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Challenge to country towns to deliver on talent pool

Don't call Wagga Wagga ''Wagga'' - and don't call it the best producer of sporting talent in country NSW.

If Wagga Wagga wants to be known as the best sporting town in the bush, then it will have to prove it.

Queanbeyan has thrown down the gauntlet in the form of a multi-sport tournament being planned for next year and Canberra Raiders captain Terry Campese has backed it.

Called The Challenge of Champions, it will see country towns field teams in a range of sports in a round-robin competition, with the overall winners crowned the champion sporting town in country NSW.

Organisers hope to get it up and running next year, to coincide with Queanbeyan's 175th birthday.

Queanbeyan can expect a fierce backlash from Wagga Wagga, a town that doesn't like its credentials challenged. The town on the Murrumbidgee was outraged when Canberra Times columnist Ian Warden described its folk as ''bogans'' because they lacked culture. No doubt the folk there would like having their sporting pedigree questioned even less.


Born in Queanbeyan, Campese has no doubt which is the best town. He said that if Wagga Wagga responded to the challenge, a ''true country champion would be revealed''.

''It definitely sounds interesting, doesn't it? It'd be a pretty good spectacle to watch if most of the country areas get involved and come down and compete,'' Campese told The Canberra Times.

''If they promote it right they'll get a few teams there and I'll go along to watch … I'd love to be involved, but playing the sport that I do it's a bit hard, but I'm sure a few of my mates will definitely be involved.''

The concept was born over a drink after a Rotary Club meeting where a phenomenon known as the ''Wagga Effect'' was raised, a term coined after an Australian Institute of Sport study discovered that a larger percentage of our elite athletes come from country towns compared with the city.

Outraged by this obvious slight, the Rotarians thought it should have been called the Queanbeyan Effect, because more than 100 NSW and Australian representatives, Olympians and world title holders come from the border town.

Ricky Stuart, David Campese, David Furner, Matt Giteau, Heather McKay, Brad Haddin and Mark Webber are just some of the sports stars to emerge from the 2620 postcode.

Now they want to work out which town really deserves the title.

Challenge of Champions co-ordinator Colvin Berry said country towns across NSW would be contacted later this month, with a final format determined early next year.

Currently seven sports will be played: netball, cricket, golf, lawn bowls, rugby league, rugby union and basketball and it is expected to run in late September or early October next year.

''A few of us were … discussing Queanbeyan's prowess in raising sporting champions and the idea emerged from there - that we should set out to prove it,'' Berry said.

''That's how the idea started, from a casual conversation, and it's grown from there.''

Now the rest of country NSW can respond or allow Queanbeyan to claim the crown unchallenged.