CANBERRA Raiders veteran Sia Soliola says players are keen to get an up-close feel of the devastation bushfire-affected communities are going through during the club's bushfire relief tour.
The NRL grand finalists' itinerary includes a number of Riverina centres, with Soliola and fellow forward Elliott Whitehead kicking off proceedings with school visits and a coaching clinic at Batlow and Tumbarumba on Tuesday.
Bushfire smoke in Canberra forced the Raiders to relocate their pre-season training for ten days early last month, but Soliola said it pales in significance compared to the regions ravaged by the fires.
"We got some smoke but we can only imagine what it's like in the middle of everything," Soliola said.
"We'll be playing our part, not just as a club but the game in general and it won't be a one-off thing.
"There'll be a few things throughout the year we'll do to support those affected. The boys are pretty excited to get out there, have a couple of training sessions while getting among the community and get more of a feel for what the locals have been dealing with."
The Raiders will play Newcastle at Wagga on April 18 in the final game of the current two-year agreement to take a home match to the city, and Soliola said the players would be keen for the partnership to continue.
He said more games in the country can help the NRL in its battle with the AFL and rugby union to snare the best regional talent.
"You'd like to think that's the ripple effect of having those games out there," he said.
"There's a lot of other sports with a presence out there so if we can really keep getting out to those country regions, you'd like to think the game will stay strong," he said.
"It's always pretty cool getting out to the bush to play. We've got a lot of guys like Jack (Wighton) from country regions, and the Wagga community loves rugby league."
Canberra's relief tour continues on Wednesday when players Luke Bateman and Andre Niko start a three-day Riverina tour with stops at Harden-Murrumburrah, Cootamundra, Tumut and Adelong.