THE largest annual rugby league carnival in New South Wales has been cancelled for the first time in its 74 year history.
The Riverina Schoolboys Carnival – held in the small sleepy country town of Junee, 40 kilometres north of Wagga Wagga, each year in August – has been running since 1943.
Now, for the first time in its 74 year history, the carnival, which caters for Junior Rugby League teams from under 7s through to under 15s, has been cancelled with organisers citing constant wet weather.
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At first, the carnival was going to be limited to 125 teams after several playing fields were found to be severely water-logged.
However, after carrying out a final inspection of the sports grounds on Thursday, a decision was made to cancel the entire event.
Junee, which is home to around 4000 residents, doubles in size during the carnival weekend as thousands of people flock to the annual event from right across the state.
Usually, anywhere between 140 and 200 junior rugby league teams travel to the small Riverina town to take part in the carnival.
The decision to cancel the event entirely is expected to have a significant impact on the town’s economy with many local businesses relying on the event.
Local bakeries and butchers are normally swamped with orders for thousands of meat pies, sausage rolls, snags and steaks, not to mention dozens of crates of bread, thousands of bread rolls and almost 100 litres of milk.
President of the town’s local rugby league club Gavin Lamb said the decision to cancel the carnival was not made lightly.
He said the grounds were simply “unplayable”.
“The Showground is underwater. It’s actually 9 inches deep in places,” Mr Lamb said on Facebook. “Laurie Daley Oval and Burns Park are so soft underfoot that players can sink over 6 inches into the top soil.”
“Sprinkler heads are only inches below the surface. That’s unplayable.”
Mr Lamb said not only was the condition of the playing fields an issue, but parking was also a major problem.
“The grassed areas east of the caravan park where everyone parks normally are unavailable (and) each side of Park Lane is unavailable,” he said.
“We have nowhere to park 1500 cars except up at the Showground which can’t fit that many.”
The carnival has been the breeding ground for some of Australia’s best rugby players, including Laurie Daley, the Mortimer brothers, Peter Sterling and Trent Barrett.
Tickets to the carnival’s mega raffle are still being sold, with a trip to the NRL Grand Final up for grabs.
The raffle is set to be drawn on 6 August.