THE south west town of Roma continues to cement itself as the heartland of high-level representative football players with an 18-year-old country girl the latest Australian star to come from the region.
Touch footballer Jess Bourke will travel to Malaysia in August to represent the green and gold in the Youth World Cup.
The link player has already been thrust into the mainstream sporting world, as a current signing for the North Queensland Cowboys team in this year’s inaugural NRL Touch Premiership.
The new premiership, consisting of the Parramatta Eels, Wests Tigers, Newcastle Knights, Gold Coast Titans, Brisbane Broncos and Cowboys, sees touch football matches played as curtain-raisers to the NRL – ultimately helping lift the profile of the fast paced sport.
Ms Bourke, a former Rockhampton Grammar School student, is currently working on her family’s cattle property, Bracco, north west of Roma, along with mustering and training horses for Peter and Shari Knudsen at Haymac Campdraft Horses.
While she doesn’t have city gym facilities nearby, it hasn’t stopped Ms Bourke from preparing for her tournament by running a six kilometre track on Bracco and trotting alongside horses at the Knudsen’s property.
“But riding horses is also good fitness, working cattle in the yards is always good too,” Ms Bourke said.
Touch Football has long gone unrecognised for unearthing some of the NRL’s most-prolific players including Matt Bowen, Scott Prince, Kalyn Ponga, Aidan Guerra and Benji Marshall.
Ms Bourke said the trial of NRL Touch Premiership was an exciting time for the sport.
“There is a New Zealand team, the Warriors, they are wanting to go in it next year so I think it’s actually growing,” she said.
“It should take off I think.”
Having only started playing the sport in grade seven, Ms Bourke went on to represent the Central Queensland Bulls, Capricornia School Girls, Queensland Fire and Elite 8 North Queensland Cowboys teams.
“To think I’m actually in the (Australian) team now, I’ve come a fair way in the sport so it’s pretty exciting,” she said.
Ms Bourke will be cheered on by her parents, Andrew and Toni, and sisters, Ella and Mia, during the tournament at Kuala Lumpur from August 8 to 11.
Her mother, Toni Bourke, said Jess’ success was a credit to her own dedication and the support of great coaches.
“She has done a lot of hard work though, even while she was doing her grade 12 studies she would have to fly out to Brisbane of a weekend to do her Queensland training camp or to do a cowboys camp,” she said.
“It’s been a lot of hard work.
“We have had a really great coach based in Rockhampton who has really helped the girls who have got a little bit of talent. They have really coached them well and taken them to the right tournaments to get them recognised.”
Full 18 Girls Team
Jessica Bourke QLD
Brittney Brown QLD
Tiarni Bryce QLD
Taylah Connell QLD
Lucia Fildes QLD
Stephanie Kelly VIC
Lucy McDonald NSW
Leesa Mi Mi QLD
Hagiga Mosby QLD
Kate Ryan NSW
Chloe Sawtell QLD
Marama Thomas QLD
Emily Ward QLD
Zoe Webster QLD
Paul Cobham, Coach
Simon Bassett, Asst Coach
Leanne Bauer, Manager