Norths duo Will Rogers and Harry Langbridge both enthuse about their time in country rugby giving them the impetus to tackle the StoreLocal Hospital Cup in Brisbane.
The former Noosa Dolphins duo know there will be a fresh wave of ambitions born in Toowoomba this weekend at the Queensland Country Championships.
Both turned their Sunshine Coast outings into opportunities to play at a higher level with Queensland Country before heading to Brisbane.
No.8-captain Rogers, 25, and flyhalf-halfback Langbridge, 21, are now fixtures in a Norths side still up for the fight after a string of losses in the StoreLocal Hospital Cup.
Before their tough hit-out against University of Queensland at Hugh Courtney Oval on Saturday, the pair took the time to talk through the country pathway.
“You might think you’re playing well in your own club comp on the Sunny Coast but you need the chance to step up to a higher standard to really know,” Langbridge said.
“I played for Queensland Country Colts and we were lucky enough to have a tour on to New Zealand in that year (2019). It was nice and cold but we also had a couple of wins against country teams from Canterbury,” Langbridge said.
“Being part of that pathway gives you more of an idea where you stand. It gives you more confidence and you want to have a crack. A few of us got an offer to stay on to play club footy with High School Old Boys in Christchurch. I did in 2020 and here I am at Norths.
“I’m definitely enjoying the higher level of play in Brisbane. It’s been a bit of a tough season so far but everyone is working hard to turn things around.”
He may be on a sledgehammer and jackhammer by day as a demolition man but his skills on the field are more subtle.
A nice right-foot step speared him over for a try against GPS in early June.
Rogers also reflects the strong contingent of country products making their mark in Brisbane. Easts halfback Eli Pilz (Coolum), Souths prop Liam Fletcher and hooker Theo Fourie (both Rockhampton), Brothers winger Billy Bulley (Townsville), Bond University halfback Liam Dillon (Townsville), Easts winger Shane Kennedy (Ayr), Easts hooker Martin Brennan (Charters Towers) and Norths lock Yvahn Allsworth (Noosa) are among the country talents developing their careers in Premier Rugby.
It’s nothing new. Peter Grigg was born in tiny Herberton, won renown as a winger in Townsville and earned Queensland selection in some of the state’s finest teams in the late 1970s and ‘80s before finishing his career at Brothers in Brisbane.
Former Queensland fullback Andrew King, back on his sheep property outside Longreach, practiced his raking punt kicks on the farm before breaking through.
World Cup-winning heroes Tim Horan and Jason Little really put the Darling Downs on the rugby map at the 1991 tournament.
The list goes on and on.
“I wanted to test myself in Brisbane. That was the main thing,” said Rogers, a 106kg backrower and electrician by trade.
“It was always special playing for the Queensland Country Heelers. You had blokes come together from 1700km apart, from Goondiwindi to Cairns, for a week and you’d put in the work,” Rogers said.
“We beat NSW Country (18-16) down in Newcastle in 2017. We definitely celebrated that one.”
Rogers is pushing for that first win for Norths in 2022.
“The boys turn up to train hard each week. The work ethic is there and we enjoy it but a win would be nice,” Rogers said.
A big injury toll hasn’t helped Norths but coach Pat Byron says you have to press on.
“We’re not making excuses but we have a pretty severe injury list,” Byron said.
“’Resilience’ is the absolute word for these guys. The effort is there and young guys are learning without a lot of first grade games behind them.
"Our young halfback Connor O'Regan has really impressed and he's only 20. Mitch Wood in the backrow has been excellent and Will is the sort of captain the boys follow because he leads by example on the field and at training."
Byron played juniors at Norths and lives only a few long punt kicks from the club so his zeal to help the club has a strong foundation.
“I played juniors at Norths back in the ‘90s when the club was wearing purple as the Barbarians with a Conan-like emblem. I’m not being corny when I say I want to improve a struggling club because they are my community club and I want to see them do well,” Byron said.
For Brothers, winger Bulley is a handful with his footwork and speed.
“I played for Brothers in Townsville so I wasn’t going anywhere else when I came down to Brisbane,” Bulley said.
“I had opportunities with North Queensland at the Country Championships and really got a lot out of a Queensland Country Heelers tour of NZ,” Bulley said.
“I would never have got the opportunity in Brisbane without that country pathway exposing me to higher level games.
“That’s when you make up your mind if you want to continue and have a crack. A lot of country boys use the Heelers to get started and there's a lot of talent in the bush for sure.”
Toowoomba Grammar School and Clive Berghofer Stadium are the hubs for the Queensland Country Championships over Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
For the first time, the pathway aligns so players from Under-13s to seniors are playing at the same Country Championships.
“We wanted to have a combined format so junior players, boys and girls, can see Queensland Country Heelers and Orchids in action and aspire to make those teams,” Queensland Country Rugby Union President Rod Hohn said.