Sporting great admires Ipswich's wonderful diversity
HAVING observed Ipswich sport for many years, Shane Webcke wasn't shocked with the immense talent he saw at the latest City of Ipswich Sports Awards.
However, amid the high quality cast of senior, junior and masters international achievers, the former Australian rugby league footballer was impressed with one important ingredient.
"I'm not surprised (with the standard) because I've been involved with different things in the Ipswich community beforehand and sport is one of them,'' Webcke said.
"But the diversity of the sport was the surprising thing.
"There's a Winter Olympian (QT-Senior Sportsperson of the Year Deanna Lockett) in there.
"Sport has been a massive part of my life but I always feel good cities have good sport because those two things go hand in hand. And it's evident for all to see here tonight.''
Throughout interviewing the various category winners, Webcke made regular references to rugby league, including his former Broncos coach Wayne Bennett and Ipswich great Allan Langer.
He joked that when he trained, the main challenge was to finish ahead of Bennett because he was always a keen and fit runner.
But Webcke was genuinely thrilled to see the variety of achievers in this year's City of Ipswich Awards field covering senior and junior sports, masters competition, coaches, officials and volunteers.
"When you think about Ipswich, immediately what comes to mind to me is rugby league,'' he said.
"There's so many great rugby league players come from here and you think about the more traditional Australian sports with Ipswich being such an old city.
"But all of these new ones. It's amazing.''
He was surprised to see netball being so strong in Ipswich, as highlighted by the success of Team of the Year, the Goodna Sapphires.
The Sapphires have been undefeated for two years in the Queensland Premier League South East Queensland competition, also winning this year's state grand final against Gold Coast.
"That's a nuts and bolts sort of sport and there's an enormous range of people who are achieving big things too,'' Webcke said.
"You're not just talking about local representation. You're talking about the world stage.''
Webcke, 44, was a Broncos stalwart all his NRL career, playing 254 matches before retiring in 2006. He also represented Queensland in 21 State of Origin matches and played in 26 games for Australia between 1995 and 2004.
Webcke has long known about Ipswich's great sporting nursery, having strong city ties through his grandfather Stan, who was a school principal at Pine Mountain.
"So Ipswich has been a big part of our history,'' he said, being born in Toowoomba and growing up in the country.
"I've always had a certain connection with Ipswich.''
After MCing the Ipswich awards, Webcke happily mingled with the guests, getting photos taken and chatting.
The Channel Seven rugby league expert and newsreader said he enjoyed "a night like this because it's relaxed and you can have a little bit of fun if you like''.
"It's a nice crowd but I've done various things in Ipswich. It's always the same. Just relaxed people and it's always like a country town feel.
"I love it.''
He especially appreciated hearing the Ipswich and West Moreton BMX Club had organised a fundraising race night for farmers struggling in the drought.
Ipswich's growing and community-focused BMX club was named Sporting Organisation of the Year.
"It never surprises me how wonderfully generous Australian people are,'' he said.
"The BMX association, what they are doing, is just one more example.''
Webcke said although a lot of city people don't have a true understanding of how "crook it is'', they want to help those on the land.
"And that's what sport engenders in people and a sense of community,'' he said. "That is why sport is so great.''
Webcke also supports the QT's Adopt a family for Christmas appeal, displaying his willingness to help many people needing a helping hand.