Rugby league's success begins at the grassroots and there are countless people from all walks of life who dedicate their time and effort to the game at the community level.
Through the NRL Community Awards, established in 2007, some of these tireless workers, mentors, trailblazers, clubs and future leaders are deservedly recognised for their achievements.
The 2021 award winners are as follows:
- EISS Super Volunteer of the Year: Theresa Tasaico (Riverwood Legion Junior Rugby League Football Club)
- Community Rugby League Club of the Year – proudly presented by Your Local Club: Barcaldine Junior and Senior Rugby League Club
- Young Person of the Year: Halle Braybon (Pakenham Eels Junior Rugby League)
- Teacher of the Year: Sheree Payne (Kiama Public School)
- Women in League Award: Gillian Bann (Yarrabah Junior Rugby League Club)
For the first time, the judging process for all grassroots awards was chaired by an ARL Commissioner, highlighting the link between the community and elite echelons of the sport.
Peter Beattie AC oversaw the selection for the Volunteer of the Year and Teacher of the Year, Professor Megan Davis chaired the Community Club of the Year judging panel, Kate Jones headed up the Women in League Award and Dr Gary Weiss helped select the Young Person of the Year.
"The NRL Community Awards are the most significant opportunity for our game's unsung heroes to receive recognition for their tireless service to the community," NRL Acting Head of Participation, Pathways & Community Andrew Every said.
"In a year where community rugby league across the country faced the continued challenges of COVID-19, it is a privilege to unveil some of the men, women and young people who played significant roles in ensuring the success of rugby league continued to thrive.
"There are thousands of unsung heroes across Australia and the Pacific who contribute so much to our game each year and many will never receive the true recognition they truly deserve.
"Congratulations to 2021 award winners and finalists, thank you for your incredible contribution in making rugby league the greatest game of all."
Written by Suzan Hirsch
EISS Volunteer of the Year: Theresa Tasaico (Riverwood Legion Junior Rugby League Football Club, New South Wales)
Presented by EISS Super
Finalists: Tamara Musto (Karratha JRLC), Robert Neil Redfern (Northern Districts Rugby league)
When Theresa started her rugby league journey by watching her two boys, she did not realise the measurable difference she would have on the sport in the community in years to come.
Theresa's passion for rugby league in her community drove her to help restart Riverwood Legion Junior Rugby League Football Club (RLJRLFC), which had been dormant for many years.
Theresa is an enthusiastic and passionate volunteer who donates over 18 hours per week to the club. She divides her time between many important roles including – club secretary, canteen manager, executive board member, team manager and welfare manager.
She also holds a number of team manager roles and the role of vice president at the St George Junior League club.
Theresa understands the needs of the club and is always the first to volunteer her own time for extra tasks to raise funds for the club. If it is selling tickets at the stadium or running a fundraiser Bunnings barbeque, or the Junior League Gala Days, Theresa is there and is always humble in what she achieves.
Theresa has been an articulate campaigner for her club and it has grown and flourished as a result of her hard work. As well as nine rugby league teams, a range of women's and girls' League Tag teams and an over-35 Men's League Tag and Men's A-Grade teams have been introduced to the growing club.
Theresa was determined to show that rugby league can unite the community together; through hard work and dedication she has grown a local club and achieved this goal.
Community Rugby League Club of the Year: Barcaldine Rugby League Football Club (Queensland)
Presented by Your Local Club
Finalists: Casino Cougars Rugby League Football Club, Western Districts Warriors Rugby League Club
For Queensland's Barcaldine Rugby League Football Club (BRLFC), the NRL's core values of inclusivity, positivity and unity underpin all they do within the club and the local community.
Volunteers are critical for the success of a community club, especially one where people travel up to three hours to play rugby league.
At BRLFC, volunteers are genuinely appreciated and thanked in numerous ways; volunteer draws with prizes at each home game, a catered Ladies Day for female volunteers, and an End of Season Volunteer Night.
The players wear pink Women in League jerseys to acknowledge the female volunteers; these jerseys are auctioned to raise money for local charities, such as Western Breast and Jenny Locke Group.
A caring, generous and close-knit club culture at BRLFC ensures support is given for those in need. Small and large financial donations are made to fundraising events and fundraising pages are set up for club members requiring financial support.
BRLFC work together to achieve goals. The club strategically roster Junior and Senior events on the same day to ensure Junior and Senior teams can support each other. Similarly, Life Members and Old Boys return to the club to distribute jerseys in round one, watch new players, play against an Indigenous school and share stories to build community.
For the drought-stricken outback community of Barcaldine, rugby league brings the community together. As a member of BRLFC, you know the entire community supports you – with club T-shirts proudly worn by all members of the community.
"Congratulations to the Barcaldine Junior Rugby League Club for winning the 2021 NRL Community Rugby League Club of the Year award, which our organisation is delighted to sponsor under the Your Local Club banner," ClubsNSW chairman Dr George Peponis OAM Said.
"The Barcaldine Junior Rugby League Club should be commended for their leadership and contributions to grassroots sport, they have done their local community proud.
"And well done to the teams of volunteers that support junior rugby league and enable young athletes to thrive — the game wouldn't be possible without you."
Young Person of the Year: Halle Braybon (Pakenham Eels Junior Rugby League, Victoria)
Finalists: Sophie Scott (Queensland), William Douglas (New South Wales)
Nineteen-year-old Halle Braybon is a strong, grounded young woman with a passion for rugby league and helping others.
Halle is involved in rugby league in numerous ways – playing at club and state level, as a coach, as an advocate for League in Harmony in schools, and as an NRL Victoria Community Engagement Officer. She also juggles the demands of University with her rugby league commitments.
Halle is fiercely committed to the game she loves, travelling over 1.5 hours by train to play for the Werribee Bears as well as training in her state team three nights per week. She also finds time to teach rugby league in schools and coach a team.
Halle always looks for opportunities to pass on her knowledge and passion for the game to others. She helps teammates, younger players and is a positive and encouraging role model.
When a local U16 boys Rugby League team did not have a coach, Halle stepped into the role of coach without hesitation.
Halle works tirelessly with the boys' team to instil a culture of respect, she organises wellness sessions designing their team values and culture contract, as well as training them to be the best players they can be.
On the field, in the community or in schools, Halle represents the NRL's core beliefs of inclusivity, positivity and unity.
Teacher of the Year – Sheree Payne (Kiama Public School, New South Wales)
Finalists: Matthew Sharp (Northern Territory), Anthony Easton (Queensland)
Sheree Payne is a passionate teacher who, for over a decade, has integrated rugby league at Kiama Public School, Sydney, in a wide variety of ways.
From inter-school and whole school Gala Days, through to the integration of NRL's educational programs in the classroom, Sheree passionately brings different aspects of the game together into the school curriculum.
Sheree has built authentic relationships with a variety of stakeholders to ensure rugby league opportunities are offered to boys and girls at her primary school.
She has created a partnership with the St George Illawarra Dragons to deliver respect and health and wellbeing messages to school assemblies and the Dragons' Best You Can Be programs into classrooms.
High School students are utilised by Sheree as referees and coaches for the primary school children and NRL Development Officers are invited to run sporting clinics, while NRL staff are invited to be part of student leadership days.
Sheree ensures everyone works together, towards a common goal, inspiring children through rugby league.
Thanks to Sheree's enthusiasm and determination to offer rugby league in numerous ways, all students at Kiama Public School have had genuine opportunities to experience the greatest game of all.
Women In League Award: Gillian Bann (Yarrabah Junior Rugby League Club, Queensland)
Finalists: Maryanne Longstaff (South Adelaide Rugby League Club), Belinda Allen (Qeuanbeyan United Blues)
Yarrabah Junior Rugby League Club President Gillian Bann is a passionate, driven and hard-working woman of league. Always one to focus on opportunities for children to play Rugby League, Gillian has made a significant contribution to the Yarrabah Indigenous community in North Queensland.
For Gillian, being a president of a junior rugby league club is more than a position at the club; she is known as the lynchpin for the club, a mother-figure for the children and families and a strong community advocate for rugby league.
Gillian shows that one woman can make a difference. In 2019, the club was unable to field any teams in the competition.
Through Gillian's hard work, patience and determination, eight club teams played in the Far North Queensland competition in 2021, and Yarrabah Junior Rugby League club had the highest number of female registrations in the region.
Gillian personally ensures all obstacles stopping children playing rugby league are resolved, including proving paper applications for families without internet access and hosting 'sleepovers' for students unable to get to early games.
Gillian has a unique passion for rugby league and for the Indigenous community of Yarrabah. She has become a role model in her community and has made an extraordinary difference to the Yarrabah Junior Rugby League Club.