City gain perspective from HopeStreet
It's Tuesday night, 5.30pm. The temperature is quickly dropping and the sun has clocked off for the day. Quiet chatter is only interrupted by the trains running overhead.
Almost a hundred people have gathered, patiently waiting in line by several barbeques, a weekly occurrence which showcases the harsh realities of Sydney's Woolloomooloo.
Welcome to BaptistCare HopeStreet.
Where each week, volunteers give their time to assist people in need – ranging from the homeless to those battling addiction and mental health issues or suffering from a lack of employment opportunities.
On this particular night though, those in need were to be met by some very special guests.
A bus full of young men, boasting an average age of 23, rolls up at 6pm – the New South Wales City Origin squad.
Only a handful of these men know what to expect having participated in the same event just 12 months prior.
The squad is led off the bus by the larger-than-life Andrew Fifita, who charges his way to the barbeques to finally start serving food to those who had been waiting without complaint.
Jason Clark mans the onions, James Roberts the sausages and David Klemmer the sauces, as other members of the team persuade others to get seconds.
Without prompting, Kane Evans convinces the oldest player in the squad Joseph Paulo to help him round up others who watch on sheepishly across the road, unsure of whether they are welcome to proceedings.
For some, their shyness gets the better of them while others remain intimated by the sheer size of Reagan Campbell-Gillard who hands them cans of soft drink.
Either way, they leave pleased.
It becomes all too much for one man who is wearing a Cronulla Sharks hat. He tears up at the sight of Cronulla duo Fifita and City captain Wade Graham – who happily talk to the clearly touched man.
You can tell it means as much to the players as it does to those living on the streets.
Rugby league legend and City Origin coach Brad Fittler has sent his boys down to HopeStreet for the past two years.
By doing so, Fittler aims to "trigger things inside" the young group of players who he is responsible for during the week, and to show them things "they may not have seen before".
"It's one of the great places Woolloomooloo. You have $30 million units down the road with Russell [Crowe] and then you have people around here having a go," Fittler said.
"It puts a reality into what working hard is, so that's the whole idea. If you can find a better 'you' by coming down and understanding the reality of how people live [then it is working].
"Generally though you just want to come down and hopefully meet some people, have a laugh and say hello to them.
"It's a bit intimidating. You feel a lot of emotions as you come through an emotional place like this. It's quite beautiful though too, you can feel a little bit like you're in New York or something."
The reality of HopeStreet and the harsher side of Woolloomooloo hits home with every single member of the City Origin squad there – from the veteran instincts of assistant coach Tony Butterfield to the youth of the team's youngest member Waqa Blake.
As Wests Tigers and City back-rower Curtis Sironen explained, it's good for the team to come down and give a helping hand and to keep in touch with a world that doesn't venture far away from these players' own front doors.
"This brings you back down to reality. We are playing footy and we're living pretty comfortably and you sort of forget how hard people have it," Sironen told NRL.com.
"It's an eye-opener and I think it's good Freddy and all the coaching staff have bought us down here to lend a helping hand and to see what it's like for the homeless in Sydney.
"It keeps a level head on you and any help we can give is great because it's a good cause and hopefully everyone will get a feed and have a good night. Being here definitely makes you appreciate everything you have.
"Brad explained to us the extent of people who go to sleep each night without a roof over their heads and for us to be grateful of what we're doing and where we are in our own lives."
While it may be used to motivate and perhaps inspire the City squad before their clash with Country this weekend, those in need who were fed by these players were touched by their presence and goodwill, which at the end of the day is much more important than a game of footy.