‘Pride is an understatement’: even blues fans cheer on Selwyn Cobbo in Cherbourg

Oon a normal Wednesday evening, the Cherbourg sports complex would be deserted after 8pm. The gym would be closed. The basketball court would be empty. The last boxing session of the week would have ended an hour earlier.

However, tonight, June 8, is no ordinary Wednesday. More than 1,100km to the south, one of Cherbourg’s favorite sons will take his first step on the rugby league’s biggest stage and the sports complex he knows so well will open its doors to an Indigenous community on a wave of emotion inspired by Selwyn Cobbo’s incredible rise of Brisbane Broncos rookie to State of Origin feeling.

“Normally it wouldn’t happen, but they do it for Selwyn,” said Cherbourg Hornets chairman Lynette Brown, of the decision to invite the entire city to a State of Origin bash, complete with big screen, sausage sizzle, popcorn and fruits .

“There is the biggest buzz in our community… we have people who would normally support New South Wales but now support it Queensland because of Selwyn. Pride is an understatement.”

Cobbo, a winger who turned 20 on Sunday, didn’t make his Broncos debut until May last year. But he scored 10 tries from 12 games in 2022 in a manner pundits describe as “the next Greg Inglis”.

Every city in Queensland is proud of its homegrown Origin heroes. Billy Slater and Innisfail. Darren Lockyer and Roma. Allan Langer and Ipswich. But the impact of Cobbo’s selection on the residents of Cherbourg is on a different level.

Cherbourg, about 250 km northwest of Brisbane, is home to about 1,300 people, 98.7% of whom – according to the most recent census – identify as indigenous. Founded as a Barambah settlement in 1904, the Queensland government has forcibly relocated Aboriginal people there for decades.

The city has long been known for producing athletes whose talents were celebrated further afield. Among them was the tall, barrel-chested Frank Fisher, who played against the British rugby league teams in 1932 and 1936 and was later named in the Australian Indigenous Team of the Century. Meanwhile, Eddie Gilbert famously turned down Donald Bradman for a duck in a 1931 Sheffield Shield match, with the best cricketer describing it as the fastest bowling alley he’s ever experienced.

Selwyn Cobbo (top) of the Broncos scores a try during the NRL Round 12 match between the Brisbane Broncos and Gold Coast Titans at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Friday 27 May 2022.
Cobbo scores a try during the NRL Round 12 match between the Brisbane Broncos and Gold Coast Titans at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium last month. Photo: Darren England/AAP

Now, more than 90 years later, another Cherbourg son is making his mark on the national sporting podium – and he happens to be Gilbert’s great-great-grandson.

“All of our mafia were very proud of Eddie Gilbert’s success and now Selwyn is inspiring a new generation,” said Queensland Origin legend Steve Renouf, whose mother grew up in Cherbourg’s “dormitory system” before raising her dozen children 4 miles away in Murgon .

“Every time I see the kid play I get goosebumps because it’s typical of how the Cherbourg crowd plays. A lot of us guys from there are pretty skinny but he likes the touch. He just likes the ball in his hand.

“Coming from one of those small towns it gives the community such a boost to have one of their own elite level rugby league… the whole area is just rugby league. That’s what the whole community is about.”

Ties to Cherbourg’s state of origin extend to the inaugural match in 1980: Queensland captain Arthur Beetson’s mother was forcibly transferred to the settlement as a child before moving to Roma with her husband in the 1940s. . Beetson was the first of 37 Indigenous players to don a Maroon jersey – 16.75% of the 221 men representing Queensland were Indigenous (compared to 3.3% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the total Australian population).

In addition to adding those numbers, Cobbo becomes the third player from his corner of the world to do so, alongside Renouf (Murgon) and Willie Tonga (Cherbourg).

“You have to understand that for us rugby competition is not just about the kids playing and being physically active,” said Brown, whose Cherbourg Hornets look after teams from under-6 to A-Grade. “It’s also about social inclusion and belonging.

“For some kids – and even some men – footy can be an escape from the everyday problems people face and some of the tough things about community life. It’s like football is the ordinary that everyone appreciates.

“It’s a little different here. Not every family has a car, so the municipality of Cherbourg supports us with a bus every weekend. My husband is the driver and we drive to all the children’s houses and honk or one of the children comes running in to tell them to hurry… we take the Esky with us with drinks, water, sandwiches and fruit for them out of our own pocket.

“It’s all about the kids. All that matters to us is that we get kids on the paddock and if football can be a career for another five kids from our community, we’ll be very happy with that.”

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