The month of December is one that often conjures up a range of emotions for most people. A time where family and friends gather and spend memorable moments. It can also be a time of deep reflection. The Men of League Foundation saw a great opportunity in mid-December to raise the spirits of some of our rugby league family doing it a little tough.
Wests Tigers hooker Jacob Liddle joined National Wellbeing Manager Jessica Macartney, along with Former NRL player Dene Halatau, NRL Referee Grant Atkins and Men of League Foundation Volunteer Ken Vessey on a day trip to Sydney’s South East to spread some Christmas Cheer. First Stop, Tempe.
As we pulled up the Men of League van on the Princess Highway, the team made their way into the building to visit former first-grade player Paul Morris. The 57-year-old was delighted to see the smiling faces of everyone as they all spoke about the rigours of off-season training and reflected on Paul’s playing days with the Balmain Tigers, Newtown Jets and St. George Dragons. Having grown up in the Sydney suburb of Ermington, Morris started his NSWRFL career with the Tigers before switching to Newtown in 1981 to partner Tommy Raudonikis in the halves and eventually make the Grand Final only to lose to Parramatta at the SCG. Following his time at the Jets, Morris went on to play for the Dragons in the 1984 and 85 seasons. The sheer joy that appeared on his face as the group presented him with a Christmas card and Voucher demonstrated what it meant for the Men of League Foundation to make this visit.
From Tempe, we trekked our way across to visit Ray Corner. A massive South Sydney fan, Ray at 78 welcomed us into his home and had asked his family to prepare for the visit. Upon walking into his yard, we were welcomed by a vintage Volkswagen Beetle painted in the crimson and myrtle of the bunnies. Ray who finds it difficult to leave his house, pointed out all the South Sydney memorabilia he and his wife have collected over the years, including several painted surf boards that he had mounted on the walls. After only a short time, his passion for the game, not only through his own playing career but through his son and grandkids was obvious. Ray reflected upon his times watching Souths at Redfern Oval and his pride extended further when speaking about how his son had fulfilled the role of the mascot throughout the years. Mrs. Corner spoke glowingly about how important it was for her family that the Men of League Foundation had come to visit, not only just before Christmas but also for Ray’s birthday in September.
A short trip east delivered the group to Malabar to visit former Roosters junior and La Perouse player Timothy Ella. The household lit up with smiles as Liddle and Halatau showed their faces to the huge rugby league fans. A name synonymous with the eastern suburbs of Sydney, Timothy explained how as the youngest of 12 and brother to former Wallabies Mark, Gary and Glen, playing sport was a favourite past time of the family. With links to the La Perouse club in Sydney, Timothy spoke about how important the game of rugby league was to him and his family. The visit from the Men of League Foundation provided Ella with a Christmas card and voucher for him to use during the festive season. Currently living with Lung Cancer, Timothy’s smile spread from ear to ear as he held his 5-month-old twin Grandchildren on his lap and donned his new Men of League Foundation cap.
Our final stop was Randwick to visit young Eli Chatfield from Batemans Bay on the NSW South Coast. Eli who is a huge Wests Tigers fan was greeted by Liddle and Halatau near Ronald McDonald House. The boys shared stories about surfing with it being revealed that both Liddle, who hails from the NSW Central Coast and Eli, both have a terrifying fear of sharks. Chatfield is currently being treated for his second bout of Cancer. His spirits lifted as comparisons and reviews of current PlayStation games and Netflix shows became the topic of conversation. Eli did find the courage to talk about potential signings for his Wests Tigers over the next few years with Liddle and the aspirations of the team heading into the 2020 season.
At the completion of the day, Liddle, who is currently undergoing rehabilitation for a knee injury sustained in the 2019 season, spoke about how humbling the entire experience was. As the Men of League Foundation van pulled away, Liddle and Halatau expressed their feelings about how the Foundation had enabled them to give back to the wider rugby league community just before Christmas.