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'So upbeat and happy': King in awe of sick kids' courage

After keyboard warriors got into Josh King's head a few years ago, he deleted his social media apps and searched for fulfilment away from his football performance.

The Knights prop found it by spending time with the inspirational kids at the John Hunter Children's Hospital as part of a club initiative.

Regularly visiting since then, the 26-year-old's community work has been recognised with a nomination for the NRL's esteemed Ken Stephen Medal, proudly sponsored by Your Local Club.

"To go up there [to the hospital] and see people with real issues, struggling with life-threatening diseases, it really makes you put everything into perspective and realise what's important," King said.

"When I was just starting my career in the NRL, [I got] the generic thing that everyone cops on social media and things like that.

"There were a few times there where I was in some pretty dark stages, wondering, 'Is this everything I wanted?'

"You've got to pick yourself up and get out of those times. I recognised pretty early on that I was focusing too much on what other people had to say."

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So he disconnected from the online world and gained a new outlook on life by brightening the days of ill children.

"I don't think you can walk out of that place without a smile on your face after you see how happy and full of life so many of those kids are that have life-threatening diseases," King said.

"There's a long list of [friendships], families that I speak to on Messenger every now and then and see how they're going. It is pretty special, the bonds that you form with some of the people.

"It's amazing to see when put in such hard positions and such tragic circumstances how the kids can be so happy, just full of life, and how the parents are able to support them. It's honestly unbelievable, you can't fathom how strong those families are."

The COVID-19 pandemic restricted in-person visits in 2020 but King stayed in touch with the kids by video calling on an iPad.

Newcastle's full squad traditionally attend the annual Christmas Party at John Hunter Children's Hospital, but last year's event fell on a rostered day off. King helped organise all the players to come along.

The front-rower happily engages in a variety of community activities, including being the Adopted Knight at Edgeworth Public School and Ashtonfield Public School since 2019.

"The best thing about kids is they don't care who you are, they don't care how many games you've played or how many tries you've scored," said King, who, for the record, has scored twice in 73 games.

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"As soon as you put on the Knights jersey, they're just so excited to be talking to an NRL player. They're always so upbeat and happy."

And as a miner's son who completed an electrical apprenticeship in the mines, he is a passionate advocate for the industry.

He also enjoys public speaking whenever the chance arises.

If King was to win the fan vote, which closes on August 8 and will decide one of four Ken Stephen Medal finalists, he will collect a $3500 cash prize for his junior club, the Singleton Greyhounds.

"I go back and do a little bit of stuff with the Greyhounds as well ... It would mean a lot to be able to give back to them a little bit. They gave so much to me coming through," he said.

King's Newcastle teammate Connor Watson won the Ken Stephen Medal last year for his Boots for Brighter Futures initiative.