Beanie for Brain Cancer Round has kicked off with Mark Hughes announcing a bold initiative to take the research of his foundation to the next level with a global hunt on for a research head.
Announcing the launch of the round at Rugby League Central on Wednesday morning before a 150km trek to Newcastle to raise funds for the Mark Hughes Foundation, he also thanked the family of Clive Churchill and Sportsbet for a $50,000 cash injection.
Churchill's widow Joyce generously donated Clive's first Test jersey from 1948 to raise funds for the MHF, with Sportsbet paying $50k to purchase the jersey and house it publicly in the Heroes and Legends museum at RLC.
Announcing the initiative, Hughes along with his wife Kirralee thanked the Churchill family, the Callander family – who lost Channel 9's NRL executive Matt Callander to brain cancer in 2017 – the NRL and Sportsbet for their support.
Trekking to a cure: New initiative boosts Beanie Round
"I don't think Kirralee ever could have dreamed this big," Hughes said.
"Matt Callander was the driver [of the beanie concept], he really drove that with his wife Anne.
"Every year we kept thinking 'how can we beat this' and every year we seemed to manage to do that.
Old mates act: Hughes' Wolfpack hunting for a cure
"We're announcing something really big which we're so excited about and it doesn't happen without the people in this room.
"Comparing it to rugby league the foundation needs a marquee player.
"We're not chasing a trophy or two points, we're chasing something far more important - we're chasing a cure for brain cancer.
"So we're extremely excited to announce today that over the next two months we're going to aggressively pursue a head of brain cancer and they're going to work out of the University of Newcastle.
"It's going to be a huge thing for brain cancer, we're going to find a person from somewhere around the world who's going to expand on our already great team.
"Over the next five years the Mark Hughes Foundation is putting $7.5 million towards this. This person will develop a team and then be able to help our already great research team right across Australia."
NRL CEO Andrew Abdo paid credit to Hughes, the Callander and Churchill families and thanked Sportsbet for their contribution.
"Seeing the players and the clubs, all of us, wearing these fantastic beanies is a great metaphor for what we're trying to do," Abdo said.
"We're trying to achieve a bold ambition of eliminating the impact of brain cancer. It's now part of the calendar that's embedded in and will be for many years to come.
"It's a great legacy for the Mark Hughes Foundation and for all of us who have been impacted or want to make a difference and positively contribute.
"This is the fifth year we've done this but over four years the Mark Hughes Foundation has raised $11 million. That's phenomenal – 620,000 beanies have been sold and that's the way our fans and players and clubs and community can really feel part of this movement. And this movement is growing."
Racing industry legend Ken Callander, father of Matt, thanked Joyce for deciding to donate the historic jersey.
"I've been mates with Rod her son for 30-odd years and two years ago during the brain cancer round Rod rang me up and said 'Mum wants to talk to you'," Callander said.
"Joycey got on the phone and said 'I've got Clive's first Test jersey here. I treasure it but I'd love to give it to the Mark Hughes Foundation to raise money for brain cancer. What a generous and beautiful lady."
Immediately after the launch a host of rugby league luminaries, other athletes, actors, comedians and more walked to the Opera House before Thursday's trek to Newcastle.
Hughes's former Knights teammate Bill Peden will be among the walkers who will travel 150km in three days in time to arrive at McDonald Jones Stadium for Newcastle's Saturday afternoon clash with the Warriors.
Legendary Broncos, Maroons and Kangaroos winger Wendell Sailor told NRL.com of the importance of being involved in the walk and the initiative.
"I played against Mark, he's such a great bloke and the family," Sailor said.
"We came through an era in the '90s and 2000s where, we played hard and we caught up and had good times. Mark Hughes is a good fella and I’m good mates with him.
"Over the years I've done a bit of stuff for him and Legends of League and that and it's been great."
Beyond that, brain cancer had also touched Sailor's own family
"I lost a young friend in my family and my son, Tristan, he lost a young friend called Gussy Larkin, who was only 13 or 14, and he went to Waverley, played at the Clovelly Crocs with Victor Radley and all the boys, and he passed away at a young age, so we saw what he went through and it was tough," Sailor added.
"It's a great cause, great people and that's why, I don't care what code you are, we're a family and that's what we do. I've played at his golf days the last couple of years and he's just a champion bloke and this is a great cause."
Beanies will be available from Lowes Australia stores, selected IGA stores and online from the MHF website markhughesfoundation.com.au