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Western Sydney played host to the official launch of Rugby League’s 2011 Community Carnival today with NRL All Stars coach Wayne Bennett and players including Darren Lockyer, Cameron Smith and Benji Marshall joining 200 students at Western Weekender Stadium in St Marys for a game of Backyard League.

Kicking off the tenth annual Community Carnival, the NRL All Stars spent time with local students, while at the same time players from the Sharks, Dragons, Sea Eagles, Rabbitohs and Titans took to towns in and around Nowra, Dubbo, Redfern, Griffith and Kingscliff, as part of a month of activity that will see visits take place to more than 70,000 children across Australia and New Zealand.

Throughout the coming weeks, 500 players and ARL Development officers from the 16 NRL Clubs will deliver health and lifestyle messages, with the aim of inspiring children to engage in education, embrace cultural diversity and make positive lifestyle choices.

From Tasmania to Adelaide and Longreach, Community Carnival will see players visit 118 towns, covering more than 2,800 kilometres, and along the way handing out 10,000 One Community water bottles, 100,000 posters and 5,000 Harmony and ‘Dream. Believe. Achieve.’ DVD and classroom resource packs.

NRL Chief Executive, Mr David Gallop said today: “Rugby League’s annual Community Carnival is a chance to share important health, education and harmony messages with tens of thousands of children in communities across Australia.

“Over the past decade, Community Carnival has become the focal point for the many thousands of hours our clubs and players spend in the community.

“For the second year running, Community Carnival will start in the week leading up to the All Stars and both these initiatives are great examples of the positive difference Rugby League is making to the everyday lives of so many people.

“With Community Carnival trips planned to Tully and Ingham, our thoughts are with those residents who have been impacted by Cyclone Yasi.

“The North Queensland Cowboys are this afternoon sending players to Callender Park at Innisfail and are hoping to head to Tully tomorrow afternoon.

“As you can imagine schools are closed and major parks are being used by emergency services but the club’s focus is on lending a hand at barbeques and kicking around a football or two.”

Dally M Medal winning Rooster Todd Carney, Wests Tigers winger Lote Tuqiri and Storm star Billy Slater will be among the NRL stars delivering One Community’s new ‘Dream. Believe. Achieve.’ and Harmony programs to high school students across Australia and New Zealand during the Community Carnival.

The ‘Dream. Believe. Achieve.’ program uses a documentary-style DVD featuring players telling their own individual stories to engage students and teach the importance of setting goals, staying in school and achieving life balance.

“The program inspires high school students to realise their potential and through the Community Carnival we are able to take that message to thousands of students across the country,” NRL Director of Community Relations, Ms Trish Crews, said.

“Last year alone, NRL players spent 22,000 hours in the community which is really exciting when you consider the positive impact this time has on so many Australian school kids.”

While Community Carnival officially kicks off today, some NRL Clubs have already begun work. Despite power shortages as a result of Cyclone Yasi, last week Broncos team members Peter Wallace, Corey Parker, Nick Kenny and Scott Anderson spent two days visiting Longreach, Queensland speaking to 2,000 students about the importance of good behaviour.