Blues make a difference to local Indigenous community
Laurie Daley's NSW team continues to kick goals with the local Indigenous community in Coffs Harbour after around 150 people from the nearby Wongala Estate were invited to attend Blues training earlier in the week and presented with two signed jerseys.
Last year Daley's side was the first of the sporting teams that make use of the Pacific Bay Resort's Elite Training Centre to visit the Estate, which was a point of great pride for NSWRL Indigenous Project Officer Steve 'Bear' Hall.
A few weeks after that visit Blues back-rower Ryan Hoffman was inspired to use the NRL's 'Close the Gap' round to get a signed Storm jersey to donate to the people of the Estate.
An end-of-season move to the Warriors combined with Four Nations duty prevented Hoffman from being able to personally deliver the jersey so he was glad to be able to make a belated presentation in person when he returned to Coffs Harbour for this year's series.
"We visited the mission last year, we were taken aback by how much the kids love their footy and a couple of weeks later we played the 'Close the Gap' round," Hoffman told NRL.com.
"I could tell when we were in the hall there [at Wongala] it'd be nice to have something on the wall. I spoke to [Melbourne Storm player welfare manager] Peter Robinson, and he typed up the meaning behind the jersey and how it came about and I thought it'd be good for them to have the jersey and they'd appreciate it.
"I organised with 'Loz' and sent it up to 'Bear'. Unfortunately as I was travelling with the Warriors and in the Four Nations it made it a bit hard [to get there for the presentation] so it was good to actually see them and do a belated presentation for it.
"They seemed to really appreciate it, it's great and hopefully kids see it and want to be footy players.
"They could have done whatever they wanted with it, they could have raffled it off for money to help the community, I wouldn't have minded, but I'm pretty chuffed they decided to frame it and keep it at the club.
"They were very appreciative and we acknowledge their support and what they've done for us here at Coffs Harbour. Personally I think it was fitting to give something back to them.
"As a player you've got to take yourself back and put yourself at what you were like when you were that age and how much you would have liked to see State of Origin players and NRL players. I was that kid once, I was that kid wanting an autograph, I was that kid running around kicking the footy wanting to get close to the players. I think every now and then you have to take a step back and think about what it was like when you were a kid."
Hall told NRL.com he was glad the Blues had been able to do something for the local Indigenous community, while also giving an insight into the incredible amount of work he does for the Indigenous community, much of which goes unseen by the public.
Hall has been involved with the NSWRL for 26 years, having started as a mainstream development officer before moving into a more Indigenous-focused role over the past five years along with former Dragons winger and fellow Walgett product Ricky Walford.
He said the Wongala community had been delighted to receive both Hoffman's signed 'Close the Gap' jersey and a framed NSW jersey, presented by Daley and NSWRL CEO Dave Trodden.
Hall said he has a friend in Wongala Estate which prompted last year's visit. It was originally intended to be just Daley and Indigenous Blues player Greg Bird but the whole team decided to go.
"So what we did this year, rather than taking down there in that confined space we invited all the kids down here, so we had all the kids here yesterday to watch the training session and met the boys. They're still talking about last year," Hall said.
"They just feel special because they've come down here, Facebook would be lighting up with them putting stuff up on Facebook, photos and everything. It's been amazing really.
"The players have been really good about it, the attitude amongst the boys has been sensational.
"That's my little contribution to our Indigenous community, it was just a buzz being out there with them all."
Hall also shared some of his other Indigenous projects, such as a 64-team competition at Raymond Terrace featuring 32 boys and 32 girls teams and an under-16s program that goes to Perth every year, and he will again be taking a group of Indigenous youngsters to Europe at the end of the year with Walford.
"We're taking 36 Koori kids to France and Italy at the end of the year which is very exciting," he said.
"We did our first trip [to Europe] a couple of years back and this year we've been invited back for the Armistice Day celebrations."
That includes an invitation from the Australian embassy in Paris, then on Remembrance Day a trip up to the battlefield at Villers Bretonneux to play a match on the battlefield against a local team, then down to Perpignan and Milan for a couple more games followed by three days sightseeing in Rome.
"The Australian War Museum's giving us 50 wooden crosses for the boys to write messages on so we're going to place them on the graves at the cemetery at Villers Bretonneux," Hall said.
"We've got staff from Bourke and Collarenebri coming with us and they've got permission to take vials of soil back from their communities to sprinkle on the graves, and we've got a jersey done up for the game at the Somme."
As if all that isn't enough, Hall also helps out Brad Fittler with the City Origin side, and the irony of a Walgett local helping out the City team isn't lost on him.
"I was born and bred in Walgett, ended up playing all my footy in and around Dubbo, coached West Division. Freddie gets me involved with the City Origin side and I coached Country seconds one year so everyone gives it to me about being involved with the City side when I'm a country boy!" Hall laughed.
And does he ever get a day off?
"No, no days off. But I love what you do and get paid for something I'd volunteer to do anyway!"
Video courtesy of nswrl.com.au