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Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah might be celebrating a combined 402 games in the black and gold but you can bet their main focus will be to entertain some very important young Wests Tigers guests.

I guess you could say that this has not been rugby league’s finest year off the field. A pretty bad start, with news the integrity of not only our great game, but other prominent Australian sporting competitions, was tarnished by links to widespread doping and organised crime.

Investigations bubbled along, and other crises have come and gone. I am not the only Canberra Raiders fan feeling like I have been hit by a bus this morning, and desperately wondering if there is possibly anything else at the mighty Green Machine headquarters that can go pear-shaped before the Provan-Summons Trophy is conferred to worthy winners on Sunday, 6 October. Some much older clubs with rich histories and magnificent credentials know exactly how we feel!

We have heard expert discussions and analyses on some of the legal, moral and ethical dilemmas challenging administrators, coaching staff, support staff, rising stars (even falling stars), those prodigiously talented – albeit somewhat self-absorbed – Gen Y-ers and just about anyone else involved in any capacity with any club. All played out in the public arena, and all contributing to an impression that our playing fields are anything but even, and that some of our people are perhaps not what we hoped they were.

There aren’t a lot of stories around at the moment that truly represent how great the rugby league community is – but they exist – and there are many of them! One of the most gratifying aspects of my amazing job is the superb side of human nature that I see every single day I spend at clubs. This stuff is mostly off the field, and most of it will never be on display in the public arena.

Take tonight’s blockbuster Wests Tigers v Rabbitohs clash. Huge attention is pouring in from all over the world, and statisticians like my friend David Middleton are licking their lips with glee as they delve back though 103 years of records to come up with the last set of four brothers playing on the one team.

You might think that Wests Tigers are revelling in this hype, with no time to focus on anything but the 80 minutes’ action on the Allianz field kicking off at 7.35pm. That is not the case. The Tigers have very special guests at tonight’s game, and like all NRL guests they will enjoy very special attention. The VIP visitors are Tommy and Sammy, aged 10 and eight respectively. These fanatical Tigers fans lost a dad to a brain tumour three years ago, and moved with their mum to the country to start afresh. Tragically their mum Donna was diagnosed with cancer in February this year (just two months after buying their own home), and passed away three weeks later. They are now in the care of their Aunty Deb and Uncle Rod who run the Yass Motel, but this week they have been lured back to the big smoke.

Behind the scenes the great people of our great game have put together a visit itinerary that would impress the most seasoned traveller. The kids have already watched the Tigers train at Allianz, and afterwards met players and coaching staff and then joined them for lunch. Tommy and Sammy were special guests at last night’s Footy Show, and loved every minute of the action – the bit that gets to air, and probably more so the many bits that don’t!

No doubt an exhausting day for kids that age, and for Deb and Rob, but fear not – our special visitors can retreat each night to the comfort of the Novotel Darling Harbour, where the NRL has provided three nights’ complimentary accommodation. Tonight is of course the highlight of their trip, when they will be amongst the lucky crowd sharing the converging of too many historical milestones to count!

Meeting these two kids on Thursday night was an incredible experience. Their resilience, their optimism and their unwavering love of rugby league is inspiring. What a powerful thing sport is. In the face of unimaginable tragedy it can provide an escape, a chance to forget and an opportunity to smile and just be a kid. It also provides a little bit of perspective for us all – sometimes we need a reminder of what is really important in life…

I hope it is a cracker of a game. You go Burgess brothers, you go Benji, you go Lote, you go Robbie Farah! The eyes of the world will be on you as you all do what you do best. The eyes of the world won’t be diverted to the stands to catch Tommy and Sammy revelling in the experience, but that doesn’t matter.

We welcome tonight’s on-field brilliance as a reminder of the good things about our game in this gloomy week, but we celebrate Tommy and Sammy’s trip to Sydney as a timely reminder of the truly great things about our game – our League, our clubs and our people. 

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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