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Central Queensland players shine as NRL partnership brings first trial game between Dolphins and Capras

With just two minutes left on the clock, a perfectly timed charge down and a mad dash across the field, Ben Hunt solidified a place in State of Origin history and secured the series for the Maroons last year. 

"To come up with such a big play … I remember being a kid or a young man, watching things like that in Origin and just dreaming of something like that to happen in my career," Hunt said.

The "boy from Dingo" is one of an impressive crop of talented players who hail from central Queensland, with the region punching above its weight to produce star players including Cameron Munster, Harry Grant and Corey Oates.

The NRL-loving region will play host to the Redcliffe Dolphins' historic first trial game against the Central Queensland Capras in Gladstone tonight, to showcase local talent in front of an eager crowd.

So why has central Queensland become a breeding ground for big-name players?

A rich history … and a kelpie that nipped

Central Queensland Capras head coach Lionel Harbin credited the region's strong school systems for producing so much local stock for the NRL.

"Especially here in Rockhampton, we've got a rich history and tradition of our school rugby league," he said.

"Even way back in the 1920s, there was schoolboy games happening here in Rockhampton."

The region is home to one of the most renowned schoolboys' rugby league coaches in Yeppoon's Terry Hansen.

He spent 18 years at Saint Brendan's College and coached Hunt, alongside the likes of Harry Grant, Matt Scott, PJ Marsh, Kurt Mann and Corey Oates.

"I was of the opinion that we had to be fitter and stronger," Hansen said of his coaching style.

"A lot of those boys, they weren't that happy with the way I made them work, but it paid dividends."

Hansen became known for some unusual training tactics, often bringing along his kelpie to training, which would nip players' ankles to make them run faster.

Hunt considered Hansen's coaching as one that set players up for success, but admitted he "didn't really enjoy it" at the time he was at boarding school.

"We did a lot of fitness and different things that are what you need to become a professional, first grade elite player. He was implementing [that] into a school program," Hunt said.

"I just wanted to play footy because it's fun … but I sit back now and I think Hanso was a bit ahead of his time and bringing what NRL teams are doing into a lower level and getting players ready to go on in the future."

Hansen credited the country roots of his players for why so many of them went on to compete in the NRL and the Rugby League World Cup.

"They're tough … these boys don't quit. They hang in there until they get what they want, and I think that may be a part of it," he said.

Hunt grew up in the tiny town of Dingo in the Central Highlands.

He spent school holidays working on his family's farm and his mum would sometimes drive him three hours just to play a game.

"It gave me a good grounding and work ethic … there's a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes and I definitely think that came from growing up in the bush," Hunt said.

Learning from the best

Capras player Tyler Szepanowski is currently on a training trial with the Dolphins and will play in their side for their inaugural game against his teammates at Gladstone's Marley Brown Oval tonight.

The team's new partnership means the Capras have become a feeder team for the Dolphins, and reserve grade Dolphins players can now play in the Queensland Cup.

Szepanowski said he had been "over the moon" when he got the call up.

"It's been really surreal … I've been learning a lot each and every day," he said.

"Obviously as long as I can remember Wayne [Bennett] being on TV and being a super coach, really to be with him in the flesh … and get an insight into what he's like and how he coaches, it's been unreal."

Hunt, who also used to play for the Capras, said he welcomed the pathway between the Dolphins and his old team.

"Being led by Wayne Bennett, I think it can only be a good thing for the Capras," he said.

And his advice for up-and-coming players in the region?

"Just work hard and listen to your coaches."

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