THE Queensland Rail Bulls Masters have issued a T20 Country Challenge with an eye towards a greater selection opportunity for country cricketers.
The challenge will feature seven regional teams from across the state, including the Central Queensland Seamers, as well as an eighth team from Papua New Guinea.
Country cricketers across Queensland will be able to press for state selection like never before following the launch of the groundbreaking new competition created by the Queensland Country Cricket Association and the Queensland Rail Bulls Masters.
The Queensland Rail Bulls Masters will supply a player to each team, who will also act as a coach and mentor. Each side will also receive an injection of modern day talent with Queensland Cricket offering the services of eight currently contracted players from the XXXX GOLD Queensland Bulls or Brisbane Heat squads.
Two round robin series will be played in front of Queensland selectors, with the winners of the Northern Conference and Southern Conference getting the rare chance to play at the Gabba as the curtain raiser to the Brisbane Heat's KFC T20 Big Bash League clash against the Perth Scorchers on Tuesday 18 December.
The state selectors will also pick a team to play as the Country Inferno in the KFC T20 Challenge in Brisbane on Sunday 14 and 28 October and Sunday 18 November against three selection sides made up of the cream of the crop from the XXXX GOLD Premier Grade competition.
Queensland Rail Bulls Masters Chairman Ian Healy said the competition has the potential to invigorate cricket across the state.
"This event gives cricketers in regional areas a genuine chance to press their claims for higher honors further down the track," Healy said.
"So many of state's best cricketers have come from country areas, and through this competition we hope to discover some Queensland Bulls and Brisbane Heat players of the future.
"The chance to play off for the Queensland Rail Bulls Masters Cup at the Gabba is a massive carrot to dangle in front of these guys. For the youngsters it is a wonderful opportunity and hopefully it encourages a few senior players to stick around and nurture the up-and-comers".
Queensland Rail Bulls Masters Managing Director Jimmy Maher - who played for Far North Queensland as a junior - said the organisation was proud to be involved in an event which will foster cricketing talent across the state.
"The T20 Country Challenge complements our Queensland Rail Bulls Masters program, providing another opportunity for Queensland players (past and present) to participate in a regional event which includes coaching clinics; visit schools, hospitals and aged care facilities; and importantly, raise funds for local sport, charities and the community."
"As players, we know we had some fantastic opportunities afforded to us in both domestic and international cricket. We think the Country Challenge and our tours are a great way to give back to not only the sport, but also the regional areas of our state which have produced so many great sportspeople over the years."
Maher also said, where possible, the Queensland Rail Bulls Master acting as a player and mentor for each team will actually be a player who hails from that region.
"It's a pretty enticing thought for a kid on the Darling Downs that he might be sharing the new ball with Andy Bichel, or a young Indigenous lad from Murgon may get the chance to open the batting for Wide Bay with a former Queensland legend".
"I loved getting the chance to represent Cricket Far North as a teenager, and I know a lot of our guys would relish the chance to go back and play for their home regions again.
"There is a wealth of experience amongst the Queensland Rail Bulls Masters, and we want to be able to share that knowledge with the next generation, both on and off the cricket field."
Queensland Bulls and Brisbane Heat coach Darren Lehmann said the Heat would be keeping a close watch on the tournament ahead of the T20 Challenge.
"We saw some exciting talent exposed in last year's KFC T20 Challenge and having a strong new regional competition feeding into this year's Challenge can only provide more exposure and opportunity for country players, because we know the talent is out there," he said.
The Northern Conference round robin tournament will be held at Harrup Park in Mackay on September 29 and 30, while the Southern Conference teams will face off in Bundaberg at Salter Oval over the same weekend.
The Queensland Rail Bulls Masters player/Coach/mentor for each regional team will be announced in the coming weeks and the Bulls/Heat guest player will be announced a week before the event.