Volunteers the backbone of rugby league
Gary Fa’afua named the 2014 NRL Volunteer of the Year is also the president of Rugby League Samoa NSW. Photo: NRL.com
19 March 2015
By Andrew Bryan, Deputy Editor, NRL.com
He has watched countless players take their first awkward steps on a rugby league field as seven-year-olds with wide eyes and abundant energy, but the most rewarding thing for 2014 NRL Volunteer of the Year Gary Fa’afua is watching them grow up into adulthood.
Fa’afua is now director of the St George Junior League Board and president of rugby league Samoa NSW. He never planned for any of it; it just so happened when someone needed help, or something needed to be done, he answered the call.
Fa’afua’s rugby league journey started when he volunteered as a trainer for his son’s under-6s side at Kingsgrove, some 18 years ago.
He has watched the development of some of the best attacking talents in the game today and every time a Dean Whare, Alex Johnston or Josh Mansour takes the field, Fa’afua is filled with immense pride.
But it is not the dazzling footwork, raw speed, brute power or seemingly endless supply of tries that makes him happy. He’s been seeing those things their whole careers, before they even knew how to drive a car or were household names.
What fills him with pride is the men that they have become, growing up right in front of his eyes.
“Watching kids develop, playing park footy and growing up, some go onto representative football, Harold Matthews, SG Ball and some make it all the way to the NRL. But most importantly, it is great seeing the kids grow into themselves,” Fa’afua told NRL.com.
“They are all great boys. You might not see them for years, but they never forget their park footy experiences and will always come and say hi and chat about the old days.
“That is so special, they are really humble and it is always great to catch up and chat. Those friendships are what makes rugby league so great.”
If the 1, 6, 7 and 9 are the ‘spine’ of a football team, then volunteers are the spine of rugby league – they hold it all together.
Fa’afua is one of thousands of volunteers who give up their spare time and energy each and every weekend for the game they love.
When he was awarded the One Community National Volunteer of the Year Award, Fa’afua was almost moved to tears.
He is quick to point out that it is not about him, it is about this inspirational group of people working together. It is not just about rugby league; it is about making a difference in the community, the kids and the lifelong friendships that are developed on local grounds across the country.
It is about recognising all the hard work of the volunteers who have been doing it for decades. Their kids have long since grown up and had their own kids, yet you’ll still find them helping out around junior clubs across the country.
“I enjoy every minute, every minute I’m involved. You wouldn’t do it if you didn’t,” Fa’afua told NRL.com.
“Volunteers are the backbone of rugby league, there aren’t enough of them. I’d recommend anyone get involved, it is so rewarding. Have a go, if you enjoy it, keep doing it. It makes a massive difference.
“You never set out to do the things I have done, it starts simply as a trainer, or helping out in the canteen, or becoming a manager. Anywhere they need help, that’s the best place to start.
“They are all so inspiring, I can’t explain how much of an impact it has had on my life. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”