STRONGHOLD: Marty Bowman, Ian Sanderson, Richie and Patrick Bowman at a Men of League dinner in 2016.
STRONGHOLD: Marty Bowman, Ian Sanderson, Richie and Patrick Bowman at a Men of League dinner in 2016. Annie Perets

President's verdict: The end of the line?

CENTRAL Burnett Rugby League president Ian Sanderson has been at the forefront of the sport in the region for decades.

He likes to reminisce on a time when both the game and the town were thriving - the good old days.

Legends, players community leaders and administrators, past and present, have expressed concerns for the future of rugby league in the bush.

The situation in the North Burnett is reaching crisis point.

THE PROBLEM: State of the League

INTRODUCTION: The Decline

PART ONE: Mal Meninga Weighs In

PART TWO: Gavin Ford's Sacrifice

PART THREE: Richard Dugdale's Herculean Task

PART FOUR: Captain's Call

Alarm bells started ringing in 2017 when, on the eve of the season, the Monto Roos announced they were unable to field a team.

They fell by the wayside, having won the premiership just two years earlier.

It was a sad day for a once-proud rugby league town.

Despite optimism from the committee, they didn't bounce back.

Besides social touch football on Tuesday nights, rugby league has ceased to exist in Monto.

It's far cry from the glory days of the 80s and 90s when Monto was the powerhouse of the North Burnett.

Sanderson remembers vividly how different it was back then.

"We used to have games here starting with the Under 7s at 8am, right through to the A grade kick off at 4pm,” Sanderson said.

"The hill used to be absolutely packed on weekends and there were people all around the field.

"After games, the clubhouse would be full of people drinking and having a good time until 2am.

"We turned over $80,000 one year in the mid-80s, which was a lot of money in those days.

"Another year we had the most representatives in the Wide Bay team, which included the Sunshine and Fraser Coasts.”

It begs the question: Where did it all go wrong?

The sport is on its last legs and must be rebuilt from the ground up.

Question marks linger over the long-term future of the Eidsvold Eagles and Biggenden Warriors.

Biggenden president Justin Vicary has tried unsuccessfully to organise junior age groups.

It took him three years just to get the senior side back up and running after a lengthy hiatus.

The club is on its feet, but only just. The Warriors are hanging on by a thread.

Many of their players travel long distances and the club limped through the 2018 season.

For their qualifying final against Mundubbera - their biggest game of the year - they managed only 13 players, despite having the full complement at the same venue one week prior.

Vicary said junior footy is the key to saving rugby league in the country.

"Rugby league needs a good kick up the arse,” he said.

"It's hard to keep young people here - they just disappear.

"There are none here any more because there is no work for them.

"Council or the government need to start investing to get industry back in small towns.”

The Central Burnett Rugby League has put the clubs on notice. There must be four teams for the competition to go ahead in 2019.

With Monto sidelined, if either Eidsvold or Biggenden can't get the numbers together, it's game over.

It would leave the remaining teams to ponder their own futures.

If they want to play, they would likely join the South Burnett or Northern Districts leagues.

If Gayndah and Mundubbera find a new home where they can play consistent football, there is little incentive for them to return.

The Central Burnett Brumbies were forced to pledge their allegiance to the south. It has proved a major impediment to the re-establishment of a local junior competition.

Sanderson has been around long enough to see clubs come and go, but never has the competition itself been threatened so seriously.

He said this has a distinctly ominous feel.

"It feels different this time,” Sanderson said.

"Population is dying and it's happening throughout all country towns. It's disappointing.

"Mining communities are suffering the same fate.

"It's not uncommon for clubs to go from winning the premiership one year to struggling to put a team on the park the next.

"I hope I'm wrong but maybe this is the end of the line.”

We know we're not alone. Clubs and communities further west are experiencing a similar fate.

In the next instalment, we find out about the rugby league crisis meeting taking place in Chinchilla and present changes proposed by the QRL's outback operations manager.


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