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Why Anzac round means so much to NRL stars

Warriors prop Jamayne Taunoa-Brown grew up in Melbourne watching the annual Anzac Day clash between the two clubs and dreamed of one day getting the chance to play.

Nicho Hynes has waited six years for the opportunity after playing in an under-20s curtain-raiser for Manly on the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli at AAMI Park in 2015.

Hynes, who will play fullback for Melbourne on Sunday night, has an uncle who served in East Timor, while Taunoa-Brown's great uncle was in the Vietnam war.

"You just remember all those who fought for our country and how we are just grateful to be living the way we are because of them and what they sacrificed," Taunoa-Brown said.

"Being born and raised in Melbourne I have been going to the Anzac Day game since I was a little kid so to be a part of it is pretty special and I can't wait to run out with my family and friends there."

Dragons forward Josh McGuire will honour his former army sergeant father, Adam, in the annual Anzac Day match against Sydney Roosters, while fullback Matt Dufty is playing in memory of his grandfather, Lawrence.

Lest we forget: Roosters and Dragons legends remember Anzac Day

McGuire has previously played on Anzac Day for the Broncos but he is excited to play at the SCG against the Roosters on Sunday and will have his father in the stands.

"With Dad being in the army for 30 years, it's something at the end of the day that's close to my heart," McGuire said. "Mum and Dad are coming down with my wife and kids this week, so they'll be here for the game.

"Dad retired from post-traumatic stress, he's on a pension. He did a fair few tours and a fair few deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq and Timor, a lot of service. It's something special to us as a family."

Dufty, whose middle name is Lawrence, said his grandfather never got to watch him play first grade but knows he would be proud.

"My pop was in the air force and he was a very hard kind of guy but I think he would be proud of me playing in this game," Dufty said.

"It is obviously a very special occasion and I remember my first one back in 2018, you focus on just a normal game of footy and then you step out on the field and there are thousands of fans. It just gives you tingles.

"Everyone who has played for the club and served their country finds this game very special. It is just to pay respect to everyone who has given their lives for this country and who has put on the jersey before us."

Rooster Angus Crichton and Dragon Ben Hunt in the special Anzac Day jerseys to be worn on Sunday at the SCG.
Rooster Angus Crichton and Dragon Ben Hunt in the special Anzac Day jerseys to be worn on Sunday at the SCG. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

Annual contests forming their own history

St George Illawarra and the Roosters have been playing for the Anzac Day Cup since 2002 and the match is arguably the biggest on the NRL calendar outside finals and State of Origin.

The Storm-Warriors clash is the only Anzac Day sporting event involving an Australian team playing against one from New Zealand and this Sunday will be the 11th time the two clubs have played on April 25 since 2009.

The brainchild of former Melbourne CEO Brian Waldron, who was inspired by the AFL's annual Anzac Day fixture at the MCG, the match against the Warriors is now considered the Storm's biggest regular season home game.

"Ever since I was young I looked forward to the Anzac games, whether it was the Roosters and Dragons or Storm and Warriors," Hynes said. "After I played here [Melbourne] in 2015, it was really something I wanted to be involved in."

After visiting Melbourne's Shrine of Remembrance, Hynes said he will playing for his uncle, Phil Wilson, who served as a 16-year-old in East Timor.

"He's pretty pumped, he's a very proud Melbourne supporter," Hynes said.

"He always supports me and it will be even more special for him this weekend, so I dare say he will be watching with pride."

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Storm football operations manager Ryan Hoffman, who has played in the Anzac Day match for both clubs, said the Warriors had often felt like they were the support act in Melbourne until the 2017 clash.

"I think for a few years the Warriors felt like it was Melbourne's day but from 2017, in my experience personally, the Warriors really bought in to what it was about," Hoffman said. "We wanted to make Anzac Day ours by putting in a good performance.

"Rightly or wrongly, we think this as the true Anzac Day game, representative of both Australia and New Zealand but the players all know that the game is second.

"Having a lunch during the week and hearing from a soldier or war vet about how they feel on this day, the game pales into comparison with the respect for the occasion.

"It picks up the heart rate listening to The Ode and listening to The Last Post. The warm-up finishes 30 minutes before kick-off so it is a long ceremony but I have never once heard any player complain about it.

"You actually enjoy standing there singing the Australian anthem and the New Zealand boys sing their anthem too. It brings everyone together."

All clubs embracing Anzac weekend

As Anzac Day falls on Sunday this year, there will be a third match between Wests Tigers and Manly at Bankwest Stadium but all clubs will honour the occasion with pre-match ceremonies and special jerseys during ANZAC round.

Townsville, which is Australia's largest garrison city, was scheduled to host an Anzac Day match last year but it did not go ahead due to COVID-19 and the Cowboys will pay tribute to the armed services at Saturday night's match against Canberra.

South Sydney will wear a specially designed sky blue jersey to mark the 100th anniversary of the Royal Australian Air Force, and Rabbitohs prop Tom Burgess said Anzac Day held special significance for him even though his family were English.

"There is a great affiliation between the British and Australian services so I always feel like we are one, to be honest, and this day is just as special to me as it is for all the Aussies," Burgess said.

"My great uncle was in the navy and I have got some other family who were in the forces over in England as well.

"I love this day and to be able to commemorate what everyone did for their country and for the people, so it is great that the NRL buys into it so much."

 

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