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Rocky the Rooster

They get hugged and harassed.

They are either snapped for social media, or spat on by opposition supporters.

We're talking those over-sized plush toys known as the NRL club mascots.

"I'm always getting asked if people can feel my teeth, which is weird, but then they try and rip them out," said Warren Hutchinson, who "lives" inside one of the Sharks' two mascots, Reefy.

There's actually 20 mascots among the 16 Telstra Premiership clubs since both the Bulldogs, Eels and Sea Eagles have females to run on field with their male counterparts, and the Sharks have two in their "pool" – MC Hammerhead (David Ninness) alongside Reefy.

So who are these people, who spend two hours or so in a suit weighing up to 10 kilograms, where they can lose up to two kilos in sweat?

"I go through three or four litres of water and Powerade ... and then I go home and soak in the bath in epsom salts I'm that sore," Hutchinson said.

"The worst thing is the heat. My suit is two to three inches of padding. On a cold winter’s night I’m pretty toasty in it but on a hot day it’s ridiculous.

MC Hammerhead and Reefy - Sharks mascots
MC Hammerhead and Reefy - Sharks mascots ©Grant Trouville /NRL Photos

"Someone asked me to describe it and I said ‘I’ve never been in a V8 Supercar but I think the heat would be like that’."

Reefy cracked three ribs in 2016 - at a game at GIO Stadium against the Raiders.

"It was half-time and I was standing in the tunnel talking to an ACT federal police officer with my head still on. We were having a bit of a chat and it was a bit dewy as it always is down there," Hutchinson said.

Bella the Bulldogs mascot.
Bella the Bulldogs mascot. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

"He said to me 'Have you ever fallen over?' and I said 'No, surprisingly not'. But he jinxed me. I ran out for the start of the second half and slipped on the NRL logo - my legs just went out from underneath me.

"I heard a crack. It hurt ... but I didn't think anything of it straight away. I hobbled up because I didn't want Paul Gallen to run over the top of me. 

"I went on with the game but my side kept getting more sore. I had X-rays the next day and they found three cracked ribs."

As mentioned, Hutchinson and Ninness are volunteers.

Some – like the pair inside "Brutus" and "Bella" for Canterbury – are paid actors, who do the work as professional entertainers. Many have a gymnastics or trampolining background so they can do flips, cartwheels and dance moves.

Manly's pair – "Egor" and "Ellie" – had to apply and go through an audition process.

Ellie told the Manly website recently that her first game was in 2009.

"I loved it. I can’t even remember if the boys won. It was the fourth best day of my life behind getting married, the birth of my son, and the 2011 grand final win," she said.

Manly mascots Egor and Ellie.
Manly mascots Egor and Ellie. ©Shane Myers/NRL Photos

Both Egor and Ellie won the 2017 Steve Menzies Medal at the club's presentation night for the best volunteer/employee of the season.

Most mascots are club members, who can earn a little on the side in appearance fees. The average pay day is around the $200 mark.

Then there's Charlie Gallico. He's in his 70s and he loves it.

Reggie the Rabbit
Reggie the Rabbit ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

He's a Life Member of South Sydney and has been inside the "Reggie the Rabbit" since 2002.

"Charlie does the job on a voluntary basis, however we pay all of his costs for both home and away games including flights and accommodation," a Rabbitohs spokesman said.

Sparky and Sparkles - Eels mascots
Sparky and Sparkles - Eels mascots ©NRL Photos

"We also cover his costs for any other club or Souths Cares community visits he makes around the state or country."

Charlie loves the job so much that even for Magic Round – when other clubs sent their suits up to Brisbane for the NRL to source wearers locally – 75-year-old Charlie was on a plane north.

His wife Sofia used to come to every game to watch him, not necessarily the Rabbitohs.

When she died in 2013, Adam Reynolds and Issac Luke carried Charlie off the field on their shoulders in Souths' next game, just days later. Forwards Sam Burgess and Jason Clark helped carry Sofia's coffin at the funeral.

"I was crying inside the suit," Charlie told the Sydney Morning Herald at the time.

"That’s when I knew what respect was all about. To me it meant more than anything in the world."

The Rabbitohs have "mountains of respect for Charlie" that would never fade away.

But even those being paid for the gig, genuinely love it.

For Hutchinson, no money will replace the smiles and joy from the crowd.

"For me it’s all about the fans. Even the opposition fans love us," he said.

Bluey and Buck (the two-legged not four-legged horse)
Bluey and Buck (the two-legged not four-legged horse) ©NRL Photos

"The way I see it is that if we can make their game-day experience just that little bit better they’ll tell their friends and bring more people to the game the following week."

The suits cost between $7000 and $10,000 to make or replace.

The memories can't be bought. Like the night Reefy and MC Hammerhead went nuts.

"I made him [Ninness] famous," Hutchinson said. "When we won the grand final in 2016 we both went crazy celebrating. We were jumping around and I accidentally punched his head off - the crowd went wild."

Victor the Viking - Raiders mascot
Victor the Viking - Raiders mascot ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

Hutchinson is a production manager of a sign-making company by day. But he's not giving up his weekend job anytime soon, he's been doing it since 2006.

Victor the Viking has been the Raiders mascot since their first season in 1982.

"A lot of us have been doing it for a very long time ... that tells you right there what we think about being a mascot," Hutchinson said. 

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