A Maroons legend says bush footy apprenticeships for young NRL players could toughen up the league’s rising stars robbed of the chance to play in a second-tier competition this season.
Queensland Rugby League cancelled its men’s competition last month due to the global pandemic.
That means North Queensland, Gold Coast and Brisbane players not selected in the first squad have nowhere to go when play restarts in May.
But with community sport poised to return in the coming months, former Melbourne Storm star Dallas Johnson said fringe players within NRL squads should pull on the boots for their junior clubs instead.
“If I were them, I’d much prefer to go back and play at my local club and keep a bit of match fitness,” the Atherton Roosters junior said.
“If you’re 18, you’ll play against tough men and you’ll still be learning.
Johnson’s call follows Canterbury Bulldogs playmaker Bailey Biondi-Odo flagging his desire to return to his junior team, Innisfail Leprechauns Brothers, this year.
Cairns and District Rugby League secretary Pat Bailey said NRL players would be welcomed with open arms if they were to play in her competition.
“If we didn’t let them in, what else would they do?” Ms Bailey said.
“There’s a lot that would have to be done to do it — but where there’s a will there’s a way.
“They have nothing else to fall back on, so this is the next best thing.”
Johnson said this season’s loss of the Queensland Cup, which gives young NRL-listed players honing their craft each week against experienced semi-professionals, can’t be underestimated.
“I played Q-Cup for Norths Devils as an 18-year-old, weighing 79 kilograms going up against big, 200-game veterans,” he said.
The NRL’s players return to training next Monday with the competition set to resume on May 28.
The national cabinet will meet on Friday to determine a path ahead for elite and community sport across the country.