Men of League Foundation bring their Tackling the Drought Tour to Coolah, Merriwa and Scone

WHEN times get tough for the men, women and children in rural Australia, the Men of League are there to remind them they are the grassroots of the sport.

That’s been the message behind the foundation’s Tackling the Drought Tour – a rugby league led call to action which brought some of the legends of league to drought-stricken communities in Coolah, Cassilis, Merriwa and Scone over the weekend. 

A bus consisting of former first grade rugby league players were taken on a three-day tour of the Upper Hunter to touch base with the local communities, kicking off in Coolah on Friday night with a well attended dinner. 

The men then coordinated a coaching clinic in association with the NRL at the Coolah Sportsground on Saturday morning with around 80 juniors in attendance to hone their skills with some of the game’s best.

Next stop was Merriwa and Cassilis, with more than 120 people attending a comedy show at the Merriwa RSL on Saturday night before the last leg of the journey at Scone Park on Sunday morning for a few friendly games of touch football and barbecue breakfast.

Men of League Foundation CEO Stephen Lowndes said the bus was one of five travelling to different parts of drought affected NSW as part of the tour.

“All with some former legends in the game,” he added.

“Rugby league really is the hook to bring people out of the hills and off the farms and to assemble and really reach out and try and connect with the men and women and children who might be doing it a bit tough.

“We’ve [The Men of League Foundation] got a wonderful wellbeing network and we provide physical, financial and emotional support.

“Country is the wellspring of a lot of top rugby league players. 

“I think there is awareness in the city but we visited a couple of properties yesterday and it is just staggering seeing it and realising they have been hand feeding for twelve months.

“We’ve had 65 ex-players put their hands up which is enormous but there were also a number of ex-players who for various reasons couldn't come along, and I think now the message is really going to get out there about the power of rugby league and the rugby league community as a rallying force. 

“We’ve been blown away by the interest and support from these towns.”

“We’ve been blown away by the interest and support from these towns.”

Former South Sydney and Manly rugby league player David Hosking agreed without a doubt the country is the roots of rugby league and it’s important to support rural communities.

“If you look at the history of the game a lot of the players, Paul Dunn for instance next to me here, he’s from the country as well,” he said.

“It is, it’s the biggest breeding ground we have for rugby league. 

“And, the Men of League is all about helping and giving back to rugby league and rugby league people and clubs that are down on their luck.

“Yesterday for instance, myself and Paul Dunn and Michael Marketo went and saw a guy at Merriwa that has Parkinson's disease just to cheer him up and say hello and it was a really rewarding experience for me to do that.

“It’s just about giving back to everyone in rugby league – from juniors to seniors to the lady who works in the canteen and the guy who comes and sets up the ground every day. 

“Without those people the game doesn't run.”

Former league star Tim Brasher said the importance of events like today were massive.

“Obviously at the moment the country people, especially in NSW and Queensland are under a lot of stress and their livelihoods are being tested,” he said.

“Every little bit we can do to one, raise money and two, raise attention to it helps.

“And obviously let the people know there is an avenue if they need it and don't be afraid to come out and ask for it.” 

Scone Thoroughbreds Rugby League’s Jamie Munn praised the event and the support for league locally. 

“Rugby League always seems to step up when things go wrong,” he said. 

“It’s good to see these people get out on the road to come to places like Scone, Merriwa and Coolah and to see the crowds come out.

“They said 140 people last night which is great and its good to see the Men of League supporting local towns which are the grassroots of our rugby league.”

The Men of League Foundation was started in 2002 and since then have provided more than $600,000 in support.

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