Eight years ago when the Woodbridge Cup think tank floated the idea of a Western Challenge, a league tag carnival for teams from across the region, convener Andrew Pull never dreamed it’d grow to what he’ll see this weekend.
The 2018 Western Challenge will kick-off at Canowindra on Sunday with a record 22 teams – up two sides on the bumper carnival the town hosted last season – nominating to take on the pre-season carnival.
Outfits from Group 11, Group 10, Woodbridge Cup, the New Era Cup in the mid-west and Tuggeranong in the nation’s capital will flood Tom Clyburn Oval for this year’s event.
Quantity is obvious, but the quality is also on hand too, with Group 10 champions Bathurst St Pat’s, Woodbridge Cup premiers Eugowra and last year’s Group 11 runners-up Parkes all on deck.
“I certainly am surprised. Every year we’re getting bigger,” Pull said.
“We first started playing league tag in Woodbridge Cup in 2010, and had the challenge the year after that.
“The skill level has improved year after year after year, and in many ways getting the girls involved has helped a lot of clubs survive.
“They take it very seriously.”
As they do the new Western Women’s Rugby League premiership, which will be in its third round come this weekend.
But Pull doesn’t expect league tag to fall by the wayside despite the continued growth of the tackle version of the women’s game.
Certainly Sunday’s carnival in Canowindra is expected to bolster that theory, too.
“I don’t think (league tag) will suffer. Lot of girls want to play both. Woodbrigde Cup girls love the tackle, but I don’t think we’ll see a full season in a hurry,” he added.
The carnival is broken up into four pools, with the winners of each pool earning a spot in the semi-finals.
Picking a winner out of any of the pools is tough, but Pull says he’s looking forward to seeing the likes of Westside, St Pat’s, Orange CYMS and Eugowra on Sunday.
“Over the course of the day, Westside being faster and fitter, they’ll get better in a longer tournament,” he said.
“And Eugowra should put up a good show for Woodbridge Cup. They’ve managed to hold on to a few players.”
Previous winners of the competition include Canowindra, in 2011, Orange Hawks, in 2013, and Orange CYMS in 2014 and 2015.
Bathurst St Pat’s are the back-to-back champions after knocking off Hawks last year.
“And I’d expect them to be favourites again, St Pat’s,” Pull added.
“CYMS as well; they’ve won it multiple times.”
Games start at 10am on Sunday, with all three fields at Tom Clyburn Oval in operation throughout the day.
Semi-finals are scheduled to start at 3pm.
Pool A: Eugowra Golden Eagles, Parkes Spacemen , Blayney Bears, Lithgow Workies, Peak Hill Roosters,
Pool B: Bathurst St Pats, Condobolin Rams, Tuggeranong Bush Rangers, Orange Barbarians, Mudgee Dragons, Manildra Rhinos
Pool C: Orange Hawks, Cowra Magpies, Trundle Boomers, Grenfell Goannas, Portland Colts
Pool D: Orange Cyms, Dubbo Westside, Kandos Waratahs, Cargo Blue Heelers, Burrangong Bears, Canowindra Tigers