A white picket fence protects the carefully manicured green grass at Salter Oval, but it is set to take a beating when the biggest sporting show in town arrives this Sunday.
- A record crowd is expected for Bundaberg’s first NRL clash with tickets already sold out
- A Bundaberg shop says team merchandise is in hot demand
- Bulldogs are to hold an open training session for fans on Saturday morning
Bundaberg is abuzz in the countdown to the NRL’s round 21 match between the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and finals contenders the North Queensland Cowboys, the first time the city will host a competition points game.
Temporary grandstands have been erected for the anticipated sellout crowd, and room has been made for the arrival of the huge media throng to broadcast the match to league fans across the nation.
“I think it will be a record crowd,” Bundaberg Rugby League chairman Mike Ireland said.
“The Cowboys are second on the competition ladder and the Bulldogs are starting to put together a few wins as well.”
There is a lot at stake in the march to the finals and both teams have unveiled what they hope will be a winning combination.
Bulldogs: 1. Jake Averillo, 2. Jacob Kiraz, 3. Aaron Schoupp, 4. Braidon Burns, 5. Josh Addo-Carr, 6. Matt Burton, 7. Kyle Flanagan, 8. Max King, 9. Jeremy Marshall-King, 10 Paul Vaughan, 11. Josh Jackson, 12. Jackson Topine, 13. Tevita Pangai Junior, 14. Zach Dockar-Clay, 15. Joe Stimson, 16. Harrison Edwards, 17. Chris Patolo.
Cowboys: 1. Scott Drinkwater, 2. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, 3. Valentine Holmes, 4. Peta Hiku, 5. Murray Taulagi, 6. Tom Dearden, 7. Chad Townsend, 8. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, 9. Reece Robson, 10 Coen Hess, 11. Tom Gilbert, 12. Jeremiah Nanai, 13. Jason Taumalolo, 14. Jake Granville, 15. Reuben Cotter, 16. Luciano Leilua, 17. Griffin Neame.
The Cowboys’ revival this year has surprised NRL fans after the club finished second last in 2021.
Head coach Todd Payten found himself on the hot seat during last season, but his side’s resurgence has silenced the critics and he now sits firmly as the front-running candidate for coach of the year.
It will be the first time since their grand final appearance in 2017 that the team has played finals football.
Meanwhile the 12th-placed Bulldogs look to continue their stroke of form with a third consecutive win this weekend.
The Dogs are starting to hit their strides under interim coach Mick Potter who will look to unleash his lethal combination in Matt Burton and Josh Addo-Carr at Salter Oval.
Supporter gear ‘flying off the shelves’
Daniel Unwin runs a sports apparel shop in the Bundaberg CBD where he said supporter merchandise for both teams was “flying out the door”.
“It’s massive. Queenslanders love their football, especially in Bundaberg,” he said.
“It’s a legitimate NRL game, the Cowboys are here so that’s a big drawcard, and we see a lot of excitement.
“This is the real deal. You’ll have two full-strength NRL sides, both in red hot form, so it’s going to be great for our region.”
The last time the Cowboys played in Bundaberg was against the Brisbane Broncos in a trial game in 2016 in front of more than 8,000 fans.
Sunday’s match officially sold out soon after a final release of tickets last week, while at Salter Oval the goal posts had to be shifted five meters to meet NRL specifications.
“The posts will stay there permanently, and we haven’t played local league here for a couple of weeks so it’s nice and green,” Mr Ireland said.
Big Willie says ‘about time’
This NRL game will be the first of three to be played in Bundaberg under a deal between the Bulldogs, the Bundaberg Regional Council, and the Queensland government.
Future Bulldogs games will be scheduled at Salter Oval in 2023 and 2024.
Former Bulldog, Origin great, and dual international Willie Mason said he could not believe it had taken this long for the NRL to take a competition match to Bundaberg.
“I’m glad the NRL are doing this. You can just tell from the energy about rugby league, it’s about time,” he said.
The Bulldogs will hold an open training session Saturday from 11am at Salter Oval.
Gates will open at 10:30am Sunday, with a Bundaberg Rugby League A Grade semi-final between ATW and Brothers starting at 11am.
Ticket holders are reminded not to bring their own chairs to the ground.
Kick off for the Bulldogs and Cowboys clash is 2pm.