By Troy Whittaker
Waking before the birds on Sunday due to daylight saving time kicking in overnight, the Western Region Tackling the Drought group departed Gilgandra at 7:00 AM and headed off to Mudgee.
A touch football match was played at Cahill Oval with some Mudgee Dragons juniors, with the travelling rugby league greats displaying glimpses of their glory days, but it was the enthusiastic kids who stole the show.
The players then mixed with locals over a BBQ Breakfast. A surplus of sausages and bacon and egg rolls remained and were donated to the Mudgee PCYC.
Countless autographs were signed and a final few media commitments fulfilled before it was back on the road for the journey home.
Four hours later and the bus had arrived at ANZ Stadium to complete the Drought Tour, ironically in pouring Sydney rain.
Former Canterbury-Bankstown hooker Joe Thomas, who initiated the idea of the trip, said he was proud of how everything came together over the three days.
“It feels great … We’ve done a lot of good things and I think the boys have got to know that what they’ve done is a very positive thing. I think the country people are very appreciative,” he said.
Thomas also revealed that the notion of further regional visits in the future has already been floated.
“I’d like to [make this an ongoing event]. A lot of the boys have been saying, ‘Why don’t we do this again next year?’ which is good.
“I’m happy to do it again if they’re willing to put in, and maybe [we can] get a few more people in. I think it’s a good thing just to do anyway, to visit the country towns and spend some time there.
“They’re tremendous people … A lot of them don’t want to ask for things but they also need the care that helps them stop the process of depression setting in – especially when your livelihood is at stake.”
Men of League Foundation staff member James Rayment, the team leader on Bus Three, told of the satisfaction the group felt at lifting the spirits of the regional townspeople.
“It’s been a pretty good weekend. We got a fair few people out from each of the communities that we visited, so it’s been nice to see everyone enjoying themselves,” Rayment said.
“The players have obviously been wonderful, volunteering their time and getting involved in the community.
“Some of the boys that we’ve had on the bus such as David and Gary Walsh, Les Davidson and David Gillespie are locals [of the regions we went to], so it’s been great for them to see some familiar faces.”
Rayment said the tour took months of planning and the end results were seen in all corners of country NSW.
“It’s not just our bus that we had going over weekend. It’s been a good achievement by all, [especially] Joe Thomas and the players, to have five buses go out to different areas on the same weekend.
“We’ve not only engaged the Western Region, but everywhere from New England down to the Riverina.”
While the official Tackling the Drought Tour is over, it’s not too late to support the cause. Become a Men of League Foundation member today to help those in need.