Rabbitohs star Cody Walker has won the fan vote for the Ken Stephen Medal, confirming his place as one of four finalists for the NRL's prestigious community award.
A passionate Indigenous leader who is heavily involved in South Sydney's various programs, Walker has earned a $3500 cash prize for his junior club Casino Cougars by taking out the fan vote.
Brought to you by Your Local Club, the annual Ken Stephen Medal recognises the impactful off-field endeavours of an NRL player.
A panel chaired by ARL commissioner and inaugural 1988 Ken Stephen Medal recipient Wayne Pearce will decide the other finalists. The winner will be announced at a date to be confirmed.
South Sydney congratulated Walker, who is a proud mental health advocate through the newly-launched Rising Warriors initiative.
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"Cody is the epitome of knowing the importance of giving back off the field," Souths Cares general manager Alisha Parker-Elrez said.
"Not only is he a successful NRL player but he shares his spare time with his family and volunteering his time to give back to the community. He uses his platform to educate people around Aboriginal issues whilst supporting people in his community.
"We are blessed to have him as an integral part of Souths Cares and love how he is always one of the first to put his hand up to help.
"The man that Cody is, is reflected in the votes that have seen the outcome of him being the 'People’s Choice'."
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Casino Cougars president Adam Hickey said the $3500 prize would provide their club with valuable training gear.
"From the Casino RSM Cougars JRL we want to congratulate Cody for this achievement, it is well deserved and fantastic to see the Casino community get behind him," Hickey said,
"That shows how much respect he has in his home town. Congratulations once again. It means a lot to us, so we will be putting the $3500 into the club for things like new training equipment, tackling pads, bump pads and footballs, which would stop our coaches arguing over them.
"And if we have anything left over, we may put it towards upgrades to our second field which is well overdue."
The brilliant five-eighth has continually championed social justice issues as well as committing himself to programs like NRL School to Work, Aboriginal Employment and Nanga Mai Marri (Dream Big).
Walker has taken a stand against racism and bullying while using his status as one of the NRL's leading players to drive positive change - particularly for Indigenous communities.
"When Leesh [Parker-Elrez] called me and told me the news, I was overwhelmed and humbled to be chosen by the fans for the things I do off the field," Walker said.
"As an NRL player, I feel I have a responsibility to give back to not only my local community but all the communities across Australia."
In an interview with NRL.com last month, Walker spoke of the fulfilment he gets from being active in the community.
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"Whether it be in the sporting [arena], school or employment, I just find great enjoyment out of helping young Aboriginal kids," he said.
"I find a purpose in that. Yes, I'm living out a childhood dream as an NRL footballer, but if I wasn't doing what I do now, I'd be definitely working with children in some form."
Winning money for the Casino Cougars is special for Walker.
"Some of my fondest memories are playing junior footy with not only friends from school, but also cousins that I grew up with," he said.
"But most importantly, being able to play with my brothers. One of them is two years older, so there were times where I'd back up two years to play in the same footy side as him.
"But even outside of footy, we were always at the junior fields – we lived up the road from there – just playing footy on the weekends with a lot of cousins. It was probably the most enjoyable part of living in Casino and playing footy at that club."