I start this column with a heavy sigh because I’ve spent the past week defending rugby league to my friends and family. Again.
I’m sure everyone is sick of opinion on opinion surrounding the recent off-field dramas in the NRL, so I won’t bother giving you mine. All I am is extremely disappointed that when news started breaking over representative weekend my only thought was “here we go again”.
Instead, I’m going to counterbalance some of the negativity with a really nice story Big League is running this Indigenous Round.
It was written by my good mate and colleague Pamela Whaley, who is much more talented than I, so hopefully I won’t muck this re-telling up too much.
She sat down with Kevin Heath, a 26-year-old former footy player who had to give the game away due to injury. In addition to his day job as an Aboriginal sexual health promotion officer with NSW Health, he runs the Dream Time Academy, where he mentors young athletes in things ranging from goal-setting to rugby league training.
The programme is for girls and boys across different sports and ethnicities and is aimed at making sure their dreams stay on the right track.
Players like Cody Walker, Adam Reynolds, Dylan Walker and Eloni Vunakece have helped out at the Academy, with Vunakece saying he is a prime example of someone who stuck with something and persevered – making his NRL debut at the age of 28.
This quote from him particularly struck me.
"The aim is to keep some of these kids away from the bad side of the world. I’m down for raising up other people. I’m hoping that others can succeed and we can make the world a better place."
It’s a beautiful sentiment and goes to show there is always plenty to be proud of in the game. It genuinely has the power to change lives for the better, and there are many players who go out of their way to use their profiles to have a real impact on the community.
Hopefully this small snippet gives you a great story to share the next time someone bags the NRL!
And another thing… Quite unbelievably, Origin is only a few weeks away. Not only is the game itself one of my favourite times of year, endlessly speculating about which teams will get named brings us great joy in the Big League office. The newest question is whether the Trbojevic brothers will get a start for NSW. I’d love to see it but not sure there is space for both of them.