Following the overwhelming success of their inaugural Reds to Regions tour, the Queensland Reds went bigger and better this year to deliver an industry-leading initiative unparalleled across any rival code in the country.
The entire 38-man playing squad, plus three coaches and 16 Queensland Rugby staff all returned back to their Ballymore base last Friday after visiting 28 towns and regional hubs across the club’s three-day tour of Queensland.
Eight new regional towns were visited this year including St George, Goondiwindi, Rolleston, Blackwater, Blackall, Cherbourg, Murgon and Warwick, in addition to more players and staff hitting the road as well.
One of the new players to experience Reds to Regions for the first time was star recruit Suliasi Vunivalu.
In just his second week at the Reds after making the switch back to the 15-man code, Vunivalu stayed with a local Rugby family in Rockhampton and was treated to the full experience of life in the region attending the Gracemere Cattle Saleyards, fishing on the Fitzroy River and even cattle drenching as part of the required ‘farm work’ all players have to fulfil as requested by head coach Brad Thorn.
“We never did anything like this at the Storm,” Vuinvalu told The Australian in reflection of his time in Rockhampton.
“It has been really good to come out to the country and see how our fans earn a living.”
As well getting their hands dirty on a farm and helping-out locals through some manual labour, another imperative from Thorn was that all players and staff weren’t put up in hotels but billeted with local families again.
“If you’re going to represent your state, it’s important to know who you represent,” said Thorn.
“We want to show it wasn’t just a one-off last year. It’s all about care and connection between us and the people of Queensland.”
Centre Jordan Petaia was billeted with the Dunn family in Beaudesert – the same family he stayed with during the inaugural 2019 tour.
“I stayed with Lex and Trish last year so seeing them again was a good catch up,” Petaia said.
“We had a good cup of tea, bit of a yarn and then some work and then at the rugby club here I saw a few people I met last year. It was good to catch up with them and get out here and see everyone again.
“It’s a good experience for us boys getting out of Brisbane as we are the Queensland Reds, so it’s good to get around all of Queensland.
“We’re learning what life is like for everyone else across the state and it’s just a great experience for us.”
Petaia wasn’t the only player to go back to the same region this year, with a number of the squad requesting to stay with the same billet family again after establishing a genuine connection from their first visit.
“I was up here last year for this brilliant initiative by the Queensland Rugby Union,” said Reds scrumhalf Tate McDermott after revisiting the Fraser Coast.
“We’ve got boys across the state learning what it’s like to represent Queensland and getting to know who we represent, and Filipo (Daugunu) and I are lucky enough to be in Bundaberg.”
Another part of the tour across Queensland is the exchange of a Reds jersey with a local club jersey from that region.
Earlier this week, the players presented to the group their Reds to Regions experience and proudly showed their respective region’s jersey which will hang in the team room at Ballymore as a constant reminder of who the players represent when playing for Queensland.
“We’re based in Brisbane, but our team is called the Queensland Reds,” said hooker Alex Mafi.
“Queensland’s a big place and we want to be able to represent them really well, so what better way to start the year off than going out, meeting and serving the people you’re playing for.”
From farm work and junior clinics, to being billeted and experiencing life in the country, the true legacy of the Reds to Regions tour can be measured by the smiles on the young kids faces across Queensland who got to meet and connect with their Rugby heroes.
“Reds to Regions is a great initiative and something we will look to keep doing here at the Reds,” said captain Liam Wright.
“Being able to connect with the people of regional Queensland – the people we represent when wearing the maroon jersey is something special. That’s who we play for.
“I know personally I get a lot out of it and I know all the other boys do as well. We’ll treasure this experience for a lifetime.”
Queensland kickoff their Super Rugby AU campaign against New South Wales at Suncorp Stadium on Friday 19 February. CLICK HERE to secure your seat for the 2021 season.