The game’s leading players will embed themselves in bushfire affected and drought stricken communities across the eastern seaboard over the next month after the NRL expanded its annual Road to Regions program.
A number of clubs have committed their playing squads to provide assistance and lift spirits in bushfire affected communities across NSW and Victoria while groups of players have committed to visiting drought affected areas in Western Queensland.
The annual Road to Regions program – designed to give rural residents an opportunity to meet players – traditionally spans one week but has been expanded to five in the wake of the bushfire emergency.
The expansion of Road to Regions is part of rugby league’s whole of game response to the bushfire crisis.
As part of the joint approach, the NSW Origin Squad will host a junior rugby league clinic in Bateman’s Bay on February 1 to lift the spirits of locals.
The St George-Illawarra Dragons have spent most of this week in Ulladulla, Milton, Lake Conjola Batemans Bay, Mogo, Narooma, Bermagui, Quaama, Wandella and Cobargo assisting communities.
The South Sydney Rabbitohs visited Bateman’s Bay last week.
NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg said the response from the rugby league community had been overwhelming.
“It was a simple decision to expand Road to Regions from one week to over a month because so many clubs, players and coaches have called me wanting to make difference in these communities,” he said.
“Many of our players are from rural and regional Australia and still have family in these regions. These areas are the home of grassroots rugby league and we’ll never shy away from the responsibility we have to these areas.
“I’ve said from the start we want to make a practical difference to these communities. Rugby league is part of the social fabric of rural and regional Australia and our players will be on the ground lending a hand and lifting spirits wherever we can.”
NRL Head of Government and Community Relations, Jaymes Boland-Rudder said the Road to Regions tours were an opportunity to spend time amongst some of the communities that had battled hard over the past few months.
“People talk about our rugby league players being heroes, but the real heroes are the ones we’re visiting as part of these tours,” Mr Boland-Rudder said.
“Road to Regions is one of our most successful initiatives. It gives communities who seldom get to see the game’s biggest stars an opportunity to meet them in the flesh. After what has happened in recent months, this program is more important now than ever.
“We thank all the clubs for their agreement in expanding the program from the first week of February to throughout February – it shows the commitment of our clubs, players and coaches to making a difference in these communities.
“For fans wanting to support rugby league’s response to the bushfires and drought, we encourage you to dig deep and donate to The Salvation Army’s Rural Assistance Appeal at salvationarmy.org.au/nrl. All donations received will go towards helping those rural communities and individuals who’ve been hit hard by the drought and bushfires at the moment.”
The NRL has already announced it will transfer the 29 February trial match between the Penrith Panthers and Parramatta Eels to Bega in a bid to bring visitors back to the South Coast of NSW.
NSWRL have relocated the Andrew Johns Cup and the Laurie Daley Cup from Wollongong on the same day.
Further announcements, as part of the game’s whole of game response to the bushfire emergency, will be made in the coming weeks.