A group of African refugees got their first taste of an Australian Christmas alongside some chronically ill children who were among 80 special guests at the NRL Players’ Charity Christmas Party at the Go Bananas play centre in Sydney’s west on Wednesday.

More than 30 players from Sydney NRL clubs - the Sea Eagles, Eels, Panthers, Bulldogs, Roosters, Wests Tigers, Rabbitohs and Sharks – joined forces at the One Community event at St Marys to play Santa with the children and bring some extra special early cheer to their Christmas.  

The children, who enjoyed the run of the play centre alongside NRL stars including Tim Mannah, Trent Hodkinson, Bryce Gibbs, Jamie Buhrer, Matt Utai and Ben Smith, were from the Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS) Western Sydney, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Camp Quality and Blacktown PCYC.

The day was particularly special for the young refugee members of the Blacktown PCYC Rugby League Club, with many of them being new migrants to Australia, having only taken up Rugby League recently as a way of making friends and improving social and language skills.

The Blacktown club, which reformed in 2008, now has 27 Melanesian-Polynesian players and 42 Africans from countries such as the Ivory Coast, Uganda, Sudan and Liberia.

One of their stars, Isaac Guba, whose parents are Sudanese refugees, had recently been named as Blacktown PCYC Rugby League’s Best and Fairest for 2011, accruing the highest points score in the club (192).

The children from the Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS) Western Sydney, which aims to improve the health standards in Aboriginal communities, were also very excited to be part of the NRL’s annual children’s Christmas party program.

AMS CEO Mr Frank Vincent said: “Many of these children won’t get to experience a Christmas like most children, so today is really special for them. They get the chance to feel spoilt like all children should at this time of year.”

While the children who attended were very excited about the opportunity to meet players from their favourite clubs, the players and One Community Ambassadors were just as thrilled to be part of the event.

“This is one of my favourite events of the year as the players get the chance to have some fun and at the same time put a smile on the face of some special children,” said One Community Ambassador Trent Barrett.

“It makes us all feel really good to bring some Christmas cheer to these children, many of whom have encountered more challenges than most of us will see in our entire lifetime.”