Harragon leads 'Beanie for Brain Cancer' charge

Rugby league? The greatest game of all. 

Radio broadcaster George Lovejoy coined the phrase 50 years ago, and it's weeks like this that remind us just how important this great game is. 

The NRL, in conjunction with Channel Nine, Fox League, Macquarie Radio Network and the Mark Hughes Foundation, have teamed up to raise awareness for a much-needed cause through 'Beanie for Brain Cancer' round. 

The initiative is the concept of NRL Footy Show and Nine NRL Executive Producer Matt Callander, who was diagnosed with brain cancer last year. 

Sponsorship partners, TV networks and local businesses have leant a helping hand, with all money raised throughout the round going to the Mark Hughes Foundation, with the aim to raise a minimum of $500,000 to fund a three-year research fellowship in another brain cancer research area.

Doing it for 'Hughesy'

For former Newcastle Knights skipper Paul 'Chief' Harragon, the week is all about raising awareness in a bid to help close friend and former teammate Mark Hughes who was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013.

The premiership-winning pair connected immediately given their Kurri Kurri roots and were bound for life when they helped the Knights to the club's first grand final win in 1997.  

Harragon has been a big part of Hughes's battle, even appearing on I'm a Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here to help out his mate. 

"It was unbelievable when we first heard that Hughesy had brain cancer because it was the furthest thing from your mind that you'd associate someone so fit, healthy and young with a disease like that," Harragon told NRL.com. 

"He's always been renowned as the true essence of what a real Newcastle boy is. For me, I look at Danny Buderus, Matt Gidley and Mark Hughes as three of the most humble, greatest players Newcastle has had. 

"I think the word 'humble' is what typifies Hughesy. He's got a certain way about him. He had a great football career, he's got a great business career, but unfortunately he's reached a tough time in his life with brain cancer. The way that he's answering it and tackling it head on is inspiring.

"The sport phenomenon where you play with someone and you go through all those times on the field, it just needs activating again. Something like this is all it took for all the boys and the town to get behind him. I credit most of it to Mark himself because he's such a great fellow so he's the type of person you just want to help out."

The silent killer

Through his work with the Mark Hughes Foundation, Harragon has uncovered some startling facts about brain cancer and is concerned about the lack of government assistance to help find a cure.   

"Since then, I've found out so many people that I know are suffering the same thing, and unfortunately, they're all in the prime of their life," he said. 

"The ugly side of brain cancer is that it does hit people under 40 more than any other cancer, and for children, it's the biggest killer out of any disease. If that's the case, why on earth is there only five per cent of federal government funding going to our children. It's nowhere near good enough. 

"I can't believe it's fallen through the cracks for this long, so let's hope through this wonderful campaign that there's a readjustment to that."

Opportunity of a lifetime

As it always does in times of need, the NRL community has come together to lend a helping hand. 

Jerseys, boots and a range of other memorabilia will be auctioned off with proceeds going directly to the Mark Hughes Foundation. 

While those will be cherished items for their respective buyers, the biggest item on the list is the opportunity to tackle Mount Everest with a host of Knights legends starting on October 14. 

It follows on from last year's event that raised $160,000. 

"We did a coast to coast PNG trip where we went from Buna in the north, rode our bikes, walked the Kokoda Trail and then rode all the way to Port Moresby to raise money," Harragon said. 

"It was great to go there because in the jungles of PNG, those kids and how they live was a real eye-opener. 

"This year we're going to Mount Everest base camp. A hell of a lot of players that he played with are coming along with him to raise money. It doesn't matter if it was for this or another cause, if it's someone within our game who needs help, it's just what we do and we all band together. 

"There are two tickets available that have been donated by Flight Centre and Wild Spirit Adventures. 

"Bottom line is they're around $12,000 for the two tickets so that's not much above retail from what it costs. It includes the flights, the helicopter off the mountain, accommodation and everything is included. 

"You're walking with Mark Hughes, the Johns brothers, Adam MacDougall…the list goes on and on. It's a trip of a lifetime that money can't buy, but the money that is put forward is going straight to a wonderful cause so it's a double-whammy win."