Hundreds of junior rugby league players have traveled from remote islands in the Torres Strait to compete in the prestigious Laurie Spina Shield, Queensland’s largest junior rugby league carnival held in Townsville. The under-11 Strait Stars team, made up of players from 15 outer islands, have been training diligently for the past two months in preparation for the event. Many of the players had to travel long distances, often by boat, to attend training sessions.
Team manager Ella Kris explained that the players came together for the first time on an island called Warraber, where they held joint training sessions with players from other islands. This was a significant moment for the young athletes, as they had never played together before. Kris emphasised the challenges faced by the team, noting that it is often difficult to find enough players to form a team. In such cases, volunteers fill in, playing one-on-one or engaging in league tag with the kids.
Kris further explained that organizing sports activities on the outer islands, such as Mabuiag, Boigu, Saibai, and Masig, poses significant difficulties due to the lack of structured rugby league programs. The aim of the Laurie Spina Shield and similar initiatives is to provide more opportunities for kids on the outer islands to come together, play as a team, and develop a positive attitude towards sports and healthy living.
Team coach Sam Joe echoed Kris’s sentiments, emphasizing the passion for rugby league in the Torres Strait. Joe expressed the community’s love for football and their support for teams like the Brisbane Broncos and the North Queensland Cowboys. He also stressed the importance of creating opportunities for the children in the region.
For some of the young players, game day was the first time they had met each other. Joe emphasised that participating in the Laurie Spina Shield goes beyond football, as it allows players to form networks and build long-term friendships. The event aims to foster a supportive and inclusive sporting culture in the Torres Strait.
Laurie Spina, the inaugural captain of the North Queensland Cowboys and the namesake of the Laurie Spina Shield, highlighted the significance of junior sport in shaping the future of rugby league. He acknowledged the passion and dedication he developed during his own junior years, which played a crucial role in his successful career. Spina commended the Strait Stars for having the opportunity to compete against players from all over Queensland, as it broadens their experience and exposure.
The two-day competition does not focus on scores but instead emphasizes the importance of participation and enjoyment. Spina celebrated the growth of the tournament since its inception 27 years ago, with a significant increase in the number of teams participating. He praised the talent displayed by the young athletes and expressed his delight at seeing them enjoy their football.
The Laurie Spina Shield serves as a platform for young aspiring rugby league players from the Torres Strait to showcase their skills, foster friendships, and pursue their dreams in the sport. It is an event that promotes inclusivity, sportsmanship, and the love of the game, ensuring a bright future for rugby league in Queensland.