New and merged teams boost central west league

Longreach/Ilfracombe merge, Alpha reboot, give CW league new look

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Ilfracombe in the yellow and blue on the paddock in 2015 against Barcaldine, three years into the drought that has stripped towns of player numbers in western Queensland.

Ilfracombe in the yellow and blue on the paddock in 2015 against Barcaldine, three years into the drought that has stripped towns of player numbers in western Queensland.

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The revival of a team from Alpha and the merging of Longreach and Ilfracombe teams is bringing fresh interest to the 2020 central west rugby league season as clubs begin their training.

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The revival of a team from Alpha and the merging of Longreach and Ilfracombe teams is bringing fresh interest to the 2020 central west rugby league season as clubs begin their training.

One hundred years after rugby league began in Longreach and 32 years after the Ilfracombe Scorpions first took to the paddock, when the central west had a reserve grade competition, the decision has been made that combining forces will be better for both clubs in the long run.

According to the vice president of the newly-named Longreach Ilfracombe Tigers, Gav Ballard, each team had been struggling for numbers over the past few years.

"Instead of two teams folding, this is a way of keeping going," he explained. "It's not as if we don't know each other - a lot of these boys work together all week, and it's just been on the footy paddock that they've been against each other."

The two towns are 27 kilometres apart and Ilfracombe's juniors already pull on Longreach jerseys to play in that competition.

Putting up a competitive team each week was also a factor in the decision to put the two senior sides together, one reason being that interest and support naturally wanes when a team is never able to give their players and supporters a result.

The other is that a competitive senior side gives the junior players something to look up to and forward to, and Longreach, being the largest town in the central west, has the strongest junior base in the competition.

"I can't see us going back to two sides to be honest," Mr Ballard said.

"We used to always have shearers, teachers, Pastoral College kids, agents, police, people from government departments - there's less of all of them now across the board.

"It's not like years ago when you could always rely on someone to pull on the boots."

The Ilfracombe Scorpions, who won their first central west premiership in 2016, and who had to play their home games at Longreach in 2015 when drought dried up their oval, still remain a separate entity as a club.

Mr Ballard said everyone wanted to be sure that what they were doing was for the good of both clubs, and prove that they could do things fairly.

Of the four home games for the season, two will be played at Longreach and two at Ilfracombe, with the executive to decide which venue to use so that there were no clashes with other social or sporting events locally.

They'll be playing in a newly-designed jersey that incorporates the blue and yellow of Ilfracombe, and the red white and blue of Longreach.

"We didn't want to go far away from the Longreach colours because we wanted to stay aligned with our juniors," Mr Ballard said.

Some of the reformed Alpha Brumbies team, which is raring to get on the paddock after a 15 year break. Picture - Nicole Dodge.

Some of the reformed Alpha Brumbies team, which is raring to get on the paddock after a 15 year break. Picture - Nicole Dodge.

Further east, the red and black jersey reminiscent of the North Sydney Bears is getting its first run in 15 years, thanks to the reformation of the Alpha Brumbies club.

It's been the keenness of the potential players themselves that has driven community support for the idea, according to club president Sean Dillon.

"We've all got shows and campdrafts and whatnot but they're a one-off thing," Mr Dillon said. "Footy brings people together over a whole season."

It's been received really well in the area with plenty of fund-raising raffles and sponsorship drives in the lead-up to the season, and dates for other activities have been moved to accommodate league games at the town's common sporting venue.

Related: Blackall Magpies end 30-year drought

When the club was first in existence it played in the central west competition but moved to the central highlands one before folding for a number of years.

Mr Dillon said they had chosen to play in the central west competition in the newest iteration partly because there was a greater community of interest with that area and partly because the central west had a shorter season.

"A lot of our players work in the mines and that suits them," he said.

"Part of the roster is only available every second week but now that the season draw is out, the shift workers can plan their time off.

"It'll be a long road trip to Winton for us, but at the same time, games at Clermont and further on would have been over a lot of dirt."

Alpha-born-and-bred Eddie Donaldson, who has high level Brisbane schoolboy and club rugby experience under his belt, is coaching the team, which had its first run in the Longreach Sevens last November.

The team was beaten in all three of its games there but Mr Dillon said it was the first time they'd played as a group, and they "ran out of legs".

"Eddie is a big believer in fitness and backing your mates, and he's getting a lot of respect out on the training paddock," he said. "I give ourselves a solid chance of making the finals this year."

The central west season gets underway on Anzac Day but Alpha's first home game isn't until the following Saturday, May 2, when they take on Winton.

The Longreach/Ilfracombe Tigers will make their first appearance on the same weekend in an away game at Barcaldine.

Read more: Barcaldine Sandgoannas celebrate 100 years

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