Remember a time when being a “rugby league bad boy” was the exception? The phrase “troubled NRL player” identified just the one bad apple in the barrel? No? I’ll confess it’s been a while but it’s important to point out bad headlines doesn’t mean rugby league is bad. Fans are staggeringly used to stories exposing first-graders' off-field scandals ranging from disgusting schoolboy antics to serious sexual, domestic and alcohol abuse. Many ask is it even possible to bring rugby league into disrepute anymore?
Despite the salacious media firestorms where the truth is sometimes hard to find, and where commentators and former legends of the game draw up moral and ethical battle lines; rugby league is still a family sport. Kids still want to play just like match-winners Jarryd Hayne or Billy Slater. Junior clinics are packed with the game’s most enthusiastic fans who want to latch onto a pass from Anthony Minichiello or Sam Thaiday. Mums and Dads still set aside an afternoon or evening to pack the car, collect the kids and head out to the footy. Rugby League has been cheapened by boozy nights and poor behaviour – but here’s a little reminder that the greatest game of all still has plenty of Good Guys...
Terry Campese – The current Ken Stephen Medallist, awarded to the player who is committed to working in community projects. Former winners include Wayne Pearce, Peter Sterling and Hazem el Masri who have a history of donating their time, energy and empathy to the community. The Raider won it in 2013 for his tireless work with the Terry Campese Foundation that assists anyone who has fallen on hard times, suffers from mental illness, homelessness, poverty or disabilities. When Terry can’t lend a hand he wrangles his Raiders teammates to give back to the community that has supported the team through thick and more recently thin times.
Tim Mannah – Initiated the Mannah Foundation in honour of his late brother Johnny to raise money for youth-led charities and those less fortunate. The Eels' Co-Captain is involved in a number of charities and community work including the Cancer Council’s Call to Arms and the Stella Fella campaign aimed at stopping human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Mannah is an ambassador of the Ronald McDonald House.
Will Hopoate – a strong leader and true rugby league clean skin who balances faith and football. Will won an NRL premiership, then turned down $1.7 million to complete a full-time two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Brisbane. Elder Hopoate is a strong voice in his church and continues to work with disadvantaged youth. Will also encourages his teammates to make sound, healthy choices both on and off the field.
Trent Hodkinson – Every game the Bulldog takes a new kicking tee and dedicates it to a child suffering from a chronic illness. The halfback writes their name on the tee and presents it to the child after the game either at the game or in hospital. Trent is also an animal lover and participated in the RSPCA’s Million Paws Walk to help put an end to animal cruelty and find loving homes for little fury friends. Nawww.
Josh Reynolds and Michael Ennis – More do-gooder Bulldogs, Josh and Mick were named as ambassadors for Camp Quality that offers support and help to children and their families living with cancer. The pair also devote their time to Save our Sons, a charity organisation trying to find a cure for Muscular Dystrophy.
Brenton Lawrence – the big hearted Sea Eagle convinced the whole team to wear blue socks for one round to raise awareness for Autism Spectrum Australia. Brenton’s nephew was diagnosed with autism and Brenton actively raises money and charity events for ASPECT.
Joel Thompson – Joel is the poster boy for turning your life around and making good choices. The former delinquent who started breaking and entering as a teen, decided to make a difference and started volunteering at the Australian Indigenous Leadership Council. Joel is now proudly a co-facilitator and project officer on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ACT Youth Program.
Among the 400 or more players under the NRL branch, these are just a few of the decent stories that enhance our greater community. There are hundreds more of these gems in our game proving that good guys don’t ever finish last.