Turner hoping to inspire generation next
Premiership-winner Kyle Turner is used to playing in front of huge crowds week in, week out, but on Wednesday afternoon the Rabbitohs back-rower addressed a much smaller audience for an important cause close to his heart.
Speaking via video link to school children from Aboriginal communities in Walgett, Gilgandra and several other towns, Turner promoted the idea of healthy living – namely dental hygiene – through the short story 'Gaarrala Kylegu' or 'Brush with Kyle'.
The initiative – part of the Rugby League Reads program – involved a reading in the Gamilaraay language as well as a Q&A between Turner and the children that addressed issues such as healthy living, goal-setting and, of course, what it's like to play with Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis.
Speaking to NRL.com after the event, the proud Coonabarabran junior explained what it meant to interact with the Indigenous kids.
"Heritage and culture are very special to me, especially coming from the country and being a proud Gamilaraay boy. To be a part of this and to be given the opportunity to influence the younger generation on how to be healthy is special to me," Turner said.
"I remember when I was younger – I think I would have been about 12 or 13 years old – I had David Peachey and Preston Campbell come to our school.
"Other than being starstruck by having NRL players there, they really talked to us about being proud Indigenous people and what it means to represent the people.
"Ever since that moment, I wanted to be a part of that. Being a part of this book, I feel like I am a part of that now and it means a lot to me."
Turner's message to kids extended beyond the over-arching concept of personal hygiene, with the 24-year-old encouraging the students to pick up a footy and play rugby league.
With rule changes set to revolutionise the way junior rugby league is played, there has never been a better time for kids to start playing the game. And as Turner revealed, it's never too late to kick-start one's career. Sometimes all it takes is a few words of wisdom from an NRL star or two.
"My footy career all started from that moment. I wasn't playing rugby league before those guys came to our school but their visit got me into it. If I've inspired some of these kids to play, then that's what my job is to do," he said.
"I played with the Coonabarabran Unicorns. We didn't have the most intimidating team name. At first I just wanted to play to be with my mates and then obviously it got more serious as I got older.
"Our coach took it very seriously but we just loved being around each other. Obviously it got more competitive the older you got, but when we were still kids it was all about having fun.
"I started off as a hooker and then transitioned to centre and eventually finished up in the back row.
"The least amount of travel you had to do was about an hour-and-a-half away or roughly 100kms. We'd travel as far as Nyngan which was about three hours away. It was a lot of travel but I don't regret it for a moment.
"We all travelled to our games on the bus and it was all fun and games. Everyone just enjoyed their time together on those trips and that's what footy's all about."