Preston Campbell was in awe as he watched the undermanned team from Wondai Wolves refuse to give up in the face of an onslaught from Cherbourg Hornets.
The day before Campbell had visited a local high school to present the NRL’s State of Mind program and found students distraught over the death of a young boy who played juniors for Wondai.
The boy’s father was a member of the club’s senior team and he wanted to honour his son by playing in the match against Cherbourg, despite the Wolves being able to field just the bare 13 players and not having won a game for three months.
The Hornets raced in 12 tries as they romped to a 68-16 win but the men from Wondai refused to quit because the father wanted to keep playing.
“They have a mercy rule but every time Cherbourg scored a try they just looked to this man and he just wouldn’t give up, he just couldn’t give up,” Campbell said.
“Cherbourg just kept running in try after try and Wandai wouldn’t give up because they wanted to do it for this bloke and this bloke’s son.
“It was a bit emotional just to see this bloke, who had lost his boy six days before, and just the courage he showed to come out and play football, even though they were down in numbers. The fact he turned up and wanted to play the game just showed his character. It was so courageous.
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“There are a lot of circumstances where people just want to keep everything behind closed doors, which we all have to respect, but to see him come out and play was quite powerful. It was hard not to get emotional.”
Campbell, who was the driving force behind the All Stars concept, established the Preston Campbell Foundation in 2016 and travels Australia to deliver programs focused on mental health, individual well-being and developing a sense of hope.
Former greats Darren Lockyer, Petero Civoniceva, Andrew Ryan, Anthony Laffranchi, Clinton Toopi and Ben Ikin will help celebrate the work and achievements of the 2001 Dally M Medalist and his Foundation at an NRL Finals Preview Breakfast on September 13 at Brisbane’s Pullman Hotel.
“I went to Cherbourg for a State of Mind session that was booked months in advance and I visited the high school just to basically say g'day but unfortunately a few days before a young guy had passed away and obviously there was a lot of upset and distressed students,” Campbell said.
“They just seemed lost in what to do so I basically just spoke to the Year 10 students up, and some of the staff, about the importance of supporting each other in times like that. I just spoke a little bit about my understanding around mental health. I mentioned that we all have mental health it’s just whether it is good or bad.
“Through social media, kids these days know more about other kids than they do about themselves. Understanding yourself and what makes you tick is important.
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“Opportunities might be a bit scarcer out that way but areas like Cherbourg and Murgon aren’t really any different to anywhere else. It is a very strong rugby league area. They live for it out there, the game brings people together.
“The next day Wandai were playing against Cherbourg in the Suicide Prevention Round so I went to watch the game.”
Ryan, who recalled being both frustrated and amazed by Campbell’s evasive skills during his illustrious career for Cronulla, Penrith and Gold Coast, said his off-field achievements were even more significant.
“I will also always remember his courage when he came around to all the NRL clubs to share his personal journey with mental health issues,” the former Canterbury captain said.
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“This was when the subject was almost taboo and the stigma attached to depression stopped many from speaking out and seeking the help they needed.
“Preston’s courage gave the same strength to many others to share their stories and make the well-being of players the centre of the game’s work in player welfare. He continues to reach out to those who need help and I am in his corner and will support him as he supports others."
Campbell said he was humbled by the support of Ryan and the other former stars, as well as the NRL and Accor Hotels, for the Foundation’s first charity event, which coincides with International Suicide Prevention Week.
“I know they are motivated by the kids that will be helped by any funds raised by the event and to grow awareness of well-being and health issues confronting many of our communities,” he said.
“The work of the Foundation focuses on a better future of all our kids and aims to provide them a message of hope in their personal journeys.
“Youth suicide is a crisis that confronts all sections of our society with Indigenous communities sadly over-represented. Our programs aim to provide improved health and well-being outcomes in First Nations communities through connection to cultural identity as part of the solution.”
Tickets to the NRL Finals Preview Breakfast are $100 each or $800 for a table of eight. For further information, or to book, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0418 196603.