'The place would crumble without her'

'The place would crumble without her'

When Nate Myles asked which members of the Titans wanted to pop in unannounced to a junior carnival in Mudgee in 2013 and every player on the bus put up their hand, Renee Cohen knew that the message was getting through.

Community engagement has been at the heart of what the Titans have built their club around since their inception in 2007.

Before any players turned up for pre-season training Cohen was recruited to a development role that has morphed a number of times to a position now of Community and Game Development Manager at the Gold Coast Titans.

Coming from a family with split rugby league/rugby union loyalties (Cohen's cousin Mike Brewer played 32 Tests for the All Blacks, her father Graham's league career was hindered by serious knee injuries), Cohen was offered a full-time development role with the ARL in 2004 working on the New South Wales North Coast and has worked within the game ever since.

Even before the Titans were granted an NRL license Tom and Michael Searle approached Cohen about returning to the Gold Coast and over the past decade she has become the conduit between the players and the community that they represent.

Although they were a long way from the pristine beaches of the GC midway through the 2013 season it was the response of the players during their Round 11 trip to Mudgee that reinforced to Cohen the power players can have on footy fans, both young and old.

The Titans' opponents that weekend, Parramatta, had changed their training schedule which meant that they couldn't attend the junior carnival conducted on the Saturday, the day before the game.

"She's probably the most important person in the club."

Gold Coast Titans captain Ryan James on Renee Cohen

With a phone call from a disappointed Mudgee junior rugby league president fresh on her mind Cohen put in a call to Titans coach John Cartwright and football manager Scott Clark and was stunned by the response she received.

"I rang 'Clarky' and he said he was going to put the call out and I could hear them all talking and then he said, 'The whole bus is going'," Cohen tells NRL.com.

"I didn't tell the people running the carnival that they were coming so then they turn up and Nate Myles and Jamal Idris and the whole squad gets off the bus, all the games stop. For a lot of the kids it was the first time they'd ever seen an NRL player.

"I can remember how proud the players were sending me pictures and then the next day they went out and had a cracking game (a club record 42-4 win) and I thought that the feel-good outlook does really help.

"We've done a lot of things in the community and it's hard to pinpoint one or two things but that's probably the one that I felt the most amount of player and community feedback externally.

"We still have a little kid from that carnival who comes to games sometimes from Mudgee because he met Jamal Idris.

"And Nate was the pied piper of it all because by that stage he'd worked out how important it was."

From the Titans' early days when the likes of Preston Campbell and Scott Prince could hold a school assembly's complete attention to Ken Stephen Medal winner Luke Douglas to Konrad Hurrell jumping the fence last Saturday to give a young disabled boy a hug in the rain at Cbus Super Stadium, Cohen has had players on the Gold Coast only too willing to participate in community activations.

Koni jumped over the fence post match to say hello to this little legend! What a game! #thrunthru 💙

A post shared by Aquis Gold Coast Titans (@gctitans) on

 

There are others who have been unsure of their public profile or who have come from other clubs and taken time to embrace the community ethos that the club promotes but have since gone on to be active in their respective communities.

"A lot of players might come across as being a little bit aloof or unsure of people when it's just a matter of explaining them what we're doing and the reasons for doing it," Cohen explains.

"Nate's inherently always had a willingness to help people but when he got to the Titans we really needed to spend some time working with him as to what that was and how he wanted to help which was with the RSPCA and working with animals.

"'Birdy' (Greg Bird) was the same. He had his fair share of things that he'd been through that he hadn't quite let go of so for him to get to the stage where he was helping to coach our 16s and 18s sides was a long way from the person that first walked through the door.

"Players can come to a new club and they've been through something or something has gone wrong and be a bit scared of what's going to happen next.

"Between Jen Cross, Pete Smith and I and Neil (Henry) and the coaching staff we need to get to the bottom of what that is and how we can set them on the right way.

"You don't realise until they're gone that hopefully you've moulded them into something that they can be really proud of themselves."

Current captain and Gold Coast junior Ryan James has understood from his first day as a Titan the importance of connecting with the community but he says that Cohen deserves much of the credit for what the club has been able to achieve over the past 10 years.

"She's probably the most important person in the club," James told NRL.com.

"All the players respect her because she has always been flexible and understanding so even if we can't make something at a certain time she'll change it so we can get out and do the community work.

"Because of Renee the Titans have built this great rapport within the community over the last 11 years.

"I honestly think Renee could run the club. Everyone loves her. If she rang me and asked me to do something I'd do it.

"She's extremely selfless, she always puts everyone else first and we're extremely lucky to have her.

"If she left tomorrow we'd crumble."

Two weeks after she began her role as a development officer in 2004 the Bulldogs scandal in Coffs Harbour broke but having seen the game and the club cop its share of black eyes since, Cohen knows the inherent good that is to be found within rugby league people.

"If a junior league person says to you that they're going to cook a barbecue for whatever it is you're doing, they'll be there," she says.

"They'll be there early, they'll have it sorted; you won't have a second thought of it not being done.

"I don't know whether it's because of the way the game is played but it's very much one-in all-in. If something has gone wrong with someone at a junior league club, all the other junior league clubs pitch in to help that person.

"Some of the players have had pretty tough upbringings. Some of them come from backgrounds that makes you wonder how they've got to where they are now and because of that when you take them somewhere with kids less fortunate they are straight in there.

"There are certain things that you can't teach people and I find rugby league people inherently seem to have that way of understanding people than perhaps some other codes.

"And once they trust you, rugby league people are extremely loyal."