The NRL launched its 2015 Community Carnival on Tuesday, with Olympic hero and youth wellbeing advocate Catherine Freeman joining new NRL Community ambassador Anthony Minichiello to commence the month-long activity.
Now in its 15th year, Community Carnival sees NRL ambassadors and players from each of the 16 Clubs visit remote and regional towns across Australia and New Zealand, using this extensive outreach as a powerful platform to deliver important social messages to hundreds of thousands of young fans.
The community message of this year's event is wellbeing, focussing on everything from nutrition and healthy eating, to the importance of regular exercise and its effect on mental health.
"This is a particularly special Community Carnival as we celebrate 15 years of the program, and we're delighted to have Catherine throw her support behind this year's wellbeing message," Head of NRL Community, Adam Check said.
"Community Carnival has made a tremendous contribution over the years by raising awareness of important societal issues such as bullying and social inclusion. The program has demonstrated that the game, our ambassadors and players can impart positive messages that students and young people will observe.
"With more than a quarter of Australian children classified as overweight or obese, the message players will take into schools this year is a simple but important one – taking care of your diet, physical fitness and mental health is vital to your overall wellbeing," Mr Check said.
Ms Freeman joined the NRL at Soldiers' Settlement Public School this morning to support the launch of this year's Community Carnival message, noting her own strong links back to advocating wellbeing in young Australians.
"Being an NRL fan myself, I can see the positive influence players and ambassadors can have on young people. The wellbeing message that players will deliver during this year's Community Carnival mirrors the work that my Foundation achieves in remote Indigenous communities," Ms Freeman said.
"Together I believe we can empower young Australians, particularly Indigenous children, with the knowledge and skills they need to live long and healthy lives. I commend the NRL for taking such an important issue to classrooms around Australia."
Players will be armed with the newly developed Eat Well Play Well Stay Well game and wellbeing resource, which has been endorsed by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). Players will also take part in Junior Rugby League clinics as well as community receptions.
In their first official appearances as NRL Community ambassadors, former Roosters skipper Anthony Minichiello and newly retired Rabbitohs winger Nathan Merritt joined Catherine at the launch.
"I'm thrilled to remain a part of this great game as an NRL Community ambassador. Throughout my playing career, community visits were always one of my favourite parts of the job so I'm sure I'll ease right in to it," Minichiello said.
"This year's Community Carnival is all about health and wellbeing. With a young daughter myself, I know the importance of nutrition and exercise right from a young age.
"The next four weeks will really help us bring home that message to Australian kids and hopefully start to turn around the obesity epidemic that is grabbing headlines today."
Also showing their support at today's launch were NRL Community ambassadors Nathan Hindmarsh, Rhys Wesser and Alan Tongue, along with current players John Sutton (South Sydney Rabbitohs) and Jake Friend (Sydney Roosters).
This week will see the North Queensland Cowboys visit Mackay, the Canberra Raiders and Melbourne Storm visit Griffith, the Wests Tigers visit Port Macquarie and NRL Community ambassadors visit North Sydney.
Some of the highlight visits taking place over the month of Community Carnival activity include:
Broncos - The Broncos will send some of their star players to Emerald, visiting more than 20 schools and running three Junior Rugby League clinics over two days in mid-February.
Bulldogs - The Bulldogs will travel four and a half hours northwest to visit 19 schools in Dunedoo, Gulgong, Warren and Gilgandra in addition to a blitz throughout their local Canterbury-Bankstown area.
Cowboys - Throughout February, the Cowboys will visit in excess of 6,000 students in visits across more than 60 schools in Mackay, Innisfail and Cairns.
Dragons - The Dragons will visit more than 4,000 students in 16 schools across south coast towns such as Bateman's Bay, Moruya, Narooma, Bermagui and Tilba Tilba. In addition to their regional visits, the Dragons will also spend a day in both their local Illawarra and Kogarah communities.
Eels - The Eels will take Rugby League and the wellbeing message to the heart of the nation, travelling 5,000km in a visit to Alice Springs that will reach 1,000 students.
Knights - The Knights will visit 4,500 students over the course of February, covering Muswellbrook, Merewether and Windale.
Panthers - Select Panthers players will visit Bathurst, Cowra and Canowindra, while the full squad will take to Western Sydney in a local blitz that will reach 15,000 students in one day in mid-February.
Rabbitohs - Mario Fenech and Rhys Wesser will join three Rabbitohs players in visits to 11 schools across the south-coast towns of Eden, Merimbula and Bega.
Raiders - Over just two days, Raiders players will visit more than 11,000 students and 45 schools in Wagga and Griffith.
Roosters - Anthony Minichiello will join Roosters players in visits to the Central Coast, delivering wellbeing messages to 4,700 students in 12 schools.
Sea Eagles - The Sea Eagles will send Jamie Lyon back to his hometown of Wee Waa while Brenton Lawrence will pay a special visit to his own hometown in South Australia.
Sharks - Scheduled for February 9, the Community Carnival will see the Sharks visit more than 20 schools and interact with over 6,000 students. Select Sharks players will also visit 4,800 students in 15 Taree schools later that week.
Storm - The Melbourne club will travel five hours northwest to Mildura to conduct school visits. They will also take part in a local Melbourne school blitz that will reach 10,000 students.
Titans - The full Titans squad will run Junior Rugby League clinics across the Northern Rivers region, reaching 3,000 children. Select players will also visit schools in Toowoomba and Cairns.
Warriors - The Warriors will visit 12 schools in Rotorua and visit students in Auckland.
Wests Tigers - Wests Tigers players including James Tedesco, Tim Moltzen and Keith Galloway will visit more than 8,000 students in 27 schools across Port Macquarie.