Maroons bring Gladstone to life
Scan the faces of the 5000 fans that line the main street of Goondoon Street in Gladstone and it becomes clear what the annual Queensland Maroons fan day has come to represent.
This is not a minor undertaking or cheap piece of positive publicity but an ongoing commitment to the people of Queensland that when their champion team takes the field at Suncorp Stadiun next Wednesday night that they will carry their spirit with them.
Like the people of Emerald, Bundaberg, Longreach and Proserpine before them, those in and around the harbour hub of Gladstone in Central Queensland have found it difficult in recent times to find joy in the everyday.
The downturn in the mining industry has seen house prices plummet and unemployment soar so when their Maroons boarded a charter flight and flew 550 kilometres to spend a day with them, thousands hit pause on life's stresses to absorb the aura of a team who impacts the mood of their constituents based on the fortunes of their football team.
At the announcement of the team for Game Two in Brisbane on Monday Queensland Rugby League chairman Peter Betros took a not-so thinly veiled swipe at the New South Wales Blues and their beach-side camp in Coffs Harbour and it is not until you attend these fan days – this was my third – that you can even comprehend the depth of feeling that these visits bring out.
With the downturn in the mining sector that the central Queensland region is dependent upon has come an exodus of footballers both at a senior and junior level.
The Gladstone A-Grade competition could not be formed this year and it was only at the 11th hour that Brothers, Valleys and Tannum Sands clubs were invited to participate in the Rockhampton competition 110 kilometres to the south.
It's why one of the first points of business that coach Kevin Walters had when he took the position was to guarantee such fan days would be part of his team's preparation too.
"I remember the Australian team came to Ipswich to train when I was 12 years old and Dad took us over there and it was amazing to see Bob Fulton, Graham Eadie, Tom Raudonikis, all these New South Wales blokes that you see on television actually running around and training," Walters said.
"It just made you want to play for Queensland and for Australia and there are the thousands of kids up here in Gladstone don't often get to see these players, not like the kids in Brisbane or on the Gold Coast or in Townsville.
"The Gladstone kids find it difficult and it's a great opportunity for them to come along and see that that could be them one day.
"It really does lift your spirits as a Queensland kid and you see that if he's there training and doing it, what's stopping me from making it?
"The kids can live the dream, they can see the dream and to be able to reach out and touch it is bloody amazing.
"It affects so many people's lives in Queensland when an Origin game's on. The day of an Origin, the week building up to it and the day after, the state shuts down if Queensland gets beaten.
"There are just so many people that are sad and don't feel like getting up and going to work, but if Queensland wins, happy days."
For Josh McGuire, who missed last year's trip to Proserpine due to his Achilles tendon injury, a chance to rub shoulders with the Maroons' faithful brought a greater sense of what it means to play Origin for Queensland.
"It's all a bit surreal to be honest," McGuire told NRL.com.
"It just shows you how much this game means to the state and it's great to get out there to these rural towns and give them the opportunity to meet some of the legends of Queensland.
"I grew up loving Queensland and watching them and it's a bit surreal to be honest. I'm pinching myself at the amount of people that are here.
"Obviously this is more than a game of rugby league, you're playing for your family and for your state and the people who love it.
"Everyone bleeds maroon up here so it's a great opportunity to see them all live and it reminds you how much it means to people."
Roosters forward Aidan Guerra was on his third fan day on Tuesday and said that along with 16 teammates it reinforces just how many people are relying on him to put in a good performance.
"It's a big day but to see what it means to the little communities and the people that come out in their thousands and from hours away at the remote towns, it is quite humbling to see what it means to people," Guerra said.
"The people of Queensland love their footy and they love the Maroons so we try and get a feel for that and it's just someone else you don't want to let down."
Game One debutant Corey Oates rose from Baralaba with a population of less than 500 people to represent his state and hopes that he and other players inspire youngsters to reach for the heights the game has to offer.
"As a kid growing up to be a part of that sort of stuff was something that made your day or made your week really," Oates said.
"It just shows that it doesn't matter how small the town is that you come from that if you have a dig at something and follow through with it then anything can happen.
"There have been plenty of blokes that have come out of them kind of towns and played for Queensland and it just shows the kids that if you keep your head up and have a go you can make it from anywhere."