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That time I met Blake Austin at the Auckland Nines

That time I met Blake Austin at the Auckland Nines

The Canberra Raiders are a club that I have tremendous respect for.

It is no secret that for me, what happens off the field for a sporting team is just as important as what happens on the field and in my years of supporting rugby league, the Raiders are a club that have taken player behaviour off the field just as seriously as they have their performance on the field.

As a club, the Raiders have always taken a strong stance when it comes to player behaviour. It saw them terminate the contracts of players like Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson. Even though this strong stance ultimately led to other clubs signing these ‘stars’ and ultimately undermining the strong stance that the Raiders had taken, the Raiders stood strong.

For me, last year was a reward for a club that has spent several years looking for a core group of young men who would commit to living in Canberra, would commit to the Raiders and commit long-term to winning the club a Premiership. Last year it all finally clicked and the likes of Jarrod Croker, Joey Leilua, Jordan Rapana and Jack Wighton are players that I know the Raiders will be built around for the next couple of years. 

Of course, central to the success of the Raiders this year will be their halves combination – Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer, whose ability to combine last year was impacted significantly by injury. Both players spent time on the sideline last year due to injury and Blake almost had his finals campaign derailed by a broken arm.

But enough about the past. It’s a new year and the Raiders are ready to take on 2017 with a bang.

After attending training with the team today and having a chat with Blake Austin, I was struck at how young the team for the Nines is. According to Blake, while the pre-season has been difficult, not much focus has been put into the Nines. The result is a young and excited squad with plenty of fresh players ready to have a crack in a competitive pool against the likes of the Roosters, Cowboys and Rabbitohs.

I challenge any person to spend time with Blake Austin and immediately not become a fan of the man who grew up in the Western Suburbs of Sydney and played for 2 other clubs before he found a home at the Raiders.

Last year a couple of stories about him vent viral. Like the story about him spotting a disabled fan waiting for a bus in the middle of a Canberra winter to attend a game. Blake pulled over to the side of the road and asked the young fan if she wanted a lift to the game so that she wouldn’t freeze whilst waiting for a bus. Another young Raiders fan woke up to a message from Blake on Instagram which said ‘hey mate, I’m cleaning out some of last year’s training gear, would you want some?’.

These random acts of kindness should come as no surprise because when you look back over Blake’s past, these sorts of commitments to fans and the community are the norm, not the exception. For example, in 2013 after injury derailed his season, Blake volunteered to coach an under 16’s team from Doonside. This team was nicknamed ‘the uncoachables’ because of a lack of discipline. Blake led this team to a successful Grand Final and coached them the following year as well. 

I know Blake doesn’t do any of this for gratitude or for praise. He does it because he is simply a very decent human being and loves giving back to the sport which has given him so much.

While Blake is in New Zealand with other members of the team, other members of the Raiders squad have stayed home in Canberra to take part in the NRL Community Carnival – a month long celebration which sees each club visit schools and meet kids, spreading important social messages about respect, diversity, healthy lifestyles and inclusion. 

This is a big event on the NRL calendar, but for Blake, giving back to the community is something that the Raiders take very seriously as a club. It’s no surprise to me that Blake has found such a happy home at a club that really seems to align with his values.

Onto the footy for the weekend. The word from Blake is that the players to watch from the Raiders are Nick Cotric (who is the player Blake would least want to share a room with because he doesn’t shut up) and local, Paul Roach.

I’d like to nominate one more player to watch and that’s Scott Sorensen who has joined the Raiders from their feeder club Mounties this year.

While I was waiting to have a chat with Blake, Scott decided to come and say hello and I was super impressed with this young kid who took a couple of minutes to say hello to what he thought was a Raiders fan. After a long pre-season, Scott is really looking forward to getting the opportunity to play some football over the weekend and didn’t disown me when he found out I was a Parramatta fan.

One more thing. While Blake is excited about the Raiders and season 2017, I also took the opportunity to ask him (as a father of two daughters) what it meant to him to see the Australian Jillaroos get the opportunity to represent their country at the highest level in the sport he loves so much. His response? That while he may have 2 daughters, he also has a sister who loves rugby league and 3 or 4 younger cousins who also love the game.

While women in league may not have been something that Blake thought about in the past, now that he has family members who love football he also has an interest in making sure that they have a future in the game. Blake now calls himself a big advocate for women in league and I’m hopeful that perhaps one of his daughters will also get to wear the Raiders colours one day.

Love

Ladies who League xxx

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Why a Sharks win meant so much to me

Why a Sharks win meant so much to me

I should begin this story be absolutely reaffirming that I am and always will be a Parramatta Eels supporter first.

Over the last 24 hours though, you may have seen me out and about in a Cronulla Sharks scarf.  You may have heard me singing ‘up, up Cronulla’.  You may have seen me celebrating as if it was my team that had just won a Grand Final.

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Farewell Parramatta Stadium, thanks for the memories

Farewell Parramatta Stadium, thanks for the memories

This article was first written for and published by The Roar.

People often ask me where my interest in rugby league began.

I grew up in a house with two brothers and a dad – all of them sport crazy. After the Konstantopoulos kids played sport on a Saturday morning, sport would be on the television screen, whether it was cricket, rugby, AFL, the Olympics or horse racing. But the most common sport to grace our television screens was rugby league.

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Introducing Maria Sykes: COO of the Rugby League World Cup 2017

Introducing Maria Sykes: COO of the Rugby League World Cup 2017

At the point in time when this story is published there are just 428 days until the Rugby League World Cup kicks off in 2017.  

14 teams.  28 games.  5 weeks.  Next year's Rugby League World Cup will see the best rugby league players in the world compete to be crowned champions in the pinnacle event in international rugby league.  Next year's Rugby League World Cup will make history with games in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea giving our game the opportunity to shine in front of the most passionate fans in the world.

This week, I thought I would introduce you all to Maria Sykes who is the Chief Operating Officer of the Rugby League World Cup.  I caught up with Maria to hear about her role, the tournament and the exciting role that our Jillaroos will have when the Rugby League World Cup Begins next year. 

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Kieran Foran should not play football in 2017

Kieran Foran should not play football in 2017

This story was first written for and published by The Roar

At approximately 5.15pm on Friday, July 29, 2016, the relationship between the Parramatta Eels and Kieran Foran officially ended.

Following a series of breach notices and weeks of speculation about his state of mind and his commitment to football, Foran was officially released from his contractual commitments at the club, and made a decision to temporarily walk away from rugby league.

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