'Man of service' Winterstein a shining light for youngsters

As his lengthy career enters its twilight, Penrith's Frank Winterstein believes it's his duty to give something back to rugby league.

A self-described "man of service" who gets satisfaction from helping others, the 32-year-old is a Ken Stephen Medal nominee for his mentoring work.

"It's very humbling and I guess it's nice recognition for the work you do for the community. You definitely don't do this sort of stuff wanting a reward," Winterstein told NRL.com.

After joining Penrith from Manly one round into the 2019 season, Winterstein didn't take long to serve the community around his new home.

He engages in the Panthers on the Prowl "Building Young Men" program, visiting high schools to mentor teenagers and prepare them for the future.

"I've been around long enough to know how much positive influence you can have, especially on the kids who are struggling," Winterstein said.

"It's nice to invest in them and give up your time because obviously you can't get time back. I think they really appreciate it and it's definitely something I get a lot of joy out of doing.

"[It's nice] when the kids reach out to you and just say they really appreciated the time I sacrificed and went there."

Winterstein, who made his NRL debut with Canterbury in 2008 before heading to England, regularly visits the Cobham Juvenile Justice Centre, Long Bay Correctional Centre and Silverwater Correctional Centre to speak to detainees.

"These guys need it the most out of everyone. They've made mistakes – we all make mistakes, no-one's perfect in this life," Winterstein said.

"So for them to realise once they leave those institutions, mud doesn't have to stick for the rest of their lives. They can change for themselves and their families and everyone that's depending on them."

Winterstein also participates in the Mama Lana's food service for the homeless and is a Voice Against Violence and NRL State of Mind ambassador.

"The NRL's such a platform - everyone knows what NRL is. For NRL players to get amongst State of Mind and Voice Against Violence is massive and it's a big responsibility for us to uphold those programs," he said.

"To have my name attached to those programs is something I'm so proud of."

While the Samoan international said he hadn't battled mental health issues, his 19-year-old cousin Francis – the brother of former Cowboys winger and State of Mind advocate Antonio Winterstein – tragically took his own life in 2015.

"It was a real eye-opener. I didn't really see it coming. Obviously coming from an Islander family, we're big on family communities," he said.

"It's definitely a topic that's close to my heart and I know a lot of Pasifika people are suffering from mental illness.

"To be involved in State of Mind and pick up tools along the way and educate myself with the whole perspective of mental illness is something I'll [use to] raise my kids.

"I've got two young men and all that stigma of men not speaking up and bottling a lot of emotions has that flow-on effect to their adult years."

Winterstein is finishing his assessments for a Certificate IV in Elite Athlete Wellbeing Management and hopes to remain in rugby league after his playing days.

Frank Winterstein and his cousin Antonio Winterstein after a match in 2018.
Frank Winterstein and his cousin Antonio Winterstein after a match in 2018. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

"Especially helping the young Polynesians in the game - our population is growing within the game, we're almost at 50 per cent," he said.

"I [want] to enter that space and help clubs become culturally aware. It's different because we're raised in Australia but we're also raised with a lot of sentimental values that our parents have brought across from the islands.

"Something I'm really passionate about is helping our young Pasifika youth and also young teenagers going through the game with the ups and downs, media scrutiny and trying to juggle a social life.

"If you asked the 18-year-old me if I'd ever get into this stuff, I'd 100% say no because I was such a shy kid and I hated all the corporate and sponsorship events.

"But the older I got, I saw the work we did in small towns and communities and the effect it has on these people. That's stuck with me and I grew into this role."

 

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

Help is available 24/7 for anyone who has mental health issues by calling Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14