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NRL superstar Johnathan Thurston is widely recognised for his big game, big smile and infectious laugh, but tonight it was his big heart that earned the Cowboys co-captain the coveted 2012 Telstra Ken Stephen Medal at the NRL’s One Community Awards in Sydney.

The two-time Dally M Medal winner and Kangaroos and Queensland Origin star has been rewarded for his outstanding commitment off the field to a wide range of community and charity activities in 2012, including his extensive work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Secondary School students to promote the importance of attending school and engaging in educational activities.

While it was the sixth annual One Community Awards night, it was the 25th anniversary of the prestigious Ken Stephen Medal, with Thurston presented with the award by inaugural winner and Australian Rugby League Commissioner Wayne Pearce. He was playing for the Balmain Tigers when he won it in 1988.

Thurston, who pipped Terry Campese (Raiders) and Jason Nightingale (Dragons), for the Ken Stephen Medal, was one of nine One Community Awards winners announced tonight, alongside West Australian James Sullivan, the 2012 Toyota National Volunteer of the Year, who gives 40 hours per week of his time to the game; and Victoria Rugby League’s Inclusive Officer Maria Edwards, the 2012 Harvey Norman Women In League award winner.

More than 350 guests, including NRL club officials and players, award nominees, sponsors and prominent politicians, attended the inspiring ceremony at Sydney’s Town Hall to acknowledge and celebrate Rugby League’s unsung heroes.

The One Community Awards launched a spectacular week of Grand Final celebrations for a 2012 season that saw NRL players and ambassadors devote over 29,000 hours to community work and the NRL and its clubs raise more than $1.2million for charity.

“The One Community Awards are an incredibly important event on the Rugby League calendar, highlighting the outstanding and selfless contributions of a wide range of people from NRL players, volunteers, referees, teachers, students and administrators to the grass-roots rugby league fraternity,” said Interim ARLC Chief Executive, Mr Shane Mattiske.

Thurston said he was honoured to receive the Ken Stephen Medal on a night that recognises the game’s unsung heroes.

“It’s been very rewarding to work with the next generation of Indigenous kids who are at school and contemplating what to do next with their lives,” said Thurston.

“Hopefully I’ve been able to use my profile to show these kids how important it is to stay in school and get an education. If you achieve that, then there are so many things you can look at doing as an adult.

“I was the first person in my family to finish year 12 and it’s something that I’m very proud of. No doubt it’s helped me with my football and other areas around footy that I received the education that I did.”

Alongside Thurston, Edwards and Sullivan, tonight’s honour roll includes the following award winners:

•    Telstra One Community Grassroots Club of the Year – Holy Cross Junior Rugby League Football Club, NSW

•    AAMI Service to the Community Award – Peter Scott, Cooktown QLD

•    AAMI Service to Refereeing Award – Richard Johnston, Buderim QLD

•    Holiday Inn National Teacher of the Year Award: Primary – Jarrad Folpp, Woodberry Public School, Woodberry NSW; Secondary – Mark Ippolitio, Kadina High School, Goonellabah NSW

•    ARLC Young Indigenous League Learn Earn Legend! Award – Katelyn Farrell (Souths Cares Learn Earn Legend! School to Work Transition Program) and Dylan Nicholls (Titans Beyond Tomorrow program).

The background on the winners of the 2012 Community Awards is as follows:

Ken Stephen Medal presented by Telstra

Telstra will give $5,000 to the winner and $5,000 to their favourite charity.

Winner: Johnathan Thurston (North Queensland Cowboys)

Throughout 2012, Johnathan has consistently used his profile as a role model to positively impact Indigenous communities across Australia. He runs inspirational workshops with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Secondary School students that promote the importance of attending school and engaging in educational activities. The workshops have been held at more than 20 schools throughout Southern and Central Queensland.

Johnathan’s community involvement across the year extends from his ongoing ambassadorship of the Cowboys’ Learn Earn Legend! program to unveiling the Charters Towers School of Distance’s first virtual classroom and attending the Obe Geia Challenge, which aims to reduce truancy, promote safety in sport and bring the Townsville and Palm Island communities together.

As well as representing his state and country, Johnathan was named captain of the 2012 Indigenous All Stars and was involved in the Indigenous All Stars Youth Summit, which inspires Indigenous students to embrace educational and employment opportunities while still maintaining their identity and culture.

Finalists: Jharal Yow Yeh (Brisbane Broncos), Terry Campese (Canberra Raiders), Dene Halatau (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Ben Ross (Cronulla Sharks), Scott Prince (Gold Coast Titans), George Rose (Manly Sea Eagles), Matt Duffie (Melbourne Storm), Akuila Uate (Newcastle Knights), Tim Mannah (Parramatta Eels), Tim Grant (Penrith Panthers), Jason Nightingale (St George Illawarra Dragons), Anthony Minichiello (Sydney Roosters), Elijah Taylor (Warriors), Keith Galloway (Wests Tigers).

Toyota National Volunteer of the Year

Toyota will provide $5,000 to the winner and $5,000 to their club.

Winner: James Sullivan (South Perth RL, WA)

James has been involved with Rugby League all of his life, and when he moved from NSW to Perth he became a dedicated member of the South Perth Lions RLC, volunteering all of his spare time to coach junior teams, run development programs and conduct ground announcements.

Finalists: Kelly Campbell (St George JRL, NSW), Garry Dunnett (Fitzroy / Gracemere RL, QLD), Tom Tassell (Cairns DJRL and Kangaroos JRL, QLD), Shirley Rostron (Swansea JRL, NSW), Debbie Sellin (Dayboro RL, QLD), Tom Kelly (South West JRL, QLD), Sonya Olsen (Gin Gin RL, QLD), Wendy Mullins (Wagga Wagga, NSW), Tony Bignold (Balmain JRL, NSW), Peter Martin (Colyton-Mt Druitt JL, NSW), Steve Warwick (NSW), Garry Hewen (Grenfell RL, NSW), Rick Lennon (Marist Brothers JRL, NSW), Phil Murray (Cronulla JRL, NSW).

Harvey Norman Women in League Achievement Award

Harvey Norman will provide a $5,000 Harvey Norman Gift Card to the winner.

Winner: Maria Edwards (Victorian Rugby League, VIC)

As Victorian Rugby League Inclusive Officer, Maria is responsible for developing and implementing Rugby League based programs throughout the state and assisting and managing Indigenous youth and community groups. She also volunteers her time as a Board Member of Australian Women’s Rugby League.

Finalists: Linda Holton (Terrigal RLC, NSW), Lyn Phyllis (Balmain JRL, NSW), Sandra Currie (Charleville – Western RL, QLD), Jessica Palmer (ARLD, NSW), Pat Bailey (Cairns District, QLD).

Telstra One Community Grass-roots Club of the Year

Telstra will provide two Telstra Assistance Packs (valued at $2,000 each) plus $2,000 to the winning club.

Winner: Holy Cross JRLFC (Leichhardt, NSW)

Celebrating more than 50 years as a Rugby League club, Holy Cross JRLFC was committed to multiple community initiatives including organising a major fundraising event for breast cancer in conjunction with the ‘Pull On Your Socks’ campaign during the NRL Women in League Round, raising in excess of $8,500 for the McGrath Foundation. The club annually hosts the Benny Elias Cup, contributes to the charity initiatives of other clubs in the district, gets involved in the Men of League Gold Boot Lace fundraisers and conducts boots and jersey drives for children in Papua New Guinea.

Finalists: Rockhampton Brothers JRLC (Rockhampton, QLD), Kimberley Rugby League Association (Kimberley, WA).

AAMI Service to the Community Award

AAMI will provide $5,000 towards the winning community program.

Winner: Peter Scott (Cooktown, QLD)

Peter has held various positions from Coach, Manager and Referee to President at the Cooktown and District Junior Rugby League Club, and recently played a key role in the club receiving a $200,000 grant for lighting upgrades to the field. Peter promotes “fun and friendship” as the focus of Rugby League games, ensuring that all games are alcohol-free and supports government initiatives to curb violence in the community and promote fair play.

Finalists: Joseph Chidiac (Wheelchair Rugby League Australia), Mindfield at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre (Casula, NSW).

AAMI Service to Refereeing Award

AAMI will provide $2,500 to the winner.

Winner: Richard Johnston (Wide Bay Referees Association, QLD)

Richard has been a referee in the Sunshine Coast and Wide Bay Area for 30 years, and has been instrumental in developing and supporting young referees throughout the region. He has been involved with developing the National Mentoring Scheme for referees and has helped develop programs for referees in Papua New Guinea.

Finalists: Barry Beveridge (Balmain Referees Association, NSW), Greg Mills (VRL Referees Association, VIC).

Holiday Inn National Teacher of the Year Award – Primary and Secondary

Holiday Inn will provide each winning teacher with a holiday package (trip for two to Vanuatu, return economy airfares, accommodation at Holiday Inn Vanuatu, breakfast daily).

Winners: Primary - Jarrad Folpp (Woodberry PS, NSW); Secondary - Mark Ippolito (Kadina HS, NSW)

Jarrad Folpp, a teacher at Woodberry Primary School, has committed himself to creating opportunities for development in his young students, coordinating gala days and running programs such as the Backyard League Gold Program, as well as training and coaching all of the school’s Rugby League and League Tag teams.

Mark Ippolito arrived at Kadina High School three years ago to find every second student had a football in their hand but no team to play in. It was Mark’s dream that his students would have the same access to Rugby League that he had when he was growing up, a dream that has been realised, with the school now boasting five teams and four coaches on staff.

Finalists: Primary - Dave Roberts (Maryong PS, NSW), Bruce Fox (Broadbeach, QLD); Secondary - Clare Rayner (Warrandyte HS, VIC), Dave Porter (Wavell State HS, QLD).

ARLC Young Indigenous Learn Earn Legend! Award

The winners of the award receive a $2500 education scholarship each from the Australian Rugby League Commission to support their studies.

Winners: Katelyn Farrell (Souths Cares Learn Earn Legend! School to Work Transition program) and Dylan Nicholls (Titans Beyond Tomorrow program).

Katelyn Farrell, 18, was nominated by the Souths Cares Learn Earn Legend! Schools to Work Transition program for her outstanding leadership and commitment to education. She is currently studying for her HSC at Matraville Sports High School, where she is School Vice-Captain. She grew up on the Jerrinja Mission, with her brother and Rabbitohs centre Dylan, and she continues to spend much of her time there working in the homework centre mentoring the local children. Katelyn hopes to study at university next year to become a Primary School Teacher.

Dylan Nicholls, 19, was nominated by the Gold Coast Titans’ ‘Titans Beyond Tomorrow’ program. A member of the Tweed-Byron Indigenous community, he was consistently recognised at Kingscliff High School as an outstanding sportsman and student, placing in the top 5% of NSW students during his final year in 2011. Dylan is currently completing a Bachelor of Medicine, Surgery and Science at the University of Queensland to further improve the education and health outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

Finalists: As above (Farrell and Nicholls).

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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