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NRL to grassroots: The players who gave back to community footy in 2022

When an elite player gives back to grassroots footy, it can leave a huge impact on the game.

In 2022, we saw Queensland Maroons great Sam Thaiday return to the field when he pulled on the boots for the Samford Stags' Open Men’s Division 2 side.

Former Harvey Norman Queensland Maroons back Chelsea Baker steered the Gladstone Wallaby RLFC men’s reserve grade team - with her husband as a player - to the grand final.

Former NRL star Travis Burns coached - and played - his way to a premiership with the Wattles Warriors A grade side and next year former Gold Coast Titans playmaker Ash Taylor will also join the Toowoomba competition, when he takes over the coaching duties at Newtown Lions.

New Zealand international and one-time Brisbane Bronco Josh Hoffman will also return to the grassroots of the game, after he signed on with the West Brisbane Panthers to play A grade in the Brisbane Rugby League.

In each case, the impact these players have had on their respective clubs has been felt widely, whether it was providing their knowledge and experience to their teammates or influencing the younger kids around the grounds.

And they certainly weren't the only ones, with plenty of others giving back in 2022.

QRL South East

The Gold Coast became the landing pad for a number of former NRL stars this year, with Greg Bird and Sione Katoa leading the way in the A grade competition.

Bird, a former Gold Coast Titan, and Katoa, who played for the Penrith Panthers and Canterbury Bulldogs in the NRL, led the Southport Tigers to this year's Gold Coast A grade premiership, defeating Burleigh Bears 42-0.

Elsewhere in the competition, former New Zealand Warrior and Gold Coast Titan Clinton Toopi coached and played for the Helensvale Hornets while Sam Tagataese, who also played for the Titans as well as the Melbourne Storm, Cronulla Sharks and Brisbane Broncos across his NRL career, represented the Hornets throughout season 2022.

Over at Currumbin Eagles, former Storm back Matt Geyer was head coach, while former Queensland Origin prop Ben Hannant played his debut season for the club.

Issac Luke, meanwhile, also played his first season in the A grade competition for the Ormeau Shearers and the one-time Bronco has just signed on for another year.


✍️ 2️⃣0️⃣2️⃣3️⃣ Issac Luke has re-signed for our 2023 season! We can’t wait to see what he brings back to the field next year. Welcome back Issac!

Posted by Ormeau Shearers Rugby League on Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Another ex-Titan in Anthony Laffranchi took on the role of a Burleigh Bears junior coach and in Brisbane, former Bronco Michael De Vere often helped out around the Carina Tigers club.

Karina Brown, a Harvey Norman Queensland Maroon, also offered her services this year to the junior game, lending some guidance to the new under 12s girls' challenge on the Gold Coast, which was named after her.

Karina Brown with Helensvale Hornet player, Jenna. Photo: Gold Coast Titans
Karina Brown with Helensvale Hornet player, Jenna. Photo: Gold Coast Titans

Meanwhile, in Ipswich, former South Sydney and Parramatta back Kirisome Auva’a played a number of games for the Fassifern Bombers in A grade when he wasn't playing for the Ipswich Jets in the Hostplus Cup.

QRL Central

Travis Burns may have taken out the title as premiership-winning coach in this year's Toowoomba A grade competition, but he wasn't the only person to bring NRL experience to the 2022 season.

Travis Burns playing for Wattles Warriors in 2022.
Travis Burns playing for Wattles Warriors in 2022.

Travis Waddell, who donned jerseys for the Canberra Raiders, Newcastle Knights and Brisbane Broncos throughout his NRL career, was captain-coach for the Goondiwindi Boars for the second straight year.

Meanwhile, in Bundaberg, there was talent aplenty.

Veteran forward Antonio Kaufusi, who played over 200 games in the NRL and Super League, coached the Waves Tigers to the minor premiership.

This was on top of his duties as coach of the Wide Bay Bulls Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup team and the Queensland Under 17 Country boys team.

Maurice Blair brought his experience from the Penrith Panthers, Melbourne Storm and Gold Coast Titans to the Maryborough Wallaroos while Chris Sandow, who not only played NRL but also turned out for the Norths Devils in the Hostplus Cup in 2017 and 2018, joined the East Magpies.


We love it when our past Players return to the Club and share their stories with our young men and women who are going...

Posted by Fitzroy Gracemere Sharks RLFC Est 1886 on Thursday, April 29, 2021

And, in Rockhampton, former South Sydney Rabbitoh Jamie Simpson continued to give back to his childhood club, Fitzroy/Gracemere Sharks, where he has been playing, coaching and mentoring at various stages during the past few years.

In the coaching ranks former Queensland Maroons players were out in force, with PJ Marsh helping out with one of Yeppoon's junior sides while John Doyle coached the Queensland Outback men's team and Steven Bell took charge of the men's Central Highlands squad for the XXXX 47th Battalion competition.

John Doyle's Queensland Outback men's team. Photo: Jorja Brinums/QRL
John Doyle's Queensland Outback men's team. Photo: Jorja Brinums/QRL

And Harvey Norman Queensland Maroons veteran Steph Hancock was a QRL Outback ambassador - and has also helped coach the under 14s and 17s girls' teams - while Adrian Vowles, FOG #81, continued to play a huge part in organising his namesake event, which caters for juniors in his home region every year.

QRL North

All Abilities rugby league is one section of the game that continues to grow in strength year by year.

And the Mackay Cutters All Abilities team has been boosted by the mentorship of Queensland Maroons great Martin Bella, who is their coach.

The highlight of the 2022 season for his team was when they played as the curtain raiser to the North Queensland Cowboys and Penrith Panthers in early September.

Meanwhile, in Townsville, Queensland Maroons great Matty Bowen was a co-coach of the city's representative A grade side, alongside Roy Baira.

Townsville co-coaches Roy Baira and Matty Bowen.
Townsville co-coaches Roy Baira and Matty Bowen.

Bowen and Baira led the team to XXXX Foley Shield victory in May and then to the XXXX League Championship, overcoming Rockhampton in the semi-final and Gold Coast in the final.

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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