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Profiling the 2019 Ken Stephen Medal nominees

The 15 nominees for this year's Ken Stephen Medal have all devoted their time and energy into worthy community and charity projects, often without prompting from their clubs.

And while they don't do it for recognition, winning the Ken Stephen Medal would be a deserved reward for any of these players.

Fans can vote on to pick the nominee they believe deserves to be a finalist for the 31st Ken Stephen Medal, which will be awarded in grand final week.

The 2019 Ken Stephen Medal is proudly supported by wealth, property and well-being consultancy, One Solutions.

The 2019 nominees:

Josh Aloiai (Wests Tigers)

Josh Aloiai consistently uses his platform in the NRL to make a positive contribution to the community.

In addition to being a Voice Against Violence Advocate for the NRL, Josh is actively engaged in Wests Tigers community programs with a focus on well-being, education and inclusion.

As part of this program, Josh has visited local hospitals in Campbelltown, Liverpool, Westmead and Sydney Children’s, participating in Wests Tigers Christmas toy drives, Easter visits, Radiothon, International Women’s Day at Liverpool hospital, Dry July and World No Tobacco Day.

Josh is the face of the Wests Tigers’ anti-bullying ‘Celebrating Differences’ program which educates students on celebrating our differences and accepting people living with a disability.

He was involved in the creation of this program which has been delivered to schools in the Inner and South West of Sydney. This presentation was a key focus for 2019 and has reached more than 15,000 school students during a two-day Wests Tigers Community Carnival

Outside of his regular club commitments Josh goes above and beyond to assist with different youth, community and charity groups. Josh is most passionate about the work he does for Feel the Magic, a charity that helps bereaved children and kids aged 7-17, by educating and providing support to improve mental health and well-being.

This is a cause very close to Josh's heart as he lost his own father when he was just 13. Josh volunteers for Feel the Magic as a mentor at their Camp Magic Programs, which is the largest grief and support program in Australia.

In order to maintain his charitable work and community outreach, Josh has to juggle a hectic schedule which includes his NRL training commitments as well as studying for a Diploma in Small Business at night school.

Andrew McCullough (Broncos)

A key member of the Broncos pack, McCullough puts as much heart into his charitable endeavours as he does on the field. 

A shining example of Andrew’s desire to help was when Guide Dogs Queensland were chosen as part of our 2019 Charity Partner Program he extended an initial photo opportunity to become an ambassador for the charity and regularly helps Guide Dogs Queensland in his own time 

He was also on the front foot of community leadership visiting the Islamic College of Brisbane in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack in March.

Andrew visited the school and encouraged other players to join him to remind the students and staff that they were a special part of our community and we are stronger together.

What sets Andrew apart is his desire to help those doing it tough outside of his regular club commitments. Andrew has made a number of private visits to different Brisbane hospitals this year to visit those who need a pick me up the most. 

As a part of the Broncos leadership group, Andrew sets an example for not only the younger players, but the whole team, on how to use a privileged position for good and make a difference in the community that supports the team.

Broncos hooker Andrew McCullough.
Broncos hooker Andrew McCullough. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

Adam Elliott (Bulldogs)

Adam Elliott is an ambassador for the Bulldogs’ flagship Community Cohesion program and his involvement is a key asset in engaging with students who see him as a hero and role model.

Adam has been involved in the Community Minded Kids (CMK) program which is linked to children’s education to inspire and instil community mindedness and spiritedness. Children learn about their community and ways to contribute to make it a better place.

CMK is a primary school-based program that aims to foster community minded thinking in children. It fosters collaborative relationships between the student, school, family and community to promote civic participation and community well-being.

For the past year, Adam has been an Ambassador to the Autism Community network charity. Adam is passionate about raising awareness of autism, and is driven to see more opportunities for people on the spectrum, including for his own brother, James.

Adam has had a huge impact on the autism community in the local area.

In addition to his club community commitments, Adam takes his personal time to call into George Bass School and Chalmers Road school which each has a large number of autistic students. He has formed relationships with teachers at each of these schools and conducts his visits out of his own time and off his own back.

Newcastle's Connor Watson.
Newcastle's Connor Watson. ©Shane Myers/NRL Photos

Connor Watson (Knights)

Connor Watson is determined to use his platform in the NRL to make positive change. 

Following the suicide of his young cousin, Connor, with the support of the Knights and his parents, created the Cultural Choice Association (CCA) to raise awareness and to support the prevention of Indigenous youth suicide in Australia. 

In celebration of NAIDOC Week, Connor visited two local primary schools to speak about his life, his connection to country and his mob, the importance of NAIDOC week to him and his journey to becoming a rugby league player. 

Connor is also involved as a mentor with the Kick-Off Program, a joint initiative co-delivered by the Knights and NSW Juvenile Justice, the NSW Children’s Court, Allambi Care, and The Salvation Army Employment Plus.

The aim of the program is to identify young people who are at risk of long-term involvement with the criminal justice system and link them with a professional sportsperson as a mentor.

The first young person that Connor mentored has achieved full-time employment. Prior to entering the program, he had spent months dealing with drug withdrawals and anxiety issues that limited his ability to take positive steps forward with regard to employment.  

Connor understands the unique opportunity he has to use his profile to raise awareness and inspire change around causes that are close to his heart. 

Josh Addo-Carr (Storm)

The Storm winger is one of the NRL’s most respected and influential Indigenous players.

His recent appointment to the NRL's Indigenous Players Advisory Group is further recognition of his leadership across the sport and the standing in which his peers hold him.

Josh is a member of the Storm Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) Committee and has attended a number of men’s gatherings across the state, talking about behavioural change and providing Indigenous men with the opportunity to talk about their experiences.

He is a humble, genuine club man who has time for everyone and gives his time generously, always willingly taking on further club commitments.

Josh has an active involvement in the NRL School to Work program which is delivered to more than 80 students in 14 schools across Victoria. He shares his story as a young Indigenous person growing up in Sydney through hardship and talks about what helped him make the right decisions to become an elite rugby league player. 

He completed his Certificate 4 in Educational Support at RMIT which he is keen to pursue and set the foundation for working in mentoring and leadership.

During his three years at the club, Josh has spoken to hundreds of young people on a number of occasions about being jailed as a teenager and how this harrowing experience was a turning point in his life.

In May this year Josh committed to an ongoing monthly donation to Zoos Victoria’s Sumatran Tiger Adoption Program, which supports Melbourne Zoo to care for its big cats and works towards removing the tigers from the critically endangered list.

Community shows overwhelming support for Mark Hughes Foundation

Corey Norman (Dragons)

Corey Norman joined the Dragons this season and quickly recognised the importance of being engaged in grassroots programs.

He appreciates the positive influence NRL players have had on his own development, so he has been active in attending local junior league clubs, school assemblies, community events and training experiences.

Corey has also shown an active interest in the visits from children involved in the Clontarff Academies from Dubbo South, Mt Druitt and Shalvey who have attended training this year as part of their program to assist young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men to improve their education, life skills, discipline and self-esteem. 

With a genuine interest beyond his club requirements, Corey has also volunteered to spend time with students participating in the NRL School to Work program as well as young men and women involved in PCYC Groups and Youth at Risk who have also attended training at various stages throughout the year. 

Since 2018, outside of his commitment to the NRL, Corey has regularly volunteered his time with the Pass It On Clothing & Co - a company founded in 2016 by Chris Vagg and Olga Puga which takes clothing donations directly to those in need.  

Corey takes great satisfaction in helping and inspiring others; he has a unique gift in this space and seeks opportunities where he can assist and/or become involved and always does so with commitment and enthusiasm.  

Corey demonstrates leadership and encourages others to also become involved in community and charitable activities. 

Agnatius Paasi (Warriors)

Agnatius Paasi is always one of the first players to volunteer for extra community work. His particular area of interest is children and families, especially those doing it tough due to poverty and homelessness. He has completed a youth aid qualification and is a loving father of four. 

Agnatius has been the key driver behind the Warriors regular visits to Auckland soup kitchens this year, as well as the raincoat program with KidsCan children's charity who work with children in low socio economic areas providing basic food items, warm raincoats, shoes, socks and health care items. 

As a fundraiser for the Leukaemia and Blood Foundation, Agnatius is seeking sponsors before he cuts off his signature locks at the final game of the 2019 season.

Agnatius was the driving force in organising a container of building materials, education materials, blankets, clothing and food that was sent to Tonga following Cyclone Gita.

He has also been a regular participant assisting with the facilitation of the Warriors Mental Wealth programs which have been delivered through Grassroots Rugby League clubs in New Zealand.

Agnatius is grateful for the opportunities he has as a professional football and likes to be reminded of how fortunate he is and live a life that enables him to help others..

Agnatius believes that every human being deserves to have the same opportunities to live a full and happy life regardless of their beginnings, middle or end.  He is always open and positive in his dealings with people and will go out of his way to help.  

James Tedesco (Roosters)

Winner of the 2019 Wally Lewis Medal, 2018 Brad Fittler Medal and 2018 Jack Gibson Medal, James Tedesco’s on-field achievements are well documented. 

James has regularly donated his time to participate in community initiatives including Eastern Suburbs and Central Coast school visits and holiday camps. James has earned great respect among his football peers and staff for his contribution both on and off the field. However, it is the work that James does in his own time that really demonstrates his generosity.  

Following his participation in the “headcoach” campaign, James has forged a relationship with headspace, a national youth mental health foundation. headspace provides mental health services to young Australian men and women aged 12 to 25. In their national campaign, James speaks candidly about his debut at the Wests Tigers and subsequent season-ending injuries. 

James is a patron of the Sporting Chance Cancer Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation committed to making life easier for children with cancer. Since joining the Foundation in 2018, James has provided support by personally attending fundraising events including The White Event and Celebrity Golf Day.

He has regularly donated merchandise to numerous events including their annual Sporting Chance Race Day at Randwick.

James's schedule has been packed and ever-changing in 2019 but he always make time for his charitable commitments. 

Titans fullback Michael Gordon.
Titans fullback Michael Gordon. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Michael Gordon (Titans)

Gordon joined the Gold Coast Titans at the end of 2017 and has enjoyed a career spanning more than 250 games over 14 seasons at five different NRL clubs.

Michael epitomises commitment to his community. As part of his club commitments at the Titans, Michael is an ambassador for his local junior rugby league club, the Tweed Coast Raiders. Despite his playing and training commitments, he contributes to the club every week by donating his time as a water runner and in the club canteen. 

Being a senior member of the Titans playing group, and one of the longest-serving players in the NRL, Michael understands the importance of giving back to the community and is always one of the first to volunteer his time. He has a passion for giving back to the juniors who play the game.

Whether it’s with the local under-10s or with the Titans Elite Development System squad, Michael always finds time to share his wisdom.   

Since joining the Titans, Michael is consistently among the players with the most hours logged in community work. He is also an ambassador for Play NRL, helping the next generation of players to develop their love of the game.

Michael has been a supporter of the newly developed mobile app Bolt For Gold, a walk or run charity-fundraiser app. It allows kids and fans to run against their favourite sports star, while raising awareness and money for their chosen charity. Michael has been involved in races that raised funds for the Westpac Life Saving Rescue Helicopter, and most recently for mental health charity, LIVIN.     

For many years. Michael has supported the annual initiative ‘Jersey Day’ raising awareness of organ and tissue donation, and the Donate Life Network.   

Josh Dugan (Sharks)

Josh Dugan has consistently committed himself and taken initiative to make positive change through his regular charity and community work. Josh has worked closely with the Sharks Have Heart supported program, the Make Bullying History Foundation and its founder, Brett Murray. 

After attending schools with Sharks Have Heart, Josh really connected with the program and took on the role of being an ambassador for the Make Bullying History Foundation.   

Josh regularly makes himself available for school visits with the Make Bullying History Foundation when his training commitments allow. At these visits, he speaks on his personal experience with bullying, what he has overcome in the past and strategies to deal with bullying that students can also utilise. 

In 2019, Josh took it upon himself to do something for a charity close to his heart, Bear Cottage, a warm and homelike environment providing respite, support and end-of-life care for children with life-limiting conditions and their families.

Josh previously had a close friendship with 14 year old Gabe, who suffered from brain cancer and spent his final days at Bear Cottage.

Josh decided to part ways with his nine-month-old ‘mullet’ and started a campaign to raise money for Bear Cottage. Through his own efforts and gaining the support of people around him, Josh was able to raise over $6000 as well as awareness for Bear Cottage through this campaign he led.

He also took it upon himself to invite 15 children with autism and other intellectual disabilities from Engadine HS Special Needs Unit to a Sharks NRL training session as part of National Autism Day 2019. 

As well as these initiatives Josh has taken in addition to his club commitments, he has become an NRL State of Mind Advocate for 2019 to further build on his passion and work around mental health. 

Sia Soliola (Raiders)

Sia Soliola is the consummate club professional in his understanding and dedication to promoting both the game of rugby league and the Canberra Raiders. He understands his role both as a club leader where he is often referred to in the media as the “spiritual leader” and someone who brings the internal values of the Raiders to life.

As part of his club commitments, Sia has been involved in an extensive range of activities including Shave for a Cure, NRLD School Holiday Clinic and McHappy Day.

Sia works each Monday (even after a heavy game the day before) in the Early Morning Centre’s Soup Kitchen as his commitment to improving the lives of people who experience homelessness.This is an extension to Sia’s work raising money through the Vinnie’s CEO Sleepout and has been an on-going commitment for more than three years.

Sia has a long-term associations with a range of charitable organisations. He is a well-known ambassador for children with Angelman’s Syndrome - an association which began during his time playing in the UK. He also works with Kulture Break that uses the performing arts to assist disadvantaged children.

The Raiders have had a longstanding relationship with Menslink, an organisation that specialises in counselling at-risk young men which Sia has become an ambassador for and he’s also the face of the Silence is Deadly program. 

Apart from the breadth of Sia’s involvement in areas outside of his Raiders commitments, it is the long-term commitment he has made to many programs which demonstrates that his dedication goes well beyond any passing fad or box-ticking exercise.

Maroons make special visit to inspire Queenslanders

Frank Winterstein (Panthers)

As part of his regular club commitments Frank is heavily involved in as many community, development and charity events as possible, including as an NRL State of Mind and Voice Against Violence Advocate.

Frank supports and works with Panthers Indigenous Welfare Officer, Glen Liddiard, in the juvenile justice system, visiting and being a part of programs at Cobham Juvenile Justice Centre, Long Bay Correctional Centre and Silverwater Correctional Centre. 

Frank is also a stand-in mentor for the Panthers on the Prowl 'Building Young Men' Program focused on providing positive role models and making a lasting impression on local teenage boys in a 22 week program.

Frank is always asking to be a part of as much as he can be within the community and leading by example to the rest of the playing group.

Donating his time to local school assemblies and early-morning programs where possible, Frank has been involved with a local community foundation Mama Lanas to help prepare meals and serve food to the homeless and underprivileged.

A humble, down-to-earth person with a genuine desire to give back to the community, Frank is an example to his own children, the players and other young people.

Frank Winterstein embodies the NRL's values. Grounded, humble and happy to be playing footy as his full-time job, he carries with him a positive attitude whether he is in a classroom, mentoring students or part of a junior league clinic.

Gavin Cooper (Cowboys)

With 300 first-grade games under his belt, Gavin Cooper is one of the club's elder statesmen.

As well as a solid on-ground record, Gavin is a pillar in his local community and an active participant in the Cowboys’ Adopt a School program. He’s adopted not one, but two schools - Hermit Park State School and Wulguru State School - and forged strong bonds with the kids during the nine years he’s been engaged in the project.

During his visits, Gavin leads the classroom in sporting activities and covers important conversations about health, education and respect. 

Gavin is also an ambassador for the Daniel Morcombe Foundation, using his influence off the field to promote the work and mission of the foundation.

The foundation was established by Bruce and Denise Morcombe after their son Daniel was abducted and murdered in December 2003 while waiting to catch a bus. Through his ambassadorship, Gavin aims to educate children and young people to ensure their safety in a physical and online environment.

Gavin’s easy-going nature was tested in February this year when he and his family were some of the residents displaced from their homes following the North Queensland flood crisis which devastated the Townsville community. 

This was a very emotional time for many players and staff at the club, but Gavin put on a brave face to brighten the spirits of others in the community. As well as donating his time, Gavin donated meal vouchers to emergency service personnel and community recovery staff.

With his career as an NRL player plus the commitment of being a business owner and father to young children, the time Gavin has available off the field is often limited. But he makes time to engage with the community as often as possible, lending a hand where it is most needed.

Eels back-rower Nathan Brown.
Eels back-rower Nathan Brown. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

Nathan Brown (Eels)

Nathan’s enthusiasm and ability to communicate with people of all ages is an enormous asset; his passion and commitment to serving the community makes him a true leader.

Nathan has been a proud ambassador of the Eel’s charity partner, Westmead Children’s Hospital (WCH) for the past two years and has also made more appearances for club obligations than anyone else at the club.

Outside of Nathan’s regular club commitments he goes above and beyond in his spare time and dedicated days off. Many times on his day off, Nathan attends the Hospital for several hours taking merchandise, posters, wristbands, stickers and anything else the Eels had to give to some of the kids in the Hospital.

Nathan would not only ensure patients received something, he would make sure siblings also received something, acknowledging that the tough times are shared with the whole family.

Nathan has assisted with many Hospital fundraising events including Race for Grace, creating a fundraising page and attending City 2Surf to greet winners at the finish line, attending the WCH stand at the Easter Show, being apart of the Curing Home Sickness Video, visiting and organising video messages for kids who are not doing to well and facilitating and organising prizes for gala dinners.  

In round one this year, Nathan was taken from the field with a torn pec, which required surgery and a sling for seven weeks. Instead of being dejected by his predicament, he decided to turn this set-back into a positive.

On his visits to the hospital, Nathan used his injury to show and reinforce to patients the amount of rehab work he has to do to get back on the field and encouraged them to push through their adversity.

Joel Thompson (Sea Eagles)

Joel Thompson is one of the NRL's most experienced and respected players both on and off the field.

His outstanding community work was recognised in 2016 when he won the Ken Stephen Medal.

Founder of the Mindset Project, Joel has been a mental health advocate for many years, using his profile to share his lived experience and decrease the stigma around mental illness.

This year, Joel has delivered his program to 24 schools ranging from the Northern Beaches, Western Sydney, the Riverina as well as remote and regional areas in NSW and Queensland.

So far this year, Joel has shared his story and the importance of making positive choices in life to around 2,500 young people aged between 11 and 18 in schools, providing them tools to build resilience and seek help if they need it.

Joel works with disadvantaged youth, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous aiming to ensure that they feel included and have the opportunity to understand how to look after their health and well-being.

He has been involved in a wide range of club-based initiatives such as Come and Try JRL clinics, school holiday clinics as well as member events and school visits to assist teachers with challenging kids. He’s also ambassador of Avalon Youth Hub offering free one-on-one counselling for young people and links them up with the services they need.

Joel juggles his professional and personal commitments as a father to two young kids, but still manages to travel to remote and regional parts of NSW and Queensland on his days off to fulfil his obligations.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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