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Benji Marshall, Luke Lewis, Preston Campbell, Sam Thaiday and David Shillington are among the NRL stars nominated for the 2011 Telstra Ken Stephen Medal – and now fans have the opportunity to vote for the player they believe deserves the game’s most prestigious community service award.

With less than one week to go until nominations close across all categories – including the Toyota Volunteer of the Year and Harvey Norman Women In League Achievement Awards, fans are urged to log on to to nominate their local heroes and at the same time cast their own vote for the Ken Stephen Medal.

Anyone who nominates a local community hero for one of the eight categories on offer will also be in the running to win a trip to the 2011 Telstra Premiership Grand Final.

From mentoring  and charity programs to hospital visits, helping rebuild flood-ravaged centres, fundraisers and education and health campaigns, the Ken Stephen Medal finalists represent the commitment of the NRL and its clubs to help people and communities in need.

“This is just a snapshot of the work NRL stars do in the community every year but it’s a compelling insight into the difference they make to people’s lives,” NRL Chief Executive, Mr David Gallop, said today.

“Congratulations to all the finalists and thank you to all those players who have embraced the privileged opportunity they have to put a smile on the face of those who often need it most.”

The Ken Stephen Medallist will be announced at the One Community Awards on Monday, September 26, at a gala ceremony in which NRL stars rub shoulders with the mums and dads, volunteers and grassroots officials who play such an integral role in helping others enjoy playing Rugby League.

The winner of the Ken Stephen Medal will receive $5,000 from Telstra, with a further $5,000 to be donated by Telstra to the winner’s favourite charity.

The 2011 Telstra Ken Stephen Nominees are:

Sam Thaiday (Brisbane Broncos): Sam has shown his overwhelming connection to the community through his tireless work and willingness to help others, especially through Indigenous health and youth causes.  He is an ambassador of the Queensland Health campaign ‘Deadly Ears’ to help improve the ear health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and also holds ambassador roles for the Indigenous Family and Child Support Service and the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health.

David Shillington (Canberra Raiders): Starting with his involvement in Shave For a Cure, which raised almost $10,000 for the Leukaemia Foundation, David has been a leader in the Raiders’ community programs. He is a Rugby League Reads ambassador and also attended the Red Shield Appeal launch in Canberra. He is about to commence a major mentoring role through Barnardos Australia, where he spends three hours a week mentoring troubled youth. He also presented at the 2011 ACT Youth Leadership Summit.

Dene Halatu (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs): One of only four NSW RSPCA Ambassadors, Dene is a face of the RSPCA’s Million Paws Walk – one of the organisation’s leading fundraisers each year. He is also a big supporter of Bulldogs in the Community partner Camp Quality, giving his time to brighten the days of children with cancer and their families. He is kind and compassionate, empathetic, and his caring nature comes through in his dealings with community causes and the families and individuals which they benefit most.

Luke Douglas (Cronulla Sharks): Luke has been the mainstay of the club’s community appearances this season. From helping the Engadine Dragons special needs team, to the  PCYC Footy Fever Training program to a special training session with the Aquinas Colts, Luke is the first to volunteer to help those in need and to support the local community.

Preston Campbell (Gold Coast Titans): Preston’s work for the Indigenous community and the broader issue of Reconciliation has seen him become a nationally recognised figure in the commitment to close the gap of disadvantage between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The growing status of the All Stars event and the resultant ‘Learn Earn Legend!’ initiatives are a testimony to his simple vision of changing our nation’s future by impacting on the lives of individual kids. He continues to live this vision through his work for the Titans Beyond Tomorrow programs and his home community of Tingha.

Brent Kite (Manly Sea Eagles): Brent has spent the past five years dedicated to the Little M Foundation after an inspiring meeting with Michaela Rodrigues at the Spastic Centre. Ever since, Brent has kept in touch with Michaela, who suffers from Secondary Dystonia, and her family. Brent organised for he and six team-mates to shave the letters ‘LITTLE M’ into the backs of their heads to raise awareness and funds for Michaela’s cause. He contacted sponsors and fans and with the support of his team-mates raised in excess of $5,000 for the Little M Foundation.

Dane Nielsen (Melbourne Storm): Since joining Melbourne in 2008, Dane has become one of the Storm’s most committed community ambassadors. He was one of the key proponents of the club’s Close the Gap activities that included Storm working for months on formulating a Reconciliation Action Plan –the first NRL club to do so. Dane is also part of a mentoring program that works with young Indigenous teenagers. He is also in the middle of completing a diploma in youth work after receiving his certificate in the same field in 2009. He has also supported Storm’s charity partner, the Father Bob Maguire Foundation, by assisting with their food van that caters for poor people in two locations in Melbourne.

Ben Rogers (Newcastle Knights): Ben personifies community involvement. From his own personal commitment as the official ambassador of Down Syndrome NSW through to charity appearances and junior development, Ben approaches every appearance with the enthusiasm and willingness to help out that inspires the people around him. Ben co-ordinates with Down Syndrome NSW to attend special Knights events and training sessions and has a passion for helping people. He is also an NRL One Community 'Rugby League Reads' Ambassador, is a second time nominee for the Ken Stephen Medal and is the current Knights Community Player of the Year.

Tariq Sims (Nth Qld Cowboys): Tariq has made an exemplary commitment to the children at the Townsville Community Learning Centre as well as inspiring younger Cowboys players to commit their time and energy to projects they are passionate about. Throughout the year, Tariq has visited the kids, who have severe intellectual and physical disabilities, as part of the Cowboys’ Adopt-a-School program. Having a passion for helping children with disabilities, Tariq specifically requested to be allocated to the centre as their Cowboy. He has also featured heavily in the Cowboys in the Classroom project for students in towns outside of Townsville.

Ben Smith (Parramatta Eels): Ben is an ambassador for the Eels’ healthy lifestyle programs run through the Eels Learning Centre. He loves getting involved in classes at the centre and can often be found popping in unannounced to meet the kids. Ben is also a strong supporter of The Children’s Hospital, Westmead, and Ronald McDonald House and he regularly inspires the players around him to support various charities and causes.

Luke Lewis (Penrith Panthers): Luke is the ultimate team player and the first to volunteer for any project Penrith gets involved with. A White Ribbon ambassador, Luke has spoken before a gathering at Parliament House giving an intimate personal account of why men should campaign to prevent violence against women. He is also heavily involved in the Panthers on the Prowl which is a hugely successful education program for kids out west. He also supports Cure the Future Foundation, which is connected to Professor John Rasko from Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. Luke will never tell you what he puts back into the community but that’s what makes him such a worthy finalist.

Bronx Goodwin (St George Illawarra Dragons): As a mentor, Bronx has had an inspiring impact on troubled teens. His compassion and unyielding desire to put a smile on the faces of those who need it most reflect Bronx’s commitment to helping disadvantaged youth make positive choices in their lives. Among the many community programs he has played a leading role in are the St George PCYC ‘Footy Fever’ mentoring program, ‘Dream Believe Achieve’, school visits, hospital visits, advocate for the Red Cross Blood Donor appeal, Women in League and Red Nose Day.

Martin Kennedy (Sydney Roosters): Martin has been involved in a number of initiatives across the Roosters Reach Out community program.  Throughout the year, Martin has visited the Oasis Centre to assist the Salvation Army’s efforts during Drug Action Day and has also offered his support to Lifestart. An Ipswich junior, Martin has also visited the region a number of times to give back to the community that game him his start.

Jerome Ropati (Warriors): An award-winning student himself, Jerome has committed himself to spreading the literacy message across NZ schools. Through his role as the reading captain of the Warriors’ literacy programs ‘Rugby League Reads’ and ‘League in Libraries’, Jerome is changing lives by sharing the importance of reading. Despite a season-ending knee injury, he has committed himself as the club’s leader in driving community and charity programs across the country.  

Benji Marshall (Wests Tigers): Through his work helping children with cancer, Benji has shown that he is a leader both on and off the field. Inspired by his dying father’s last wish for him to help children with cancer, Benji launched the Benji Marshall Foundation in late 2010. The Foundation is linked to the Children's Cancer Institute Australia, which Benji is also an ambassador for.

Please note, the South Sydney Rabbitohs have chosen not to nominate a player for the Ken Stephen Medal as they did not feel they could single out just one player.

Established in 1988, the Medal is named after the late Ken Stephen, who dedicated more than 28 years to Rugby League as a player, community advocate and administrator.

Finalists for the remaining One Community Awards categories will be announced in late August.