Maroons lift spirits
A SEA of maroon swept the Queensland State of Origin team away as they stepped off the team bus in Emerald yesterday.
Six months after the region's worst floods swept away businesses and destroyed homes in the Central Queensland town, causing devastation and heartache for locals, smiles abounded as the locals rubbed shoulders with their sporting heroes.
The entire Queensland team arrived to offer the locals respite from their worries, if only for a short while.
What began as a parade, with the Maroons walking along Egerton Street, turned into civilised mayhem.
The Queensland players, happy to sign autographs and pose for photos with the fans, worked their way slowly along the 500m stretch, through more than 4000 fans, from the Centro shopping centre to Emerald Town Hall.
A week out from Darren Lockyer's record-setting 35th Origin appearance for Queensland, Maroons assistant coach Michael Hagan said the opportunity to visit a regional Queensland centre like Emerald was just as important to the players as it was to members of the local community.
“It's only a little thing for us to do, but it gives (the locals) a massive lift,” Hagan said.
“To get up and close with the players and get an autograph and a photo is exciting for any fan.
“It's great for the players to get out and meet the people. It makes everyone appreciate the opportunity they have been given.”
Hagan applauded the Queensland Rugby League's decision to send the team to meet the people of regional Queensland ahead of their toughest test at ANZ Stadium next Wednesday night.
“It gives the players an opportunity to see first-hand what it means to be a Queenslander,” he said.
“It's great for our preparation before heading to Sydney, just to get players to realise what it means to represent the state. You're out among the true fans.”
Hagan said the entire side had been moved by the reception received yesterday, considering what the locals had been through during the past six months.
“All of those events around that time, with the floods, everyone followed it very closely and were shocked by the devastation and the level of disaster that hit everywhere.
“So that helps the boys understand what people here have been through,” he said.
“Just talking to people about how things have recovered and if they have settled down a bit is good for the players and also the people living here.”
Queensland front-rower Matt Scott, who hails from Ilfracombe, said the Queensland spirit was alive and well in Central Queensland.
“A community like this always bounces back from a disaster, as you can see they have, but I suppose it takes their minds off some tough times for a while and it gives them a bit of joy. It's the least we can do,” he said.
A day after he was recalled into Mal Meninga's Origin squad for game two after playing in all three matches in 2010, Blackwater junior Dave Taylor said it was particularly special visiting his home region.
“It means a lot. You do a lot of fan days like this in Brisbane but it doesn't have the same feeling as coming back where you grew up,” he said.
“It's definitely a good feeling be able to give something back to your own community.”