Ask Nathan Hindmarsh how many days he had off in primary school thanks to carnivals like the Peachey Shield and the answer is none.
Sam Bremner, arguably the best female rugby league player in the world, is the same.
For two players who’ve reached the highest level, for the Kangaroos and Jillaroos respectively, it’s a touch surprising.
And that’s why the pair of rugby league internationals were in Dubbo on Wednesday for the Peachey Shield and Richardson Cup finals at Caltex Park.
They joined schools from Bourke to Blayney and virtually everywhere in between in the Western Rams area for the primary school rugby league carnival, a wonderful opportunity for kids to immerse themselves in the game both Hindmarsh and Bremner love.
“No carnivals for me, nothing like this,” Hindmarsh said, watching on at his second Peachey Shield finals day.
The Parramatta Eels, NSW Blues and Australian gun went to Robertson Public School in the Southern Highlands as a kid.
“My public school didn’t have rugby league … even the school my kids go to in Sydney, they don’t have rugby league at their schools … it’s just a good day out.”
Bremner didn’t start playing rugby league until the age of 18.
But that had more to do with a lack of opportunity more than a sort of wavering desire for the sport.
“It would have been amazing to have an opportunity like the Peachey Shield,” the World Cup winning Jillaroos fullback said.
“I had to go the hard way … and one thing that I try to let the girls know when I come to these things is to be grateful for the opportunity they have to play these carnivals.
“Take it with both hands because it’s going to take them to places that will make them happy if they love rugby league.
“They’re very blessed.”
Bremner was watching the girls’ side of the Peachey Shield finals draw and was thrilled with the enthusiasm the players had for the game.
Eight teams took on the girls challenge, travelling from Wellington, Gulgong, Bourke, Walgett, Coonamble, Gilgandra to take part.
And rather than taking on the league tag version of the game, the primary school kids lapped up the contact.
“It’s awesome to see, I was only just saying they’re playing tackle and loving it, they’re not even worrying about the cold or the rain,” a shivering Bremner said – she’s from Helensburgh, near Wollongong.
“It’s so good to see, I love the way the country girls play the game … they’re just fearless and have a go at anything.”
In the girls’ final, Walgett took on Bourke at Caltex Park with Bourke rounding out 20-16 winners in the decider.
For their efforts throughout the whole competition, Essina Sullivan (Walgett) and Grace Currlala (Bourke) picked up player of the tournament awards.
Both starred throughout the final clash, and Bremner believes the exposure to rugby league these young girls are embracing will pay dividends for the game in the long term.
With an Australian representative on the sideline watching on, it is already.
“If I had come to a day like this when it first started I don’t think there would have been many girls playing at all,” she said.
“I remember going to my first school with the NRL and I asked if anyone knew the Jillaroos and no one had any idea. Now, if I ask them, they put their hands up and three-quarters know what sport they play.”
St Mary’s Dubbo stormed to the 2017 Richardson Cup crown with a stirring 24-0 win over Catherine McAuley Orange in the final.
Noah Sutcliffe starred in the win, plucking two clean intercepts to race away and score a stunning brace in the win, a memorable one for the group, one coach Wes Maas said was a special class.
“It’s a lucky year group,” he said.
“They’re all really talented. Noah Sutcliffe and Derby Haycock … it’s a really great bunch of kids.”
The Dubbo school knocked off St Laurence’s Forbes to progress through to the decider, while the Orange school defeated Wallerawang to progress to the final.
“The whole tournament has been tremendous,” Maas added.
“They’ve done themselves proud.
“Defensively we were great. A lot of the boys play together on the weekends but it’s a mixture of St John’s and a couple of kids from other clubs.”
A blistering start to Wednesday’s final netted St Joseph’s Nyngan the 2017 Peachey Shield title.
The Tigers juniors raced to an early lead against Cowra’s Mulyan Public School, running in eight tries in a 32-16 victory at Caltex Park.
It’s the first Peachey Shield title for the school since 2006 and one teacher Brad Toole believes Joeys has been building towards.
“They just live for their footy,” he said.
“They travel everywhere every weekend, every recess every lunchtime (they play it) … they watch it on TV, it’s all they talk about.
“All of them play for the Nyngan Tigers under 11s or under 12s, a lot them back back-up anyway for the under 12s.”
The team will now progress through to the Sydney Legends Shield where they’ll play the winners of each regions’ respective primary schools knockout.
Having already won the outback challenge in Bourke this year, the Joeys side has form.
“We got runners up at Coonamble a few weeks ago, Joeys (Gilgandra) beat us there. To bounce back was a really good performance,” Toole said.
Toole said the team would eye off a semi-final spot at the Sydney Shield.
“Competing with the best of the best will be an unreal experience for them.”
Will Black was outstanding while Dan Kennedy won the player of the final.