The fierce club rivalry between Brisbane’s Sam Thaiday and Manly’s Brent Kite, who locked horns in last Friday night’s Preliminary Final at the SFS, will take a back seat when both players line up as Ken Stephen Medal nominees at tonight’s prestigious One Community Awards.
Thaiday and Kite will share the stage with other NRL stars as well as the game’s unsung heroes as Grand Final Week celebrations kick off with rugby league’s most inspiring event of the year.
The glittering awards ceremony at Sydney Town Hall acknowledges selfless acts of service by players and pays tribute to the mums, dads volunteers, coaches, teachers, community workers, development officers, clubs and officials who tirelessly dedicate themselves to helping others enjoy the game.
A total of 10 awards will be presented, including the prestigious Telstra Ken Stephen Medal which recognises the efforts of an NRL player who has not only achieved on the field but has also dedicated time off the field to community projects.
Since 1988 the award has honoured the likes of Hazem El Masri, Peter Sterling, Wayne Pearce and last year’s recipient, retiring Bulldogs skipper Andrew Ryan.
In 2011 the Telstra Ken Stephen Medal nominees are:
Sam Thaiday (Broncos): Sam has been recognised for his willingness to help others especially through Indigenous health and youth causes. He is an ambassador of the Queensland Health campaign 'Deadly Ears' and also holds ambassador roles for the Indigenous Family and Child Support Service and the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health.
David Shillington (Raiders): David has been a leader in the Raiders’ community programs including Shave for a Cure for the Leukaemia Foundation and the Red Shield Appeal. He presented at the 2011 ACT Youth Leadership Summit and is about to commence work with Barnardos Australia mentoring troubled youth.
Dene Halatu (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs): Dene is a face of the RSPCA’s Million Paws Walk – one of the organisation’s leading fundraisers. He is also a big supporter of Bulldogs in the Community partner Camp Quality, helping children with cancer and their families.
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.
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.
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.
Dane Nielsen (Melbourne Storm): Dane was one of the key proponents of the club's Close the Gap activities and is also part of a mentoring program that works with young Indigenous teenagers. He is completing a diploma in youth work after receiving his certificate in the same field in 2009. Dane also supports Storm’s charity partner, the Father Bob Maguire Foundation, by assisting with their food van.
Ben Rogers (Newcastle Knights): Ben is an ambassador of Down Syndrome NSW and an NRL One Community 'Rugby League Reads' Ambassador. Retiring in 2011, he 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 a passion for helping children with disabilities and has made an exemplary commitment to the children at the Townsville Community Learning Centre as part of the Cowboys’ Adopt-a-School program. He also plays a big role 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 and a strong supporter of The Children's Hospital, Westmead, and Ronald McDonald House.
Luke Lewis (Penrith Panthers): 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 involved in the education program Panthers on the Prowl and supports the Cure the Future Foundation.
Bronx Goodwin (St George Illawarra Dragons): As a mentor, Bronx has had an inspiring impact on troubled teens. He has played a leading role in many community programs including the St George PCYC 'Footy Fever' mentoring program, 'Dream Believe Achieve', school visits, hospital visits 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.
Jerome Ropati (Warriors): 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.
Benji Marshall (Wests Tigers): 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 an ambassador for.