A host of rugby league volunteers were celebrated today at the 10th annual NRL Community Awards, acknowledging some of the game's many unassuming heroes and their tireless community work.
The awards well held in Sydney, with nominees and winners flying in from as far as Thursday Island and Gove to be part of the ceremony, before taking in all the action and excitement live tomorrow at the 2016 NRL Telstra Premiership Grand Final as guests of the NRL.
Australian Rugby League Commissioner Wayne Pearce welcomed the volunteers and grassroots club members to the awards, which were also attended by NRL Ken Stephen Medal nominees, including the 2016 Ken Stephen Medal winner, Joel Thompson.
Winners across the six categories were:
National Volunteer of the Year: Terry Abednego from Thursday Island, Queensland
Grassroots Club of the Year: Gunning Roos from Gunning, New South Wales
National Teacher of the Year: Andrew Johnson from Wallsend, New South Wales
Young Person of the Year: Shakeela Williams from Nowra, New South Wales
Women in League achievement award: Kiowa Goodman from Mount Gambier, South Australia
NRL Club Community Program of the Year: Beyond the Broncos, Brisbane Broncos
NRL General Manager of Community, Ellen Beale, said the awards were an important occasion in Grand Final week to pay tribute to volunteers in the game, right across the country.
"Our game thrives, thanks to the generous support, time and effort that thousands make across Australia week in, week out, so that people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities have an opportunity to play and participate in a form of rugby league," Ms Beale said.
"I, like many others connected with rugby league, am inspired by the many volunteers and their stories as they continue to ensure the success of the game for generations to come."
2016 NRL Community Awards: award descriptions, winners and background information
National Volunteer of the Year: presented by the NRL and Carbine Club of NSW
Presented to a volunteer that has provided exceptional service to the game and made a notable and measurable difference in their community through rugby league while demonstrating the NRL values of excellence, courage, inclusiveness and team work.
Winner: Terry Abednego from Thursday Island, Queensland
Background: Rugby League in the Torres Strait is closely linked with the unique culture of the people and it evokes those positive feelings of pride in community, belief in yourself and captures the hearts and minds of those that play and support the game.
When it comes to Rugby League in the Torres Strait, there is one man that is the backbone, the heart and the soul. Terry Abednego is the driving force that works tirelessly to create opportunities for the people of Thursday Island and the outer Islands to participate in the game of Rugby League.
Terry is the President of the Zenadth Kes Rugby League which is five team competition, based on Thursday Island.
The competition consists of players from all over the islands of the Torres Strait such as Badu, Mobiag, Iama, and dinghies full of league players can be seen arriving on the beach starting from Friday evening through to Saturday mornings in readiness for the game.
Terry makes sure that all compliance issues with registrations etc. is adhered to and works closely with the NRL and QRL to ensure everything runs smoothly.
Terry is one of only two Senior Club Coaches in far North Queensland and mentors and assists other senior coaches in the region.
Terry's ability to be able to source funding and sponsorship is a credit to him and the game is so much better off for his contribution. He is an inspiring leader for the area and committed to all forms of the game whether it be juniors, women's or seniors.
Grassroots Club of the Year: presented by Telstra
Presented to a Rugby League Club that has fostered participation and enjoyment at all levels of the game and has been an integral part of the local community, displaying innovation in administration.
Winner: Gunning Roos from Gunning, New South Wales
Background: The Gunning Roos were nominated as the 2016 Club of the Year from the Bidgee Region.
The Roos made a recent comeback following a 15-year hiatus from competition, due to lack of players in the small country town.
As well as the social benefits of the resurrection of the Gunning Roos, there has also been an economic boost for the town. Business owners said turnover was up, and there were now more people spending more time in the town.
Gunning's location, 30 minutes from Goulburn and an hour from Canberra, has made it an attractive location to visit and to support the local team again.
Rea Brett runs the local cafe with her partner Damien White, and the pair has sponsored the local team this year, with much delight.
"It's been a long time since we've had something like this in the town so it's good to support them," Ms Brett said.
Mr White said the influx in population and visitors linked to football games was boosting business.
"It's certainly keeping the town alive," he said.
"Now that they're coming back with the football - the ladies with their tag team and the rugby league, there's more people again coming into the town. It's terrific."
National Teacher of the Year: presented by ACCOR Hotels
Presented to a teacher who has demonstrated exceptional support of Rugby League through the provision of opportunities for students to be involved in both practical rugby league activities within their school or district and engaging students by integrating NRL education programs in the classroom.
Winner: Andrew Johnson from Wallsend, New South Wales
Background: Andrew drives rugby league very hard in his school through a rugby league program he has been running for several years. Andrew is a PE teacher and through classroom lessons, he encompasses the specific requirements needed to participate in rugby league through teaching diet, health, fitness, mental preparation, game skills and game strategies in his lessons.
Andrew always ensures School assemblies and presentations have a rugby league feel to them by having NRL Game Development Officers and / or Newcastle Knights players attend.
Andrew organises the Callaghan Cup which is an under 15s gala day open for all high schools in Newcastle to participate. Andrew's rugby league students help run the day by being scorers, touch judges and officials.
Andrew also takes his Year 10 rugby league class to four different primary schools each year to run engagement clinics.
The students travel by bus to these schools with all the equipment on board. The students visit each school and set up 13 different rugby league drills that the students have designed themselves.
Young Person of the Year (new award in 2016): presented by the NRL Community Department
Presented to a young adult (aged 13 – 18) who has participated in an NRL community program and has made a positive contributing to their community through rugby league – either through encouraging others to participate in rugby league or by using rugby league as a vehicle to raise awareness to social and societal issues.
Winner: Shakeela Williams from Nowra, New South Wales
Background: Shakeela is currently undertaking year 12 at Vincentia High School, with an aspiration to attend University to complete a Major in Business Management and go on to run her own business.
Shakeela has already received an offer from University of Wollongong and invites from Sydney University, University of New South Wales and Melbourne University to attend Summer and Winter school programs, where she will continue to explore her study options.
Shakeela attended Parliament House to lobby for Gonski Indigenous school funding and met Bill Shorten at this event earlier this year.
Shakeela has participated in radio interviews with the ABC about Indigenous affairs and is the first Indigenous female to be elected School Vice-Captain at her school.
She regularly facilitates and hosts NAIDOC events in her community and recently composed a welcome song in her local Dhurga language with renowned songwriter William Barton.
The song is performed at cultural events and is based around being included and welcomed to the area.
Shakeela excels with teamwork and leadership skills not only in the many sporting teams she is involved in, but also in her duties as School Vice-Captain where she works with other School Captains as well as the Student Representative Council to ensure the student body is a cohesive functioning voice.
Women in League Achievement Award: presented by Harvey Norman
Presented to a woman who been an outstanding advocate for the advancement and opportunity of women in rugby league and has made a significant contribution to the game of rugby league.
Winner: Kiowa Goodman from Mount Gambier, South Australia
Background: Kiowa has been heavily involved in the week to week running of her local league since its inception in 2014 and on a weekly basis, Kiowa is at the grounds to help set up and pack up, as well as help with scoring across matches.
At the conclusion of the 2014-15 season, Kiowa worked during the off season to recruit players for a proposed women's comp.
After much effort, the club was able to enter a Mount Gambier based women's side for the 2015-16 season.
During the season, Kiowa served as the team manager and took care of match sheets, rego's & sport pulse database.
She also helped with the development & running of the United Storms and Blue Lake Knights Facebook page and recruited players to help manage the first Mount Gambier base women's rugby league side.
In 2016, Kiowa has taken on the role of junior development for all three Mount Gambier based clubs, while continuing to manage the United Storms and Blue Lake Knights Facebook page.
NRL Club Community Program of the Year: presented by AAMI
Presented to an NRL club that recognises, celebrates and rewards excellent and innovative community programs that significantly improve outcomes for their community and foster a culture of learning and support.
Winner: Brisbane Broncos – Beyond the Broncos program
Background: The Beyond the Broncos program aims to improve school attendance rates and year 12 attainment rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in 10 high schools across the Greater Brisbane region.
The objective of the program is to work in partnership with schools and service providers to improve the attendance levels and completion rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students participating in the program. We aim to achieve this by:
Weekly in-school mentoring support from our Brisbane Broncos support officers
Semester challenges and rewards for attendance and behavior
Group presentations on topics including culture, lifestyle and careers
Support in completing year 12 and developing career pathway plans
Exclusive access to Brisbane Broncos staff, players, facilities and events
The club hopes to increase awareness and create social change particularly in issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, by using the Brisbane Broncos and rugby league as the engagement tool; and ensuring transparency and honesty is provided to all stakeholders to demonstrate the Brisbane Broncos' commitment to achieving these objectives.
Community Team of the Year (new acknowledgement in 2016): recognizing the efforts of all Ken Stephen Medal nominees for their dedication and time off the field to support and participate in multiple community projects to make a positive change.
2016 NRL Community Team of the Year:
Brisbane Broncos: Darius Boyd
Canberra Raiders: Sia Soliola
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs: Moses Mbye
Cronulla Sharks: Paul Gallen
Gold Coast Titans: Will Zillman
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles: Brenton Lawrence
Melbourne Storm: Nelson Asofa Solomona
Newcastle Knights: Trent Hodkinson
New Zealand Warriors: James Gavet
North Queensland Cowboys: John Asiata
Parramatta Eels: Tim Mannah
Penrith Panthers: Trent Merrin
St George-Illawarra Dragons: Joel Thompson (2016 Ken Stephen Medallist)
Sydney Roosters: Kane Evans
Wests Tigers: Dene Halatau