Rugby League expands community programs
The NRL Community is breaking new ground with the expansion of its community-based initiatives.
With the goal of creating positive social change throughout the NRL community, the success of these programs has led to the sport's national governing body to expand their reach into new areas.
The State of Mind program, which focuses on mental health concerns - an issue that one in three Australians will experience in their lifetime - has been expanded into Western Australia after previously being run in Queensland, NSW, regional Victoria and New Zealand.
NRL head of government and community relations Jaymes Boland-Rudder said the NRL was serious about tackling the issue.
"The NRL will now deliver the State of Mind program in Western Australia in 2018 and 2019 thanks to the support of the Western Australian Government. The program will be delivered to all junior and local rugby league clubs in Western Australia," he told NRL.com.
"The aim of the program is to reduce the stigma around mental health, which is unfortunately the biggest killer of men aged 15-44 in the country. It is also to educate our rugby league participants on the signs and symptoms of mental ill health and then to connect the clubs with local service providers so that they know where to access help."
Another initiative is the In League In Harmony program which provides various workshops that promote teamwork, respect, inclusion and leadership opportunities. The program helps young people lead positive social change in their communities.
Steve Meredith, the community manager for the NRL respect pillar, was proud of the way rugby league was able to be a platform to promote social cohesion.
"In 2018 we will continue to deliver the program in NSW, hopefully Queensland pending ongoing support and we are now branching out the Victoria thanks to funding received from the Victorian Multicultural Commissions for the next four years," he said.
"As a rugby league community, we are a part of the wider community. A lot of the kids we reach are students at high school and playing with junior rugby league clubs.
"Being a sport that is very popular in the community and heavily engaged by players, we thought it's just a really great vehicle for us to start conversations about social cohesion with the students."
The NRL, which has a long-standing partnership with the Australian Human Rights Commission, is designing and implementing an inclusion framework to support the game in implementing a human rights approach to every action that is taken.
Meredith told NRL.com the framework will be a platform that promotes a safe and inclusive sporting environment.
"We wanted to find a coordinated framework for us to collectively follow and obviously it doesn't stop there, it will keep evolving over the years," he said.
"It's a framework but the big work comes by how we as a game can get in there and actually make the framework come to life in all of our practice - that's looking at things like our attitude, access to facilities, looking at the options we can provide people.
"Whether it's people with diverse backgrounds, people with a disability or people with different sexual orientations. Providing that environment where people feel a sense of belonging and connectedness to our game."
One of the NRL's big initiatives this year is the Road to Regions program in which players from all clubs, plus the Jillaroos, will be visiting remote communities to spread the gospel of rugby league.
The program kicks off on Monday with a three-day clinic featuring Brisbane Broncos centre Jack Bird and Wests Tigers prop Tim Grant in Wondai, which is 241km north-west of Brisbane.