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Rugby league’s famous Confraternity Carnival will boast record numbers when this year’s event begins at Queensland’s most famous rugby league venue on Sunday. 

For the first time, “Confro” as it’s become known, will begin with a clash between hosts St Laurence’s College, South Brisbane, and Villanova College, Coorparoo at Suncorp Stadium as a curtain-raiser to the NRL clash between Brisbane and Gold Coast.

The Carnival proper will begin the next day – the traditional Monday start – at St Laurence’s College’s playing fields at Runcorn and run until Friday when finals are held. This will be the 43rd Confro and the first hosted by St Laurence’s College. It will again be sponsored by CQ University.

More than 1000 schoolboys and more than 200 schoolgirls – almost all from Catholic schools along with some Independent schools from across Queensland – will play next week. They will represent 52 schools in the boys’ competition and 12 in the girls draw. That’s an increase of four boys’ teams and three girls’ teams on last year’s Carnival in Mackay. 

In its four decades, Confro has become one of the nation’s best rugby league nurseries. Seven Confraternity Carnival graduates featured in the Maroons squad for the second match of the 2023 State of Origin series: Daly Cherry-Evans (St Patrick’s College, Mackay), Cameron Munster (Emmaus College, Rockhampton), Valentine Holmes (Ignatius Park College, Townsville), Ben Hunt and Harry Grant (St Brendan’s College, Yeppoon), Lindsay Collins (Padua College, Kedron) and Xavier Coates (Marymount College, Burleigh Waters).

Organised by Queensland Independent Secondary Schools Rugby League, Confraternity Carnival was held every year from 1980 until 2019. In 2020, the carnival could not be held because of Covid-19. In 2021, “Confro” had reached its quarter-final stages at Iona College when a Covid-19 lockdown in southeast Queensland forced its immediate cancellation. It returned to normal last year with Townsville’s Ignatius Park College winning a second consecutive Confraternity Shield.

Ignatius Park College will attempt to become the first school to win three consecutive Confraternity Shield titles since it achieved the same feat from 2011 to 2013 with players including Origin representatives Holmes and Coen Hess. St Patrick’s College, Mackay (1988-1992) is the only other school to win three consecutive Shields.

The arrival of new players each year makes it difficult to predict winners but St Patrick’s College, Mackay, St Brendan’s College, Yeppoon and The Cathedral College, Rockhampton will be among the serious challengers for Ignatius Park College’s title.

Southeast Queensland’s claims lay with the likes of Johnathan Thurston’s alma mater St Mary’s College, Toowoomba and Coates’ former school Marymount College while a strong contingent of schools from the Associated Independent Colleges across greater Brisbane and beyond will also prove competitive.

In the girls’ competition, Marymount College will attempt to defend the inaugural title it won in last year’s final against St Patrick’s College, Mackay. Three new teams will feature in the girls’ competition this year: Mt Maria College, Mitchelton; Emmaus College, Jimboomba; and Trinity College, Beenleigh.

Former NRL players Matt Geyer (Marymount) and his 1999 Melbourne Storm premiership teammate Tony Martin (The Cathedral College, Rockhampton), Chris McKenna (Iona College), Antonio Kaufusi (Shalom College girls), Scott Minto (St Brendan’s), David Shillington (Villanova College) and Ryley Jacks (St Laurence’s College) are involved in the coaching and management of teams in the boys’ competition. 

QISSRL president and Padua College Rector Peter Elmore said 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 fair play, respect and fellowship are most highly valued,” Mr Elmore said. “We are proud of the many schools and players who have contested this event over the decades. While there is a great list of former Confraternity players who have gone on to the game’s highest levels, we’re always just as proud of the manner in which the Carnival is played.

“We very much enjoyed returning to a full competition last year after the challenges of the previous years. We now look forward to the 2023 event with much optimism. I thank the St Laurence’s College community for their hospitality and for their support.”

Chris Leadbetter, principal of the host school, said: “St Laurence’s College is proud to host Confraternity Carnival for the first time. The carnival brings together people and builds teamwork, resilience, integrity and community spirit. These experiences will be memorable for all players and we hope they will look back fondly on this week in the years to come.”

The boys’ carnival is contested in three divisions of 16 teams (Divisions 1 and 2) and 20 teams (Division 3). The make-up of the divisions can be found on the QISSRL website: Teams can play up to two matches each day. 

The girls’ teams will each play two games on Monday 26 June and two games on Tuesday 27 June. Those results will determine the order for Thursday’s finals, during which each team will play one match. The girls’ Shield grand final will be held at 11am on Thursday 29 June. The Trophy grand final will be held for the first time at 10am on 29 June.

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