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Johnathan Thurston’s former school St Mary’s Toowoomba hopes to buck a new trend when they begin their Confraternity Carnival title defence in Bundaberg next week.

The famous schoolboy rugby league carnival returns to its birthplace for its 40th year with a run of different champions since St Brendan’s Yeppoon defended its title in 2015.

The title defence has proven difficult in a competition that has become more competitive each year, bringing together 48 schools – almost all Catholic schools – from across Queensland.

The rawness of the inaugural 1980 event, featuring six teams and future Queensland great Bob Lindner, has grown into a high-quality carnival that produced nine members of the Queensland team that claimed State of Origin victory in Game I earlier this month.

This year, more than 1000 schoolboys will play in the competition run by Queensland Independent Secondary Schools’ Rugby League from July 1-5, featuring six matches for each team across four playing days. Shalom College is the host school.

Thurston was St Mary’s best-known graduate, but the Carnival has also thrown up the likes of Cameron Munster, Daly Cherry-Evans, Michael Morgan, Corey Oates and Ben Hunt in recent years.

Xavier Coates, who starred in Marymount College’s backline last year, made his Test debut for Papua New Guinea last weekend.

St Mary’s last year delivered the first Confro title to southeast Queensland in 13 years with a 42-6 win over Anthony Milford and Joe Ofahengaue’s alma mater St Peter Claver College Riverview in Charters Towers.

St Mary’s has lost several of its 2018 graduates including star hooker Jake Simpkin, who recently signed with Wests Tigers.

The arrival of new players each year makes it difficult to predict the winner of the prized Confraternity Shield, but St Mary’s, Ignatius Park College Townsville and St Brendan’s Yeppoon will be among the leading contenders after impressive form in schoolboy competitions this season.

St Mary’s coach Rob Anderson warned against reading too much into his team’s early form as the younger squad that has taken the field in recent weeks will be complemented by senior players ready for a shot at consecutive titles.

“We learned a lot two years ago when some of our players had their first Confraternity Carnivals and learned what it was like to play six games in only a few days,” Anderson said.

“The Carnival really helps players develop and we saw the benefits of that when some of our players went into last year’s matches and played well.

“That win meant a lot to this school and now we’re looking forward to returning this year to see how we play.”

St Mary’s will clash with St Brendan’s in a pool match that will be among the highlights of the first day. St Brendan’s remains the most successful school in Confro history, lifting the Shield 13 times.

They did not reach the quarter-finals last year, but a recent win over Ignatius Park in the Aaron Payne Cup has St Brendan’s primed to play well this year.

Ignatius Park bounced back from its loss to St Brendan’s to defeat the powerful Kirwan State High School in the Aaron Payne Cup. Kirwan then defeated St Brendan’s, underlining the evenness of this year’s competition.

QISSRL president and Padua College Rector Peter Elmore said the Confraternity Carnival brought together teams united by a Christian background.

“The Carnival has grown in size since it was first contested in 1980 but it remains an event in which sportsmanship, respect and fellowship are most highly valued,” Mr Elmore said.

“We are proud of the many Catholic schools and players who have contested this event over the decades. While there is a great list of former Confro players who have gone on to the game’s highest levels, we’re just as proud of the manner in which the Carnival is played.”

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