All Stars founder Preston Campbell has revealed how the legendary Arthur Beetson helped inspire his off-field achievements, despite not knowing who he was when they first met.
Campbell, who was 19 when Beetson approached him in the NSW Country dressing rooms in 1996, reconnected with the rugby league Immortal when he played for the Indigenous Dreamtime team in the Welcome to Country match before the 2008 World Cup opener.
"We sat and spoke a number of times about his concerns and what he was proud of in the game," Campbell said. "It was then I started to realise how important community and footy was to him, and how much of an impact he has made in those areas."
Since hanging up his boots in 2011, Campbell has founded the Preston Campbell Foundation, which will host the Icons of Change breakfast at the Sofitel Broadbeach on Friday, February 21 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the All Stars concept he created.
Among the items being auctioned to raise funds for the Campbell's work with disengaged youth and communities ravaged by drought and bushfires is the Indigenous Team of the Century jersey presented to Beetson in 2008.
"I first met Arthur in 1996, I was playing for NSW Country and at the time I think Artie was at the Roosters," Campbell said. "I never knew the man, I had never met him before but he took time after the game to come and sit next to me to basically just give me a pat on the back.
"I didn't even realise who he was to be honest, I was only 19 years old. He introduced himself as Artie Beetson and he said to keep my chin up and just to keep working at it because we got drilled that night.
"I understand now the legacy he was able to leave for people like myself. Doing what we are doing now, with my after-footy stuff, you understand what sort of person he was.
"We have all this stuff now in the game around education but that was one of his concerns – about where were all these young boys going to end up once they stopped being rugby league players.
"I was at the back end of my career and to hear that from someone who had been there, done it and in the position he was it makes you realise how important it is that while you are in the game you take up them opportunities. He has always inspired me to pass that message on to these younger fellas."
Beetson's son, Kristian Heffernan, said his father was proud of Campbell and the likes of Dean Widders, David Peachey, Nathan Blacklock, Greg Inglis, Johnathan Thurston for their community work.
"Preston is a fantastic icon and I think the game is in a very good space at the moment from a community perspective when you look at what he and some of the other guys are doing," Heffernan said.
"I think if you talk to Presto and Dean Widders about when they were sitting next to each other in the dressing room after the Dreamtime game [in 2008] saying this should be annual game, that had a huge impact.
"When you look at the All Stars and where the game has come, what it does for culture, what it does for community and really what it does for the discussion around education of the plight of the Aboriginal people, that is off the back of the Dreamtime game and All Stars."
Veteran administrator Brian Canavan, who was Beetson's strength-and-conditioning coach when he had charge of the Queensland Origin team in 1988 and maintained a long association with him, said he was universally revered throughout Australia.
"He transcended many boundaries in our game both on and off the playing field as a player, coach being the first Indigenous Australian to captain Australia in any sport and a renowned talent identifier and recruiter," Canavan said.
"His achievements and drive enabled him to bring about change and provide leadership giving him great prominence in our game.
"At the more personal level he was a most humble and generous individual who cared deeply about his people and culture. He had a prevailing passion for providing opportunities for his people to flourish and succeed.
"Arthur's name and achievements are indelibly imprinted in rugby leagues' history and the game has been blessed by his contribution."
Get your tickets to see the best of the NRL’s Indigenous and Mãori players going head to head at Cbus Super Stadium on February 22