The National Rugby League (NRL) will hold its final games of the season in regional Queensland, after the COVID-19 outbreak in New South Wales prompted teams to relocate.
Semi-finals will be played in Townsville, Rockhampton and on the Sunshine Coast this weekend, giving the regions a much-needed boost.
Townsville accommodation providers say the NRL double header has thrown them a lifeline in the wake of mass cancellations due to the COVID pandemic.
Local hotel manager Rick Dart said bookings were looking “really strong”.
“We are very close to being fully booked, if not now fully booked,” he said.
“We’ve seen a downward trend of roughly about 30 per cent. Fortunately people within the state are still travelling around.
“[But] we’re not getting the longer bookings we often get at this time of year with the southern people coming up to enjoy our summer days.
Pubs brace for thirsty footy fans
The event has also provided a welcome injection for North Queensland pubs and bars bracing for thirsty footy fans.
“Order more beer and wine and spirits, it’s not too hard,” publican Paul Venturato said.
“We are loving every bit of it even though we haven’t got the Cowboys in there, we’ve still got a Queensland side in there with the Titans, so good luck to those boys.”
‘Hometown heroes’ return
Newcastle Knights player Kurt Mann will be playing on familiar ground when his team takes on the Parramatta Eels at Rockhampton’s Browne Park on Sunday night.
The centre went to St Brendan’s College in Yeppoon and was one of many NRL stars to come out of central Queensland, coached by Terry Hansen.
“My first NRL player was a bloke called Matt Scott but since then, we’ve had Jamie Simpson, Ben Hunt, Jake Granville, Dave Taylor, Corey Oates, Kurt Mann,” Mr Hansen said.
“Hopefully we did something that helped them get there.
“I’m sure Kurt would be very excited to be playing the semi-final back in Rockhampton, he would have played many a game at Browne Park during his school days.
“I think he’ll be extremely excited about getting back to Browne Park where it probably all started for him.”
High school students Zack Bryce and Josh Dever both play rugby league at schools in Rockhampton and said they were thrilled to have NRL in their backyards.
“Not very often you get to come out and see an [NRL] game, so a good experience for everyone in the town,” Zack said.
“Semi-final as well, so it’s even bigger for the town to get behind it,” Josh said.
Both students are hoping to follow in Kurt Mann’s footsteps, with Josh saying it will be “good to see the hometown heroes come back.”
The Gold Coast Titans will campaign for a spot in the finals against the Sydney Roosters in Townsville on Saturday afternoon and fans are flocking from around the state to watch the game.
Die-hard Titans supporter Cory Gregory lives in Townsville and jumped at the chance to see the team play in his hometown.
“What gets me excited is that they’re coming to Townsville for finals and you can’t ask for anything more than that,” Mr Gregory said.
Lisa Forrest lives on the Gold Coast but is making the trip up to Townsville to support her team.
“I pretty well live and breathe the Titans from the minute I wake up to the minute I go to bed,” Ms Forrest said.
“We’re loving it, we’re making the trip up.”