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Shell V-Power Volunteer of the Year: Joe Pennisi

Joe Pennisi has toiled for rugby league for 40 years in the Herbert River valley and mentored the likes of a young Matt Bowen and yet he's still somewhat surprised at being named Shell V-Power Volunteer of the Year.

"I'm not big on talking about myself. I don't do it for accolades, I never have," Pennisi said.

So what does the Herbert River Crushers president do? You name it and he has probably done it.

First to arrive on game day, last to leave. Straight from work, a few minutes at home to throw on his club polo and away the 65-year-old goes doing anything you could imagine that needs doing, and he coaches the open women's side.

"I finish work at 4pm, get home, change into my gear, go straight to the grounds, put ice in the water bottles, get everything ready for training," Pennisi said.

"I've just got passion for football, I always have. It's in my blood."

Back in the 1980s, he played XXXX Foley Shield for Herbert River in their heyday.

The district won it in 1980 against Burdekin, and in 1982 Pennisi played in the drawn decider against Townsville, rated as one of the greatest Foley Shield matches ever played. They couldn't even be split after extra time and shared the title.

An opportunity at Balmain beckoned, but he couldn't cop the city life.

Pennisi became involved coaching at the local boarding school St Theresa's College Abergowrie in 1990, leading them to a Confraternity Shield and two state finals in his 16 years there, bringing together players from varying backgrounds, including Cape York Peninsula, the Torres Strait islands and Papua New Guinea.

Pennisi was always a friendly ear who would hear out their issues and build rapport, which was particularly invaluable to those a long way from home.

One of the kids he mentored was an athletic kid from Hopevale named Matt Bowen.

"He was probably 13 when he came to the College and I picked it straight away and said: 'This kid will play for Australia'," Pennisi recalls.

Bowen wore the green and gold twice in 2004.

"I think I taught him about discipline, like when he went home, making sure he came back on time to get to school, and if he wasn't I'd get on to his parents, and they were very supportive. It gave him a great grounding before he went to the Cowboys.

"He was away from his family and I think he just needed someone to look up to.

"But it's not just him, there's probably been eight or 10 or 12 kids who came through and played state league. You see them every so often and they always appreciate what I did at the time.

Penissi on the mower
Penissi on the mower

"It's nice when they see you at a shopping centre and asking how you're going, say thanks for what you've done for me, it feels really good."

And there will be no shortage of people who will be giving him a pat on the back.

But Pennisi, a fitter and turner by trade and supervisor of apprentices at Wilmar Sugar, won't stop doing what needs to be done, especially after his body stopped him refereeing.

The 64-year-old has had to put down the referees' whistle - but he never stops - and it has all been with the support of his wife Annette and three kids over all those years.

"I'm 64 this year, turning 65 next year, so I'm slowing down a bit, so lucky I'm a bit hypo, I'm pretty fit for my age I think," Pennisi said.

Potentially the only time he sits down in his 30-plus hours at the club each week is when he's on the mower doing the bulk of the ground maintenance.

And if a flood looms as it can in Ingham, he's taking off in it down the street to keep it out of harm's way.

Anything for the people who keep turning up every week to play our great game.

Pennisi will receive a $1000 Shell V-Power fuel voucher as part of his prize.

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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