These
are tough times for rugby league in the bush – in both New South Wales and Queensland. The drought, the decline in rural
jobs, and the inevitable drift to the coast have combined to cut a swathe
through the heartland of rugby league since its foundation almost a century
ago.

But
the opening State of Origin game on Wednesday night will include a number of players,
in both teams, whose own origins are rural and regional, but there is one newcomer
whose background is about as “bush” as it can get. The
Maroons’ second row forward, Matt Scott, hails from the town of Ilfracombe. So, where in hell is Ilfracombe?

Ilfracombe
is a tiny town on the Matilda Highway between Barcaldine and Longreach in
Central Western Queensland – population 180. Matt
Scott was raised in the town, but there was no local juniors team, so his mum
made the EIGHT hour round trip each and every weekend so Matt could play in the
“Gemfield Giants” juniors – and that was when he was under 10.

The
talent scouts from St Brendan’s College in Yeppoon spotted Matt during one of
his games for the Giants and awarded him a scholarship to the college that has
produced a number of league stars. And
the rest is history – the Cowboys snapped him up, and he played his debut first-grade
game at the grand old age of 19 in 2004. He will turn 21 on Tuesday week.

As the
Sunday Mail‘s Mike Coleman pointed out yesterday, as long as a kid can make his
way from Ilfracombe to Telstra Stadium to play in the biggest game of the year, Origin is doing just fine.

My
only hope is that the buffoons who drag the name of the game through
the mud will
one day wake up to the fact that there are thousands of mums and dads
in rural New South Wales and Queensland making enormous sacrifices to
give
their sons half the chance they have had.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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