All posts by Kate Cornish

Kate’s View: Can Footy Still Make us SMILE?

The off-season Rugby League has just endured left me speechless. If you know me, you know that is virtually impossible to do.

For a period of time it seemed that you could not check social media, turn on the television or listen to the radio without learning of yet another indiscretion from an NRL player.

Everyone was petrified that it was someone from their team.

All fans wanted was to be able to have their lunch break in peace, to be able to come back from Subway and not discover that a player from their beloved team had been embroiled in yet another unsavoury off field act.

How we got here, I am not sure. What I am sure about is the response to this horrid off season by the fans.

As a collective, they are done. While they do not all agree about the specifics of how incidents should be handled, they all agree that they should not be having these types of discussions in the first place.

Enough is enough.

The off-season got worse before it got better.

The ‘better’ part has happened recently with Todd Greenberg personally declaring and promising fans an end to the despicable behaviour we have seen in recent months.

I sat in a fan forum audience for a taping of League Life, hosted by Yvonne Sampson, and Todd Greenburg vowed that things would be better from here on it.

Isabelle Kelly and Fa’amanu Brown meeting an excited young fan

He encouraged me to stick with this sport and to not give up on it. I am going to keep my side of the bargain, and I believe that Todd is going to as well. I have to believe; the alternative is too sad.

In the blurry, wretched haze of the off season that was the hangover from hell, there was a beacon of light.

A shining star that stood in defiance of the bad stories that were being published faster than Bolt can run the 100 metres.

In the midst of it all, a social media page called Footy Smiles became my place of solitude, a safe place to go when all hope seemed lost.

Footy Smiles had endless reports, posts and photos of players who were actively out and about in the community putting smiles on fans’ faces. It was refreshing to say the least.

I also try to have a positive spin on Rugby League. It is easy to get bogged down in the negative narrative – but like Marina Go told me when responding to the question I posed on League Life, ‘Why should I stay involved in Rugby League’ -‘99.9% of the men who play Rugby League are wonderful human beings’.

Of course, Marina is right. Inside the walls of rugby league clubs all over the country, there are good men who turn up to training, who work hard for their club and their team mates and who give back to their community, in spades.

Cronulla Sharks Kurt Capewell with passionate North Queensland kids

They represent their fans with pride and honour, they connect with the public on a regular basis and they genuinely enjoy doing so.

Footy Smiles gets this.

Their slogan is ‘Putting smiles on dials. A spotlight on the positive stories and role models in League.’

They have enough material for multiple posts every day. It really is quite incredible, you do not have to dig very hard to find the inspirational stories that the players are involved in.

They are everywhere and they are happening all the time.

I caught up with @Jamie_B and @TheBiggestTiger to find out a little bit more about who they are, and why they do what they do.

Penrith Panthers Tim Grant with a fan in Wellington

What exactly is Footy Smiles and how did it come about? 

Footy Smiles is a social platform designed to tell the good news stories in rugby league.

I run a fantasy rugby league website and when I would share positive stories on our social media it would always have a really positive response, but the focus of that account is fantasy footy and I started to think that the positive stories deserved their own platform.

I approached the nicest guy in rugby league – the Biggest Tiger (he values his anonymity!) and we bounced some ideas around about what we would call ourselves and what sort of stories we would target.

We landed on Footy Smiles, which has really resonated with the Twitter community, within one week we already had over 1,000 supporters!

We couldn’t believe it! We’ve since expanded to Facebook and Instagram to amplify these stories even further.

Why do you think Footy Smiles is important for the rugby league community?

In a world of negativity, we need to remember that the majority of the rugby league community (players and fans) are in it for the right reasons. There are literally dozens of good stories.

Widnes’ Anthony Gellng sitting with a young fan

 Why are you so passionate about sharing this information?

Both Big T and I have dedicated our lives to rugby league, we live and breathe it.

We love the game, but more importantly we love the people and the culture that goes with it.

We want to share these stories to show the rest of the world just how great our game is.

Rugby league gets a terrible wrap from the negative stories that unfortunately occur in our great game, however, for every bad news story there are dozens of great stories!

These great stories get hidden amongst the news cycle and that is why we are passionate about sharing the good news.

A positive outcome is that big names like Buzz Rothfield and news outlets including Fox Sports and Sporting News have been publishing these good news stories, too.

I’m not sure whether we have influenced this or whether it’s just a coincidence. Either way, it doesn’t matter. They are out there!

Wests Tigers Benji Marshall with fans

What are your top three moments from Footy Smiles?

We love seeing the stories appear and then the excitement of being able to share them far and wide.

Each club does a great job promoting good stories, but fans only follow their own club.

We amplify it to the whole rugby league community.

My favourite stories so far have been; Ryan James and Konrad Hurrell supporting their water boy, Ethan to his Year 12 formal.

Bevan French going out of his way to meet a very sick lady, and Josh Aloiai supporting young boys who have lost their parents.

The next best thing so far has been the response from the rugby league community.

They have really rallied behind the account and our notifications, there are so many people supporting us.

Konrad Hurrell and Ryan James accompanying young fan Ethan to his formal

We have also been very appreciative of the players and officials who have contacted us to show their support, people like Mario Fenech, Josh Dugan, Andrew Voss and even Todd Greenberg!

We don’t contact clubs directly. We follow all the clubs and the players on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The best source of information is shared directly from the clubs. They write fantastic content, create their own videos and retweet others.

Of course, the Footy Smiles community is also brilliant at notifying us when good stories arise on social media.

We get pinged on Twitter regularly and we always appreciate the heads up!

We have also been contacted by a number of players, club officials and clubs telling us to keep up the great work, they are all very supportive of what we are doing.

If you have not already followed Footy Smiles, do yourself a favour and hit follow and then share them with all of your footy friends.

Together along with Footy Smiles, we can tell the narrative about how we want our game shown to the public.

Their page saved me over the off season, many times.

Shining a light on the awesome individuals who are involved in the great game of rugby league is how we will keep current fans and how we will win over new ones.

Former NRL player Scott Prince with young referees from Yass

The good news stories are endless.

Do not be fooled by the old narrative ‘Good news stories don’t sell papers’, they can – and they are just what we need to pull our game back from the brink.

Thank you, Footy Smiles from all of us in the rugby league community!

 

Mark Geyer – Pride of a Panther

Former Western Reds forward Mark Geyer

When I think about Mark Geyer there are a few words that immediately come to mind; tough, controversial, passionate, Penrith Panther.

The former Kangaroo representative and proud Penrith league legend has had his fair share of turmoil, but these days he is a man all about family, his club, giving back to the game that afforded him so much and to the community that stuck by him through it all.

No stranger to a scandal, whether it be a stint on the sideline or roughing up Queensland great Wally Lewis in one of the most iconic moments in State of Origin history, you could certainly never say the life and career of Mark Geyer (or MG as he is affectionally known) has been boring.

His time playing the game of rugby league was incredibly colourful.

Suspended, sidelined, a cancelled contract, a positive drug test and sin binned in a Grand Final, his playing career has had it all, and then some.

All of that aside, there was no doubt he was also one hell of a player. Talent to burn and an on-field toughness to match it with the best of them, he was no slouch when it came to standing tall on the field.

He was an Australian international, a New South Wales State of Origin representative second-rower, and he won a premiership with his beloved Panthers in 1991.

On the field, he had a physical presence that you simply could not teach, and he developed a reputation for being a hard-hitting, dominant forward who showed no mercy to his opposition.

A State of Origin special – Lewis v Geyer

Geyer’s post rugby league career has been equally as fascinating; he is in his own right a media personality.

He has written numerous articles for newspapers and different sporting magazines, he has been a panellist on The Sunday Roast, was part of the incredibly successful Triple M Breakfast Radio show, The Grill Team and also the Dead Set Legends. 

You can currently catch him each weeknight on Triple M on The Rush Hour with MG. It is a media career that does not look like slowing down any time soon.

I had the pleasure of meeting MG the other week at The Sportsmen Lunch, at the Jamison Hotel, in his stomping ground of Penrith.

The afternoon was a charity event for The Kids with Cancer Foundation.

MG, along with the talented Rob Shehadie and beautifully emceed by Anthony Maroon, helped to raise thousands of dollars for the foundation.

An incredibly heartbreaking story from a father about his beautiful and brave little girl Celia, was enough to have the 110 strong room reaching deep into their pockets for this wonderful organisation, in what was a beautiful show of community spirit.

The sponsors of the afternoon also deserve a special mention, Mounties ClubPinnacle TaxationWildmans Cranes and KHP Civil, without them the event would not have been the tremendous success that it was.

Throughout the afternoon as I listened to MG address the audience, I saw punters in the room hanging off his every word.

They were proud Penrith locals who had come to see their footy hero. He did not talk with any airs or graces and he did not sensor himself.

He spoke with passion and as he told his story from the heart, I was quickly learning what his appeal was. He was open and honest about his childhood, his playing career, and his personal struggles.

Painfully honest at times, I realised, that was all part of his charm.

Penrith Panthers legend Mark Geyer

He walked about the room that afternoon, stopping to chat to people he knew and he made a point of shaking hands with those he didn’t.

Genuinely and sincerely he won the room over with his warmth, his candour and his authenticity.

Like most people, I had only ever watched MG from a far, as a fan of the game. I have listened to him on radio, read his articles and watched him on the television.

He has an opinion on everything to do with the game he loves (as he is entitled to do), and while people may not always agree with him, it is his ‘man of the people’ quality that the public very quickly respond and relate to.

I found myself wanting to hear more of his story – whatever MG was selling, I was buying that afternoon.

It is not hard to see how he has been able to forge such a successful career for himself after league. His constituents in Western Sydney are his staunch followers and he is very generous with the time he gives back to his community, whether that be with his charity work or the energy that he puts into grass roots rugby league.

As I listened to MG talk, I was really impressed by the kid who grew up in Whalan, who has established a respectable life for himself and his family.

By his own account, things could have turned out very differently – but he is tough, and he has a quality about him that feels uncompromising.

Penrith Panthers forward Mark Geyer

He touched briefly on his dark days and the demons of his past, he was forthright in owning his mistakes, and is the first person to tell you he made plenty of them, but it is that raw and honest quality that people wholeheartedly relate to.

He does not shy away from the past that has led him to where he is today for certainly, without it, there would be a very different story to tell.

MG has been involved with many different charity organisations and events.

In recognition of his work with charities all over the country, on Australia Day 2013, he was announced in the Honours List and received an Order of Australia medal for “service to the sport of Rugby League football, and to the community through a range of charitable organisations.”

In a time when the NRL is under the microscope for player behaviour (or lack of), I am encouraged by ex-players like MG, Brad Filter and Adrian Vowles (to name just a few), who have actively involved themselves with their communities, for charity events and grass roots football competitions.

These are not one-off events either, these players and so many more, both retired and current are working hard in their communities, bringing smiles, raising money for charities and supporting the growth of rugby league, trying hard to keep engaged a legion of fans who are struggling with the current state of the game they love.

Former rugby league player now media personality Mark Geyer

To put it in perspective, less than 1% of the people who play in the NRL are in the court system at the moment.

While I agree that is 1% too many, it is these headlines that flood our news feed. Events like the Sportsmen Lunch are not talked about at all.

They do not rate a mention from the media despite the fact that The Kids with Cancer Foundation survives on the generosity of regular people, people who choose to help, people like Mark Geyer.

They say ‘good news doesn’t make headlines’, but I don’t believe that for one second.

I sat in a room of full people just the other week, who for no other reason other than out of the goodness of their hearts, gave their hard-earned money to a charity to help those less fortunate, and I have chosen to write an article about it.

Hopefully, one that will make an impact.

As a rugby league community, we can decide what types of NRL stories flood our news feed, and we can start with this one.

If you would like to know more about The Kids with Cancer Foundation, click here.

Donations to The Kids with Cancer Foundation are passed on to struggling families of kids with cancer to help them in this time of need.

Their ongoing support of helping families pay medical bills, buying groceries, living and accommodation near hospitals for families who need it most.

They are celebrating 20 years of supporting kids and their families and have raised $24.5 million dollars.

Adrian Vowles – A Country Heart With a Big City Dream

Former North Queensland Cowboys player Adrian Vowles

I accidentally stumbled across Adrian Vowles in a Twitter post from the North Queensland Cowboys.

It was a picture of a pre-season training camp on Magnetic Island (one of my favourite locations), and Adrian had commented on how he remembered those days on Maggie Island with the team.

One tweet lead to another and before you knew it, Adrian had promised that if the Cowboys made the Grand Final in 2019, he would wear a North Queensland Cowboys Hawaiian shirt to the Grand Final (I am feeling good about this season, so I have suggested that he buy one now.)

I knew who Adrian Vowles was. He is written into the history books of the North Queensland Cowboys, part of the tapestry that weaves the club together.

He was part of the very first squad back in 1995 – he is an original Cowboy.

Speaking of history books, the chronicle 20 Years in the Saddle: North Queensland Cowboys 1995-2014 by Neil Cadigan is a phenomenal read, not just for Cowboys fans, but for anyone interested in Rugby League history.

There is so much information in that book, it is hard to believe that one person could possibly find all of that information. It certainly gave me a great insight into just how the North Queensland Cowboys came to be.

1999 Man Of Steel winner, Adrian Vowles

Adrian Vowles was part of a handpicked squad chosen to be the first group of players to represent the region of Townsville and the wider area of the North Queensland community.

They would be the first team to run out onto what is now 1300 SMILES Stadium and start the legacy that has become the North Queensland Cowboys.

We can sometimes forget where it all started because we have enjoyed so much success in recent years, but the story surely begins back in 1995 when the first Cowboys, including Adrian, helped to lay the turf on the hill before the first ever home game.

Adrian has many more feathers in his cap alongside his Cowboys colours and his tally of achievements on the rugby league field are plenty.

Making his career as a centre, five eighth and lock, he has a long list of accolades to his name.

He was ‘Player of the Year’ in his debut season with the Gold Coast Seagulls and on that great form, he was selected for the Queensland State of Origin Team in 1994 (quite an incredible moment for the kid born in Cunnamulla who had set himself the goal of representing his state as a young boy listening to the State of Origin on the radio, many years earlier).

Making the move to North Queensland in 1995 to play in the club’s inaugural season, he would represent the Cowboys for the next two years, captaining the side in 1996.

After his time up North, he would make the switch to the UK Super League and carve an enormous and impressive name for himself with Castleford Tigers, Leeds Rhinos and Wakefield Trinity.

He was awarded The Man of Steel Award in 1999 and was named in the Super League ‘Dream Team’ the same year with his achievements cemented when he was selected to represent Scotland in the 2000 World Cup.

Former Castleford Tigers utility Adrian Vowles

Returning home after a very successful Super League career, Adrian played for the Brisbane Broncos feeder club, the Toowoomba Clydesdales and had an incredibly successful 2004 campaign.

This almost granted him a start in the National Rugby League competition, even though he had not played in the country for eight years.

In 2005, he found himself on the field with the Burleigh Bears and after a solid season, the team made the Queensland Cup Grand Final but lost to the North Queensland Young Guns.

In later years, Adrian would hold the title of CEO for the Burleigh Bears, Assistant Coach of the Jillaroos and Head Coach of the Queensland Women’s team for the 2017 Origin Series.

The Former Man of Steel hails from a town named Cunnamulla, population of 1200. It is a small town that lies on the Warrego River in South West Queensland.

It is 206 kilometres south of Charleville, and approximately 750 kilometres west of the state capital, Brisbane.

Vowles lived in Cunnamulla until he was 11 years old, before moving to Charleville, where he stayed until he was 17.

He has fond memories of both towns and says they were wonderful places to grow up in. I have no doubt both towns are proud to lay equal claim to their talented export.

Though many years retired, rugby league still holds a special place in Adrian’s heart. So much so, that in 2014, the Adrian Vowles Cup was born.

In a short 6 years, it has grown from 6 teams competing to 26 teams this year. It is played in Charleville on the last weekend of February every year.

The Adrian Vowles Cup was started in 2014 by myself and a good mate from Charleville, Shaun (Zoro) Radnedge,” Vowles said.

“The reason we wanted to start the competition was simply that there was no football for kids in the South West or Central West region after under 12’s, so kids basically couldn’t play a game of football.

“My father was instrumental in getting an under 14’s and under 17’s competition going when I was a kid and that continued for many years until falling by the wayside.

“Shaun’s son fell into that under 14 age group and he wanted him to be able to continue to play football. The timing was right for us to introduce the Adrian Vowles Cup.

“From the start, our goal was to grow it every year and we didn’t care if that was just one team or five, we were not in any hurry, we were also running it on the smell of an oily rag.

“The carnival had one false start in 2014 when a team pulled out so unfortunately we had to cancel, however, we managed to get it going later in the year.

“I couldn’t make that weekend due to a prior commitment, so my parents happily presented the trophy to Miles RLFC, who, along with Central West and Charleville made up the first ever under 14’s comp.

“Miles RLFC entered the competition because one of our other good mates, Grant Bignell was living there. He became involved and his son, Jed played in the team and Charleville, Paul Treadwell was the coach.

“In 2015, our dream was growing we wanted to make the cup bigger and better. Luckily, Craig Rodgers, a good friend of mine kindly jumped on board with his company, Outback Insulation, and become the major sponsor of the carnival.

“That sponsorship helped enormously and gave us some financial freedom to really expand. We also had QRL employee, Peter Rafter start helping us and he is now just as entrenched in the Adrian Vowles Cup as Zoro and I are.”

At the end of every carnival, we announce the much anticipated ‘Dream Team’. The jerseys (donated by NRL Game Development) are presented to the best players in each position, as judged by me.

“My decision is not just based on skill but also how the players conduct themselves on the field. The quality of players is so good, I honestly have a hard time deciding on the team.

“We had six teams in 2015 and in 2016 we added under 16’s to the carnival and in 2017 our first city team, Brisbane Easts, attended.

“Over the years, they have been joined by the Redcliffe Dolphins, Redlands and Toowoomba Brothers. This year we will have 26 teams competing with new teams from Toowoomba, Caloundra and Goondiwindi – to name a few.

“We have more sponsors on board than ever before, and we also allow other sporting entities in the town to make money by running the canteen, bbq’s etc.

“We have also had Girls Rugby League involved in the last few years too, which is becoming more popular as the years go on.

“The weekend also acts as a trial for the Outback Team and we will be live-streaming the games this year for the first time, which is very exciting.”

By his own admission, Adrian Vowles has worked extremely hard to achieve what he has in his lifetime.

He chased a big dream when, at 17, he left his little country town and moved to the big smoke to follow his passion of being a Rugby League player.

When he left home he didn’t have any offers, but he knew what he wanted – so he went for it, and he did not stop until he got it.

He lives by the quote, “Dream Big – small steps turn into giant strides”.

They are simple yet poignant words that sum up the character of a man who strives to live the best life he can, with courage and determination to be the best version of himself.

The country kids love it and they really enjoy themselves and I can tell you they more than hold their own against the kids from the city,” Vowles continued.

“The city kids get to experience country life, they camp at the ground, its hotter than normal for them, and they also have to travel quite a distance to get out to Charleville, but this is something that country kids do all of the time to play footy.

So, it is good for the city kids to get some perspective about how life is different for other people. Redlands and Toowoomba Brothers use it as a bonding trip, and they have found the kids are a much more tight knit group after the weekend.

“The community also benefits from the carnival. It brings well over 500 people (even more this year) into town and the visitors help to boost the economy.

“The town is hurting due to drought and this is a real boost for the businesses and the community. We have a strong working relationship with the Murweh Shire Council, Mayor Annie Liston and CEO Neil Polglase have been good to us and really support what we are doing.

“We also help sponsor the junior and senior rugby league teams, with proceeds from the carnival helping out as well. Rugby League numbers have increased in the area by 38%, which is quite extraordinary.

“This isn’t all due to our carnival of course, but we have played a small part in the rise in numbers. The real heroes are the people who donate their time to grow the game in the country areas, the travelling they do for not only rugby league but other sports as well is what keeps it going.

“With most of the teams that are involved, Zoro or myself have a connection with them in some way, whether it is someone who used to live in the country, someone we played against or with, or someone we have met through footy.

“This is what makes the Adrian Vowles Cup so special; it is about mates putting back into the game just as our parents did for us.”

“Ultimately, we created the Adrian Vowles Cup hoping to give outback kids the same opportunities as their city cousins and to play and meet people they normally wouldn’t.

“Hopefully, one day, one of the players who has competed in our carnival will get to play in the NRL – what a great story that would be!”

At a time when Rugby League is in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, ex-players like Adrian give me hope.

There is plenty of good out there in the rugby league world which was why I felt it was important to share this story. It is really easy to get stuck in the negative headlines – there has been enough drama this off season to warrant League’s own mini-series, but it has been for all the wrong reasons.

It is important we give people like Adrian support for dreams like the Adrian Vowles Cup – what these events give back to the community is immeasurable. These are the stories we should hear about more often.

Adrian Vowles was an exceptional Rugby League player in his day and I am proud that he was part of the Cowboys original ‘Dream Team’ – in my opinion, he is someone that embodies what the North Queensland Cowboys are all about.

He is resilient, he is tough, he works hard and then he works harder. He gives back to his community and he fosters the talent of the next generation with grass roots footy.

While he has worn a few footy jerseys in his time, I am glad that the North Queensland Cowboys was one of them.