The rugby league community will unite to host a three-day festival of footy to help the Bega Valley and southern NSW get back on their feet after the bushfire devastation.
The highlight of the weekend’s program will be an NRL trial match in Bega, combined with a host of player-led community activities and public events in nearby towns.
With the support of both Penrith Panthers and Parramatta Eels, the NRL will relocate the 'Battle of the West' February 29 trial game from Penrith to Bega with both clubs deciding to demonstrate their support for the community by embedding their squads in the region for three days.
In addition, the NSWRL will move the Andrew Johns and Laurie Daley Cup matches from Wollongong to Bega to provide an afternoon showcase of the best in young, regional rugby league talent.
Both the Federal and State Governments, Bega Valley Shire Council, NSWRL and RLPA will support the event which aims to celebrate the local community and bring visitors back to the Sapphire Coast.
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NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg said the announcement formed part of rugby league’s coordinated whole of game response to the bushfire crisis, which will also include an expansion of the Road to Regions regional campaign and a dedicated Bushfire Appeal Thank You Round One for the 2020 season.
“This is more than a game - this will be an event to lift the community spirit, say thank you to the many volunteers and selfless workers who gave so much during the recent disaster and bring dollars back into the local economy,” Mr Greenberg said.
“Nothing brings communities together quite like rugby league, our game is part of the social fabric of these towns. This is an opportunity to provide the locals with a small respite from what has happened, acknowledge and thank the local heroes, and to deliver a much needed economic boost to the region.
“Everyone I speak to on the South Coast has the same message - we need visitors to come back to the area, stay in our motels, eat in our restaurants, visit our beaches and shop in our stores.”
Mr Greenberg said the game would announce a number of community and public activations across the Sapphire Coast to coincide with trial match in the coming weeks aimed at bringing the community together, and encouraging fans to visit the region.
“Our focus, as a game, is delivering practical assistance to bushfire affected regions. We want to make a tangible difference on the ground to these communities,’’ he said.
“This will be an upbeat, fun weekend to help this region get back in the game.”
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State Member for Bega Andrew Constance said the match would help boost the morale of communities left devastated by the bushfire disaster.
“The NRL are legends. This will bring the community a bit of much needed cheer and it will also continue to bring out the best in people,’’ he said.
NSWRL chief executive David Trodden said all levels of the game working together would ensure the most productive outcome for the communities so moving the (under 16s) Andrew Johns Cup and (under 18s) Laurie Daley Cup to be played as part of an exciting three-day festival of footy was a very easy decision.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for the game to have an impact and make a real difference to a community that really needs it and one where rugby league is an important part of the social fabric of all of the towns in the region,” Trodden said.
“We urge all rugby league fans to unite and get behind this initiative which is just one of the ways the game plans to support for the communities, workers and volunteers affected, and more specifically, to help ensure the game goes on for our rugby league family.”
Panthers Group Chief Brian Fletcher said the club had no hesitation in agreeing to move the game from their home ground.
“It was an easy decision for our club. This is an opportunity for rugby league to help a region get back on their feet. We understand the important role our game can play in lifting the spirits of locals and rebuilding communities,’’ he said.
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Parramatta Eels chief executive Jim Sarantinos said the Bega match was an example of what the game could achieve when it worked us one.
“This is an opportunity to have a genuine impact on the region. Our players are looking forward to spending a few days in the community, participating in events with locals, honouring the local heroes and lending a hand,’’ he said.
Bega Mayor Kristy McBain encouraged people from across the state to travel to the match and stay overnight in the area.
“Our economy has taken a significant hit across a number of industries. It’s critical we keep taking action to bring some security to local jobs and the families they support.
“I want to thank the NRL for creating this opportunity – it means the world to people.
“To those who have a connection with and love for the Bega Valley and Sapphire Coast I invite you to visit us and share this experience. You will be well looked after, but more than that you will play a role in making sure our region and people continue to thrive.”
In a further demonstration of the game’s support for the bushfire appeal, the Dragons and Rabbitohs will visit bushfire affected communities as they travel to Mudgee for the Charity Shield match on February 29; and the Bulldogs and Raiders will visit schools and local community organisations in the mid-north coast region of NSW ahead of their trial game in Port Macquarie on February 29.
The Raiders have committed to playing their 2021 trial match in Bega and all 16 NRL clubs have committed to the Bushfire Appeal Thank You Round One of the 2020 season.