Inside Word: Retiring greats should stay in the game

This week I spent two days working out at Bourke as part of my rugby league ambassador role. What an experience! Having never been to Bourke before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found was a great little town that is absolutely in love with rugby league.

Ron Gibbs, who has been named as a finalist for this year's One Community Awards for his service to the community, runs and organises a dinner and a sevens tournament each year for the high school children in the area.

Some travel up to four hours to participate in the day. What surprised me was the skill level of some of these boys, particularly the indigenous children. The flick passes, sidesteps, chip and chases, and passing on both sides of their bodies was unbelievable. It was really great to watch.

The problem we face is keeping these children in the game and leading them through their later teens without going off the rails. Ron is doing a great job out there. He is loved by the communities and respected not only for what he achieved as a player but for the genuine care he shows for this region.

We also visited two schools in Bourke in such a remote area where I imagine getting teachers to move there is difficult. These teachers were a breath of fresh air. They loved the town, loved the children and had a special bond with the kids that I had not seen before. Getting some of these children to school is a challenge in itself and to see them attending and learning and enjoying school was testament to the teachers. Their positive attitudes and belief in the children was extraordinary and the town is lucky to have such people. Many were locals who went away to study and returned home to teach.
 
Similarly, rugby league needs its own to stay involved after they retire to help the NRL promote the benefits not only of playing the game but also the many incredibly successful community, educational and welfare programs conducted by the NRL that make a real difference to people’s lives. The more ambassadors we have, the more opportunities we then have of getting out to places like Bourke more often, and the more chances we have of unearthing talent, attracting newcomers and retaining children in our great game.

You only have to look at the calibre of the players retiring at the end of this season – Broncos captain Darren Lockyer, former Titans captain Preston Campbell, Bulldogs captain Andrew Ryan and Raiders captain Alan Tongue – to know it would be an incredible waste and loss to the game not to have them stay involved in some way. Whether for their club or the NRL, these players are exemplary role models on and off the field and would be great ambassadors for our game in the country and the city.

I was in their shoes 12 months ago, and I could not have imagined then just how rewarding – and busy – my first year as a Rugby League Ambassador for would be. I have travelled to remote posts, country towns and city venues throughout Australia but there is just so much more to do.

The more people we have on the ground the better. There is so much ground to cover and so many communities to reach, it’s impossible for the four Ambassadors we currently have to do it justice. If a child is faced with a choice over whether to play AFL, rugby union or rugby league, surely a visit from one of these legends would sway them our way. 

The impact they can have on a town or individual is huge and the memory for them is life-lasting. Let’s use our former stars to promote our game. They have given great service to the game and inspired so many along the way and we can now help them post-footy and continue their involvement in rugby league.
 
A final word on the footy: the Melbourne Storm are up against the Manly Sea Eagles this week … a Grand Final preview maybe?