Update: The first come and try day scheduled to be held this Sunday, May 22, at Bundaberg’s Brothers Sports Ground from 11am, has been postponed.
Every Sunday for the past few months, Daly Olsen has walked out of his room wearing his Manly Warringah Sea Eagles shirt with one question for his mum.
“Mum, it’s Sunday. Can I play football today?”.
It’s been months of asking and months of waiting. But this Sunday, May 22, Daly will finally get to play rugby league.
The seven-year-old, who has autism, was the inspiration for the Northern District Rugby League’s inaugural All Abilities program, which will kick off in part this weekend with a come and try day.
Originally proposed by Daly’s father, Stuart, getting the program off the ground has come through the hard work of his mother, Sonya Olsen.
Olsen said Daly – who is named after current Queensland Maroons skipper Daly Cherry-Evans – could not wait for the season to begin.
“It was my husband’s idea,” Olsen said.
“He watched a story on Fox Sports about a boy in NSW who wanted to play rugby league and there was nothing there for him. On the day of his 10th birthday he came down and said, ‘I want to play football’, so his father started a program called Try Time.
“My husband was like, ‘why can’t we try something like that here for our son?’
“The idea has snowballed from there. Not only will it give kids with special needs the ability to play and be with their friends, but it gives them a sense of belonging, a sense of opportunity, and makes them feel included.”
Olsen has been hard at work to get this four-week competition up and running, working with Queensland Rugby League and the NRL since late last year to make her family’s idea a reality.
The season will officially kick off in July, with two come and try days in the lead up, and each team will have mentors on the field to help guide the special needs children through the games.
Olsen has been working with sponsors in an attempt to run the competition for free so families don’t have to worry about the added cost of their children taking part.
The season will then end in conjunction with the Northern Districts Rugby League grand final day.
Olsen said the response had been “incredible”.
“We’ve had people coming up and offering their help where they can,” she said.
“The interest is really starting to build. There were questions about doing a one-off day but Daly’s high functioning and he knows there are kids in his class that play soccer all term.
“A lot of these kids do have mobility issues or fatigue issues so four weeks will be a good indication to see how they persevere.
“It’s about education too. It’s about teaching neuro-typical kids that because our kids are different, they’re not less. It’s making them more aware that being different is okay."
Daly himself has developed a growing interest in rugby league after meeting his namesake Cherry-Evans at last year’s Queensland Maroons Fan Day in Bundaberg.
Olsen said he would now watch Manly games with his parents, and religiously follows Cherry-Evans around the field.
And she knows it’s going to mean the world to him when he finally gets to step on a rugby league field himself.
On Wednesday he bought his first pair of footy boots and Olsen said it was an “emotional” part of his journey.
“He met DCE last June and ever since then is a mad Manly supporter,” she said.
“Every time he sees DCE on the TV, it’s all about chasing that No.7 around the field. He is becoming more and more interested in football.
“This term in his occupational therapy we’ve been working on his passing and catching.
“This program is just about giving our guys the chance to have fun with kids that do this week in and week out.
"It’s giving him a chance. We met with a sponsor yesterday and I said, 'why are you backing our group?', and he said it was to give kids with different abilities a chance.
"We’re giving our guys a chance to play the sport we love.
“To see Daly’s face when it starts, for him to be out there wearing a footy jersey the same as all his friends … I’m sure there will be joy on his face.”
QRL Wide Bay area manager Bryce Holdsworth encouraged people to get out to the come and try days this weekend and again in June, and said there would be skills, games and the opportunity to have lots of fun in a rugby league environment.
“This is essentially Sonya’s little baby and we’ve done what we can to support her,” Holdsworth said.
“For those younger kids that are wanting to get out and be active, it gives them an environment that’s specifically targeted at them. They can feel comfortable in their surroundings and have a go at not just rugby league, but being in sport.
“We’re also trying to create a family environment where the parents can come out, sit back and relax. Support workers will be out there so parents can watch their kids have a run around and some fun.”
The first come and try day will be held this Sunday, May 22, at Bundaberg’s Brothers Sports Ground from 11am.
Another come and try will be held on Sunday, June 19, at Gin Gin Rugby League Ground, also from 11am.
To register, visit mysideline.com.au and search using the postcode 4671.