IT’S a long way from the bright lights of the major rugby league stadiums around the country but the Cassowary Coast is preparing to host a warm-up game prior to the Rugby League World Cup.
The game will be between Italy and Tonga on Friday, October 20 at Callendar Park, Innisfail.
Other games preceding the main battle will include State vs State (Italian Heritage) and the PNG Orchids vs the Mayor's Invitational.
The World Cup was first held in 1954 this year is its 15th iteration with 14 men's and six women's teams battling it out in games played in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
Adding to the excitement is the fact Jason Taumalolo has decided to play for Tonga instead of New Zealand in his quest to give developing nations an even footing when they take on the one tier teams.
"I just feel that it's time to give back and hopefully I can assist and inspire young Tongan players to chase their NRL goals,” Taumalolo said said.
Cassowary Coast Regional Council mayor John Kremastos said Taumalolo’s commitment to play for Tonga, the birth place of both his parents, resonates with the people of the Cassowary Coast.
“Many of our young men have gone on in their rugby league careers and made it to the greater rugby league stage and still call Innisfail home - Billy Slater, Scott Bolton, Ty Williams and Kerry Boustead," Mr Kremastos said.
One of North Queensland’s other great rugby league connections, Johnathan Thurston, won’t be playing due to a shoulder industry but curiously still appears at the end of the Rugby League World Cup promotional video in full uniform.
Italy's head coach, Cameron Ciraldo, said he was looking forward to the warm-up game against Tonga in with Mark Miniciello as captain and James Tedesco as his deputy.
Tedesco will take to the field for Italy after being hedged out of the Australian side by Innisfail's Billy Slater. Tedesco winning the RLPA Player's Champion award as the best player in NRL, according to his peers, had the Italy team thinking he would be a surety for the Australian squad.
The PNG Orchids will be playing in their first ever World Cup event and have been looking for opportunities to test themselves and look forward to their game against the Mayor's Invitational side, which is made up of players from North Queensland representative teams.
The PNG Orchids last month had a game against the Jillaroos and are looking forward to more time on the field to hone their skills before the World Cup.
Mr Kremastos said there have been many months of preparation and hard work gone into this event by not only Council but the Innisfail Leprechauns and Tully Tigers committees.
“We can't thank them enough for their support,” he said.
"The Cassowary Coast Regional Council is hosting a number of events in the region to give the community as many opportunities as possible to meet some of the footy greats, and yes, you just may be dining out in Innisfail and find Jason Taumalolo or James Tedesco sitting at the table next to you.
"Not only will they be travelling around the Cassowary Coast, they will also attend a meet and greet and hosting open training sessions. It's not every day the residents of the Cassowary Coast get the chance to see this calibre of athlete doing what they do best."
Where to see the action…
- Meet and Greet: Wednesday, October 18, 2017; Italian and Tonga Teams, 6pm, Tully Showgrounds; Food and Drinks on sale with proceeds to Tully Tigers.
- Open Training Session - Tonga: Thursday October 19, 2017, Tully Showgrounds, 3pm-5pm.
- Open Training Session – Italy: Callendar Park, Innisfail, 2.30pm-4.30pm
- International Exhibition Rugby League Games: Friday, October 20 , 2017, Callendar Park, Innisfail. 4pm Gates Open; 5pm State vs State (Italian Heritage); 6.30pm PNG Orchids vs Mayor's Invitational; 8pm Italy vs Tonga.
- Cost: $8 Adults; $4 Aged Pensioners; $2 Concession (5-15 years); Food and Drinks on Sale.