Rugby league legends including Petero Civoniceva, Steph Hancock, Nathan Blacklock and Dean Widders will be back in action this weekend, pulling on the boots for a great cause.
The Queensland Police Rugby League Association, with assistance from the Arthur Beetson Foundation, will host a charity rugby league memorial day this Saturday at Kayo Stadium in Redcliffe to raise funds for the Rachel McCrow and Matthew Arnold Remembrance Fund.
The fund has been formed to help support the families of McCrow and Arnold after the pair were ambushed at a property in Wieumbilla, south-west Queensland, while attending a routine missing person inquiry, suffering fatal injuries. Two other officers were also in attendance.
Former Australia, Fiji and Queensland Maroons representative forward Civoniceva will wind back the clock alongside other NRL stars of yesteryear in the Arthur Beetson Foundation Future Immortals team who will face off against the QPSRL Legends team made up of former greats of the Queensland Police Service Rugby League.
The main match of the day will be the QPS Dream Team v QPS All Stars game, with both teams featuring police officers from the Southern Region and greater Brisbane area, including former NRL players and friends of McCrow and Arnold.
"I've been fortunate to work with the Queensland Police Service Rugby League for quite a few years now - have always been a big supporter of what they did - and a few years back, we tragically lost Brett Forte and Detective Sergeant Paul Renouf gave me a call to see if I'd be interested in playing in a memorial match, and I jumped at it," Civoniceva said of how he came to be involved.
"I had close connections to Brett, he grew up in Redcliffe, he was a Redcliffe boy, we played footy together and so it hit us hard there in our local community and so that's why I was keen to jump in.
"It was a great day … I was lucky enough to call in Brad Thorn, Dane Carlaw and Scotty Prince. It was a really wonderful turnout and to see Brett's family there was amazing.
"And then, when this latest tragedy happened, Paul gave me another call and I jumped at it for sure.
"Given the gravity and the scale of this loss, I suggested to Paul that it might be worth maybe going to a bigger venue, so I gave the Dolphins a call and I spoke to (Dolphins Group CEO) Tony Murphy, and he was kind enough, straight away, without any hesitation, to say to Paul and I that we could have use of the stadium for this game.
"So on the back of that, we now instead of having one game, we've got three games and then, some amazing country artists and Busby Marou have given up their time."
Fellow Queensland legend Hancock is a current serving police officer and will play in the Dream Team in the women's match featuring other members of the QPS, as well as greats of the game including former Jillaroos Chelsea Baker, Tracey Thompson, Teresa Anderson, Sam Bliss and Meg Ward. Current Titans NRLW coach Karyn Murphy was also amongst the coaching staff.
The women's game will open the day and Hancock - who most recently featured in last season's NRLW campaign with the Titans - was heartened to see the support already building behind the charity event, which aims to pay respect to the fallen officers and to acknowledge the actions displayed by all officers involved in the police action on that day.
"It’s going to be massive," Hancock said of the day planned.
"I am looking forward to the Artie Beetson Immortals versus the old QPS Boys, that’s going to be a pearler that one.
“But obviously the last game is going to hit some heartstrings because both of the teams have got police officers from the southern region and there’s a couple of former NRL players, but there’s actually friends of Matt and Rach that are playing in that, so that’ll be a very heartfelt one that one."
While the day was going to be a special way to celebrate the lives of the McCrow and Arnold, Hancock also reflected on the shock the reverberated across the country as the tragic events unfolded, and how special the response had been from the community keen to help out the families as much as possible.
“I grew up in a little country town too and you just never would dream of something like this, it wouldn’t even come across your mind that anything like that would happen; just going to a routine job, but sadly that wasn’t the case," Hancock said.
“It’s hard to put into words ... but this (response) is what I love about policing and footy, whenever something happens; we always get behind it, no matter what, whether it’s coppers or footy; you donate things, you give your time.
"But it’s worth every second, and I know if anything ever happens to myself or my family, the police and footy in general would be right behind it, helping out, doing whatever they could assist in any way possible."
As well as the Queensland Police Rugby League Association and Arthur Beetson Foundation working to help put together the event, numerous volunteers from across the rugby league community including the NRL, QRL, the Dolphins and broadcast partners have donated their time and services to the day, as have all of the players running out for their matches.
The later half of the event will be a musical showcase with Brad Butcher, Brad Cox and Sammy White and headliners Busby Marou on the bill.
"It's going to be a wonderful day," Civoniceva said.
"Three games of footy, plus having live music as well with the artists all playing on the night of to cap off what's going to be a wonderful, no doubt, very emotional day and a celebration of Matthew and Rachel.
"I guess when we talk about heroes, and often in the context of sport you can understand it, but if we're talking about true heroes it's our men and women in blue, our first responders, that get called out into situations where their lives are at risk and we have to honour them and pay our respects and to do this for the Queensland Police; it’s going to be wonderful day for the community to get behind them."
All money raised on the day from ticket sales, raffles, auctions and money collections tins at the ground will go to the Rachel McCrow and Matthew Arnold Remembrance Fund.
For those who are unable to attend, Channel 9 will broadcast the day's events from 1pm AEST.
Rachel McCrow and Matthew Arnold Memorial Day
When: Saturday, February 25, 2023
Where: Kayo Stadium
Gates open: 12.30pm
1pm: QPSWRL Dream Team v QPSWRL All Stars
2pm: Arthur Beetson Foundation Immortals
3.30pm: QPS Dream Team v QPS All Stars
5.30pm: Brad Butcher
6.30pm: Brad Cox and Sammy White
7.30pm: Busby Marou