa: Northern Pride v Sunshine Coast Falcons
Wondai: Norths Devils v Wynnum Manly Seagulls
Stanthorpe: Townsville Blackhawks v Western Clydesdales
Bye: Papua New Guinea Hunters