Men of League foundation as vital as ever

Rugby league is a sport built on pure mateship.

When one of your fellow teammates – or brothers – on the field falls; you pick them up, dust them off and carry on together as one.

It's what makes playing rugby league so great. Whether it is on the field, on the training paddock or even at the pub celebrating or commiserating on the outcome of the game you have just battled through, you are always surrounded by your rugby league brothers.

Yet sometimes one of your brothers on the paddock may not be able to get back up. Perhaps they have fallen on hard times or suffered an injury that doesn't allow them to play our great sport again.

This is why the Men of League foundation is as important as anything in rugby league today and this weekend the NRL will celebrate the Men of League Heritage Round – capped off by Saturday night's game between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and St George Illawarra Dragons at the gloriously revamped Sydney Cricket Ground.

Ron Coote, a former South Sydney and Australian Test legend, is the founder and current chairman of the Men of League foundation and says he is very proud of what the foundation has been able to achieve thus far.

"Every year now we build on the Heritage Round as the great round that [involves] the Men the League. The Men of League help people: coaches, referees, players and their families that have fallen on hard times and every year we raise a considerable amount of money and that money goes too those people," Coote said.

"We're very proud of our record with what we've done; who we've helped and this round will be another opportunity for the Men in League to raise funds to go towards those people."

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It is very apt that the Men of League Heritage Round would coincide with a Rabbitohs v Dragons showdown at the SCG – their 60th meeting at the venue.

Having had four grand finals decided there between the two teams it is only appropriate for Coote, a veteran of 151 games for Souths, to share his memories of his time at the recently renovated iconic sporting venue.

"I think [the Sydney Cricket Ground] is just a fantastic place to go. I remember as a kid I used to sit on the hill and watch Test matches and great games for all those years. The first time I played with Souths here it was just a great memory for me to run down the stairs – down through the Members Stand – and out onto the ground," Coote shares.

"St George and Souths are two of the really great clubs of the competition. They've both done fantastic things and both have had fantastic players. Whenever Souths and St George played each other, no matter where they were running in the competition, it was always a really tough afternoon and there was no guarantee who was going to win."

The 1965 Grand Final holds dear memories for Coote, a member of the South Sydney forward pack, despite being defeated 12-8 to a Dragons side boosted by immortals Reg Gasnier, Graeme Langlands and Johnny Raper in front of a tick over 78,000 punters – a ground record still to this day.

"I've got great memories. The people were on the roof of the stands and Bobby Fulton told me he was on the roof that day. How no-one was killed I'll never know because it would be a huge fall if they fell off there," Coote said.

"That was a great afternoon. [Souths legend] Bobby McCarthy only lives three kilometres down the road and he drove his car up here and he couldn't get to the game – lucky the policeman said go and park behind there and he went and parked behind one of the toilets at Moore Park and run across the ground.

"He got to the ground here at 3 o'clock and the coach, Bernie Purcell, was beside himself. [Purcell] said 'you haven't even warmed up' and [Bob] said 'don't worry I just ran a kilometre across to here so I'm warm'.

"It was a great spectacle. People and kids were on the field and you wouldn't see that again today in rugby league."

Thankfully, you do see the Men in League Foundation around today and helping past and present individuals involved in the greater rugby league community. You can play your part and become a member of the Men in League foundation at their website: www.menofleague.com/.