• Do this years' Toomelah Tigers have what it takes to win the Knockout? (Stand Up/Derech Eretz)Source: Stand Up/Derech Eretz
A community revitalised by the love of rugby league want to see next years' Koori Knockout brought back to the country.
By
Laura Morelli

28 Sep 2017 - 4:33 PM  UPDATED 28 Sep 2017 - 4:33 PM

In a small town on Gomeroi country, right next to the New South Wales and Queensland border lies Boggabilla and Toomelah mission - a community with a love of rugby league.

Boggabilla has a population of approximately 650 people, 58 per cent of which identify as Aboriginal. The town is largely known for it's agriculture, cotton, sheep and cattle being the primary industries. The Toomelah Aboriginal Mission was established in the 1930s and exists in within Boggabilla's localility. It's the setting for Ivan Sen's award-winning film, 'Toomelah' which shows the lush country surroundings and tells the story of issues affecting the community. 

Like many communities, Toomelah has experienced hardship; unemployment rates close to 100 per cent, domestic and lateral violence, drug and alcohol abuse and general crime. Locals say the town was "dull and uninspiring" for the youth, who had little to do and few positive role models to look up to. However, since the formation of the Boggabilla Macintyre Warriors rugby team a lot has changed. For Toomelah, footy is much more than a game. 

Earlier this year, the Boggabilla and Toomelah community received a generous grant, with the Federal Government announcing they would be given $230,000 to improve the facilities at their oval. With a significantly improved facility, residents are now able to utilise the sporting ground as a social and community hub.

Residents say sport has given the town a better sense of identity and many more strong, black, positive role models for young people to look up to. It doesn't hurt that they're a crash hot team, either!

The mighty Warriors stole the show by beating the Narwan Eels, despite playing a shocking first half, playing in the local Knockout. The final moments of the game - which has been described as ‘bush footy – Indigenous style’ - were filled with nail-biting suspense, but success was on their side and the Boggabilla and Toomelah community not only celebrating for days, but given hopes for victory at one of the biggest rugby league carnivals in Australia.

Despite the new local team Macintyre Warriors being the talk of the town, rugby fever really all began with the Toomelah Tigers – a team who now has the chance to bring the Koori Knockout back to the country.

As spring crept across Sydney in the year of 1994, the Toomelah Tigers ran onto the Redfern oval and won the Koori Knockout, defeating one of the best teams of the competition, La Perouse. The grand final, held on Lapa's home ground, was a record event with A-grade players such as former Canberra Raiders star and Gomeroi man, Glen Brennan showing a stellar performance.

Now more than 20 years later, the Boggabilla and Toomelah community have high hopes of seeing history repeat itself. This year, Toomelah Tigers have rediscovered their strength and could possibly be the ones to take the knockout back to the country. 

Coach, Malcolm Peckham says it’s not about the glory of winning but instead connecting to community and bringing it ‘back to the country.’

“When the boys get on the field, they’re playing against their brothers, cousins, uncles so it’s more than just another game.

“The community needs this win... playing with all your family - your brothers, your uncs and dads… it would mean a lot to everyone to bring it back home,” he told NITV. 

The Gomeroi man says the boys are beginning to get that ‘knockout feeling’ and that the Knockout brings a different type of confidence, especially when it comes to culture. But in order to let the pride shine, he says there needs to be a move back to the team’s grassroots. 

“Every community has their underlying problems and we try to do as much as we can to address those issues, but for the last two years’ rugby league in our community has done wonders. Its decreased alcohol issues and has the boys being busy instead of doing crime. There needs to be some kind of recognition from others now,” he explained.

“The city boys they get all the help they need, doctors, physio, you name it – but for our boys in the country, they cramp up and just have to soldier on, they’re used to doing it tough."

“The city boys they get all the help they need, doctors, physio, you name it – but for our boys in the country, they cramp up and just have to soldier on, they’re used to doing it tough. Playing on their home field next year would show them and the town locals that working hard pays off.”

After the qualifying grand final game, Tigers captain, David McGrady says the team already has a ‘taste for winning on their home field’ and now, are ‘hungrier’ than ever to bring the big game back home next year.

“I reckon winning the grand final in our home town has made us all want to bring it back next year. We’re training harder than ever in the lead up to the big knock out and having more people across the world finally start to recognise us.

"We’re training harder than ever in the lead up to the big knock out and having more people across the world finally start to recognise us."

“It would be great to see them win, and it would be a great honour to host the event for the community, especially for our mobs.”

McGrady says a win this year would be unbelievable - not for the team, but for the town and the Toomelah community.

“The community needs this win. It’s just a small town but playing with all your family, your brothers, your uncs and dads… it’s just unbelievable and would mean a lot to everyone to bring it back home.

“On the paddock we use what we’ve got - our speed, our vision… We’re looking stronger than last year and with a bit of extra luck we may see the next big tournament in the country. We could come away with a win and that’s exactly what our town needs right now.”

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It’s not just the coach and captain that want to see a change in the game plan for next years Koori Knockout. Local resident and proud supporter, Norma Binge is backing the team for a historical win.

“Having previously won the Toomelah Tigers/Macintyre Warriors have a genuine chance of winning the KKO this time round. they are in fighting form and have played well and trained all year,” she said.

If the team does win, the game will more than likely be held in a nearby major town in order to host visitors who travel far and wide for the big event. Norma says the remote community needs as much recognition as it can get, to improve the quality of life for local youth and the Indigenous community.

“It would be great to see them win, and it would be a great honour to host the event for the community, especially for our mobs.”

Norma says for many people in the community, ‘sport is their life’.

“It's a way to get kids out of their comfort zone, stay fit, off the streets and turn them into future sportsman ambassadors just like the great Ewan McGrady and leaders of our community.”

With a recently updated oval, Toomelah is ready for guests to arrive.  

 

All the action from the Koori Knockout 2017 will be broadcast: Online NITV Facebook 29th Sept - 2nd October (Friday to Monday) and On-air on Channel 34 1st- 2nd October (Sunday & Monday). 

Catch up with all the action via SBS On Demand after the broadcast.

Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter using #KooriKnockout

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