Rabbitohs relish chance to hop back to the bush
RUGBY LEAGUE: Football training was the last thing on the minds of hundreds of the Clarence Valley's brightest junior league stars who swarmed Wherett Park to get a chance to meet their NRL heroes.
For South Sydney Rabbitohs star Cody Walker it was a return to his old stomping ground as a Clarence Coast Magpies junior, and this time he brought teammate and NRL star rookie Angus Crichton along for the journey.
The pair signed everything from footballs to phone covers to limbs as a mob of smiling youngsters hung off their every word. And when it was time for a game of muck-around footy, no kid was missing out - even the adult kids.
With the Rabbitohs facing a long turnaround including a bye this weekend and handed a four days leave before their next clash against the Brisbane Broncos on June 9, Walker jumped at the opportunity to get home.
The 27-year-old playmaker used his profile to promote healthy living and regular general check-ups for people in the regional and remote indigenous communities like the Clarence Valley.
"It is great to get home, it has been a great turnout seeing all the smiling kids," Walker said. "You know that is why we play footy, we do it for the kids and for the communities especially in the country areas.
"I never expected the turnout to be this big, I spent the day at Bulgarr Ngaru in Grafton and we got a great turnout there as well. We are really trying to stress the importance of healthy living and getting healthy checks and looking after your body."
Walker said spending his formative years in the Clarence before moving to Casino to complete his childhood meant getting access to NRL level players was not frequent. But every time he did meet someone of that stature, their lessons really stuck with him, and that was something he hoped to pass on to the kids in Maclean yesterday.
"I remember John Simon, Dennis Moran, Ben Kennedy they came to Casino and Matty King who was a Casino boy," he said.
"I knew, if I made it, I would always come back and visit the bush because I knew how much it meant to me to meet those blokes as a kid.
"I always had a dream from when I was four years old to be an NRL star and I wasn't going to stop at anything to get there. Debuting at 26 is probably a bit older than most, but I didn't want to let the opportunity past and I took full advantage of it.
"I am living my dream, I had the dream to play NRL since I was a young fella, and if I can pass my knowledge on to these young kids around here hopefully they can aspire to be an NRL footballer as well."
For Crichton, a country boy born in Temora, the chance to visit a new region in the Clarence Valley was something he was not going to pass up.
The former Australian schoolboys rugby union representative relished the opportunity to meet with the school kids and despite bursting onto the first grade scene in 2016, he said it wasn't getting any less surreal.
"I grew up in the country so coming back to see grassroots league it always puts a smile on your face and seeing kids doing what they love really reminds me why I got into the sport in the first place," Crichton said.
"I used to love any football player that came out to the bush. I used to spend as much time as I could hanging around them and just copying what they did, it is really being on the other side of the fence now."