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Ken Stephen Medal nomination a fitting farewell for Lawrence

Chris Lawrence is regarded as one of the NRL's good guys, so it's fitting that he's nominated for the Ken Stephen Medal.

Fourteen years after the Wests Tigers legend debuted on the wing as a fresh-faced high school student, his playing days will conclude with Saturday's clash against Parramatta at Bankwest Stadium.

He will be remembered as an ultra-reliable, versatile and resilient player, but also a man who gave and commanded respect.

An active participant in Tigers community events and a proud Beyond Blue ambassador, Lawrence is one of 14 players up for the Ken Stephen Medal, brought to you by My Property Consultants.

"As soon as you get thrown into the limelight as a football player, you get put on a platform where you can try and help others and make change," Lawrence said when asked what drives him.

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"I suppose I felt a bit of a responsibility to not only act in a certain way, provide a bit of guidance and help mentor people, but to share my knowledge and experience and help others wherever I could.

"That's been instilled in me from a young age."

Lawrence has been involved with Beyond Blue, a mental health and wellbeing organisation, since they partnered with the Tigers in 2016.

I get a real kick out of hearing someone say, 'Thank you so much for some of the things you helped me through'

Ken Stephen Medal nominee Chris Lawrence

The 31-year-old initially became an ambassador so he could gain tools to support teammates as well as deal with personal situations.

"At the Wests Tigers, unfortunately, we had Mosese Fotuaika who took his own life in 2013," Lawrence said.

"The Wests Tigers have seen plenty of guys have their careers cut short with injury, and obviously I've had my own struggles with injury, so I've seen first-hand some of the downside of footy and the effect it can have mentally and physically."

Even in the COVID-19 world, Lawrence has continued to promote causes like R U OK? Day via social media and video chats.

The ultimate club man, Lawrence arranged and paid for the Synergy wellbeing platform to be available to Tigers staff and players who were stood down at the height of the pandemic.

"Obviously with the uncertainty, it wasn't something the club could afford, but I thought it was really important," he said.

"I felt it was my responsibility, given it's a club I've been at for so many years, to make sure there was something out there to help."

Off the back of that, Lawrence organised a free online seminar through his ONE Wellbeing business, which caters to athlete education and corporate performance.

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About 250 people tuned in to hear strategies the Australian representative has used to navigate adversities.

"I get a real kick out of hearing someone say, 'Thank you so much for some of the things you helped me through' ... whether it's through injury, an illness or a just a tough time," he said.

Lawrence has loved being part of Tigers programs like their annual School Blitz and Celebrating Differences. 

"Going to schools and seeing kids' faces when you turn up, you might only be going to chat to them for 20 minutes or kick a footy around ... but it's just about the joy you bring people," he said.

The veteran star hopes to leave a footballing legacy of someone who could always be counted on.

It's safe to say he's the same off the field.

Keith Galloway and Chris Lawrence in 2011.
Keith Galloway and Chris Lawrence in 2011. ©NRL Photos

"It doesn't matter what you did or what you achieve, just remain true to yourself and the values that you live by," Lawrence said.

"Hopefully that's the thing I can hang my hat on and say, look, it didn't matter whether it was good, bad, whatever happened to me throughout my career - I was the same person."

As for winning the Ken Stephen Medal, Lawrence would be humbled but isn't fussed - he believes every nominee is deserving.

"It's special to be nominated, but to highlight how much all of our players in the game are doing, to me that's the honour," he said.

 

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