BIG GATHERING: Kids from across the Clarence gathered to meet some NRL stars at the Clarence Valley Close the Gap day held at Wherrett Park.
BIG GATHERING: Kids from across the Clarence gathered to meet some NRL stars at the Clarence Valley Close the Gap day held at Wherrett Park. Adam Hourigan

NRL stars in Maclean to help spread important message

RUGBY LEAGUE: Rugby league stars of the future got the chance to rub shoulders with their heroes in Maclean yesterday afternoon when some of the games biggest names came to town to help promote the Clarence Valley Close the Gap Day.

NRL superstars Cody Walker, Damien Cook, Alex Johnston, Blake Ferguson and Braidon Burns were all on hand to help promote the initiative, as well as sign autographs and pose for selfies.

Walker was one of the more popular players among the kids from schools across the Lower Clarence, and said he was proud to be able to help promote the Close the Gap initiative.

"It was a great opportunity for us to come up here and spread some pretty important messages to the kids,” he said.

"It's about closing the gap between life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous people.

"The life expectancy between the two is dramatically different, I think it's a 12-year difference, so the way we can close the gap is come here for events like this and spread the message of living a healthy lifestyle,” he said.

DOING IT FOR THE KIDS: Parramatta Eels winger Blake Ferguson signing autographs at Wherrett Park during the Clarence Valley Close the Gap Day.
DOING IT FOR THE KIDS: Parramatta Eels winger Blake Ferguson signing autographs at Wherrett Park during the Clarence Valley Close the Gap Day. Jarrard Potter

Walker spent part of his childhood in the Clarence Valley, and as godfather of event organiser Aneika Kapeen's son Walker said he jumped at the opportunity to return to the familiar surrounds of the Clarence Valley.

"It's good to come here, I lived here as a young kid for about two or three years and most of my childhood when I was on school holidays were spent here and in Yamba so it's certainly great to be back to a place where I know a lot of people,” he said.

"It's good to see a lot of people I haven't seen in a few years. Unfortunately I don't get up here too much now so any opportunity I can get home I take it and spend it in the community.

"I grew up with Aneika as a young kid and moved to Casino when I was seven or eight. Her partner Levi is the godfather of my son so we've got a very close relationship.

"A lot of the NRL players I know are very happy to take part in events like the Close the Gap day, and when I asked them if they'd be keen they said yes straight away because it is a really important message to get out there.”

Kapeen said she was thrilled with the attendance at Wherrett Park yesterday, where hundreds of primary and high school kids attended to learn about the program.

"There's a lot of services available as part of the Close the Gap program, so it was about educating and creating awareness of what is out there, from health and education to employment and justice,” Kapeen said.