Grand final trip of a lifetime
The 2017 NRL Grand Final played host to 27 students and their teachers from Walgett Community College in a program kick-started by former NRL player George Rose to increase school attendance in the area.
Five years ago Rose and organiser Donna Dennis-Horan implemented the attendance program that encouraged children to stay in school with weekly, monthly and yearly incentives.
Week-to-week and monthly attendance would earn children special lunches, while the yearly prize in 2017 was a trip to the NRL decider at ANZ Stadium.
"To hear there were kids only attending school one or two days a week, some only once a month – I thought 'how the hell is this happening?'," Rose told NRL.com.
"Being a former student at the school, it was the right fit. The first year we only had a handful that got 100 per cent attendance.
"This year we had 35 kids and we started to worry about how we were going to fund them going to the game."
The children, who are predominantly of Indigenous background, travelled to Sydney with their teachers on Friday before visiting Coogee Beach and the Koori Knockout at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday.
For some of the students it was their first time experiencing the beach, while attending the NRL grand final on Sunday proved the ultimate highlight to a jam-packed weekend.
Walgett school teacher Michelle Winston travelled with the children and re-lived the experience.
"The highlight for me away from the game was the session at Coogee life-saving club, they taught the kids about beach and river safety," Winston told NRL.com.
"They did nipper activities and the children thrived on it, they wanted to go back the next day.
"We went for a walk around Darling Harbour and had some lunch [on game day]."
Premiership-winning Storm winger Josh Addo-Carr paid the group a visit in the lead-up to the grand final, along with Dubbo-born Roosters utility Connor Watson.
"[Josh] just happened to be at the same hotel and came in to say hello to the kids and they got a couple of photos with him," Winston said.
"They also met Connor Watson – he was lovely, spent a lot of time talking to the children and ate a meal with them.
"This experience will encourage more children to increase their attendance in the future."
Rose admitted most of the students started off as Cowboys fans for the grand final but by full-time were cheering on Melbourne to victory.
Overall, it was their behaviour that impressed him most and hopes they gained something from the experience.
"They were well-behaved, enjoyed the Macklemore performance even though they probably never completely understood who he was," Winston agreed.
"The grand final was awesome – a great atmosphere. The kids really enjoyed it and can now say they've seen some of the big names."