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NRL announces 2024 NRL Community Team of the Year

The NRL has today announced the nominees for this year's Ken Stephen Medal – Man of the Year, which recognises the efforts of an NRL player who has not only achieved on the field, but has committed time off the field to community projects.

The nominees for the Ken Stephen Medal form the annual NRL Community Team of the Year with players nominated by their NRL clubs for going above and beyond in their charity work, youth development or community support.

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Established in 2007, the NRL Community Awards have become the most significant opportunity for our game’s unsung heroes to receive the recognition and thanks they deserve for the tireless work they do in the community. It also provides an opportunity for the NRL to acknowledge and celebrate the contribution that clubs, state leagues and both NRL and NRLW players make year on year.

This year will be the 36th instance that the Ken Stephen Medal will be awarded, with a host of worthy recipients receiving this prestigious award since Wayne Pearce won the most prestigious community award in 1988. Players to have previously won the award include Jonathan Thurston, Sam Thaiday and Nathan Hindmarsh with Rabbitohs star Latrell Mitchell named the winner in 2023.

The NRL invites and encourages fans to vote for their favourite nominee for this year's award, so make sure you get your votes in!

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The nominees for this year's Ken Stephen Medal - Man of the Year are:

Reece Walsh – Broncos

Reece’s dedication to community showcases his community-natured approach, exercising humility and gratitude where he can. Reece is always seeking ways to give back to the wider community. His commitment to the Broncos community is evident in various acts of kindness. During Indigenous Round, he showcased a young artist's work on his social media, and he provided support to Carl Webb's children during an emotional game.

Reece also has a deep connection to his junior club, the Nerang Roosters. Reece has assisted by helping raise almost $30,000 to support his junior club. Reece continuously emphasises the importance of grassroots rugby league, highlighting his passion and his strong ties to his community. His dedication to engage with fans and supporting local causes reflects his belief in giving back and making a positive impact within his community.

Tohu Harris – Warriors

Tohu's commitment to community service across Aotearoa is exemplary, balancing his demanding schedule with the Warriors. He actively engages in school visits, community events, and recently leading the Warriors’ playing group in welcoming youth ambassadors – ensuring impactful experiences for each student. The Warriors are wholeheartedly behind Tohu's initiatives, recognising his positive impact on community, player development, and team morale. His involvement in community inspires his fellow players, fostering a culture of community engagement within the team. Tohu collaborates closely with the community team to prioritise meaningful engagement with activities ranging from supporting youth and inspiring school children to promoting rugby league initiatives.

His seamless integration of charity work into club commitments sets a high standard of sportsmanship and service, motivating his peers to participate. Tohu's efforts have significantly boosted community activation participation and raised substantial funds for charity. He actively supports hospital visits, literacy programs, and various community projects, demonstrating a steadfast commitment to youth development and community well-being. Through initiatives like the League in Libraries creative writing competition and his mentoring roles, Tohu continues to cultivate a culture of giving back, leaving a lasting impact on communities and inspiring positive change.

Connor Watson – Roosters

Connor Watson is known for his versatility and character and excels not only on the field but also in community service. As the senior Indigenous player at the Sydney Roosters, he champions charity work, youth development, and community engagement. His community impact was recognised with the 2020 Ken Stephen Medal while playing for the Newcastle Knights, marking the start of his influential commitment to community, and notably through his supporting charity, The Cultural Choice Association (CCAI). Connor's commitment is evident through diverse initiatives. He led community immersion activities in December 2023, collaborating with organisations like the Salvation Army and Royal Life Saving NSW for water safety advocacy via the #AreYouSummerReady campaign.

At the NRL’s Youth Leadership Summit, he mentored young Indigenous leaders. Initiating the ‘Boots for Brighter Futures’ program, Connor fosters cultural pride and addresses youth suicide through art and mental health discussions. His presence at the Indigenous Round in Canberra underscores his unwavering dedication. As CCAI board president, Connor's leadership ensures the program's sustainability and impact remains. His commitment to community, leadership, and role modelling embodies inclusivity, positivity, unity, and discipline.

Jake Trbojevic – Sea Eagles

Jake's impact for the Mona Vale Raiders and What Ability is profound. He actively participates in community-based initiatives through his club, attending events, conducting junior clinics, and supporting training sessions as the junior league ambassador. Jake extends his welcoming demeanour to all visitors, ensuring everyone has an enjoyable rugby league experience. Beyond his club commitments, Jake dedicates himself to the community organisation, What Ability.

As a support worker, he forms strong bonds with participants, offering support and friendship, even remotely. Jake's visit with his brothers to a young player battling cancer garnered media attention, boosting support through a GoFundMe campaign. Jake's leadership shines through his dedication to hospital visits and rallying teammates for community service. Jake has dedicated over 42 hours this season to What Ability, fostering inclusivity and positivity. Jake sets a benchmark for engagement, inspiring unity and discipline within the team, and his emotional resilience in supporting those facing health challenges underscores his compassion and strength – making a lasting impact on those he helps.

Young Tonumaipea – Storm

Throughout his tenure with the Melbourne Storm, Young has emerged as a beacon of leadership and community spirit. His unwavering dedication to community service, both on and off the field, underscores his selflessness.

Young has consistently made a positive impact with his time at the Storm, particularly in grassroots rugby league in Victoria through his support of the Northern Thunder. Beyond his athletic prowess, Young sets high standards for community engagement, leading teammates in various initiatives such as hospital visits and club member clinics. In 2024, Young orchestrated the Storm's first Samoan Language Week celebration, showcasing his passion for inclusion and culture. Young's commitment to the event ensured its success – integrating local Samoan community organisations for a culturally enriching experience. Young remains steadfast in his commitment to strengthening community and fostering unity within the Storm. His leadership transcends sports, leaving a legacy of inclusivity and positivity that resonates far beyond the field.

Josh Papalii – Raiders

Josh Papalii embodies the core values cherished by the rugby league community. As a leader of the Raiders, Josh consistently demonstrates strong values, humility, and dedication. Josh excels in connecting with community members and sets a positive example by fulfilling his obligations to sponsors and fans. Despite his integral role, he remains modest, quietly embracing his responsibilities and leading by example. Josh is deeply involved in charity work, regularly volunteering at local organisations such as feeding the homeless and acting as a community ambassador for Win the Day Charity and Menslink. He is passionate about youth development and frequently engages with young fans and aspiring athletes, serving as a mentor. He visits schools and sports clubs to inspire and motivate young people, emphasising hard work, determination, and resilience.

Josh's commitment extends to supporting those with disabilities and he has been actively involved in Menslink, gaining valuable experience that will aid him in starting a NDIS company. His efforts in the community, including organising charity events and raising significant funds, highlight his dedication to making a positive impact. Josh prioritises giving back and making a meaningful difference in the lives of others.

Luke Garner – Panthers

Luke has been outstanding in his volunteering capacity at various community organisations. At Panthers on the Prowl, he engages with the Primary Classroom program, helping young people improve their communication and teamwork skills. During the holiday season at Nepean Hospital, Luke showcased his vibrant community-minded personality to bring joy to patients by spending time to connect and distribute Christmas presents. He also supports the local community by visiting 180TC, a drug rehab centre, where he encourages team morale and shares personal stories with patients to provide encouragement to strive towards personal goals.

Luke's eagerness to volunteer and make a positive impact in the community is motivating to his peers. Since 2021, he has been a What Ability ambassador, demonstrating a participant-focused attitude and working hard to enhance the experiences of those he helps. His approach to inclusion, particularly in the disability sector, is outstanding.

Jacob Liddle – Dragons

Jacob enthusiastically participates in various grassroots programs including giving his time to visit local junior league clubs, encouraging school students, and attending multiple community events across the season. Jacob has supported various community groups in 2024, including the Salvation Army, Aruma Disability Service providers and Indigenous communities – demonstrating genuine interest and warmth using the common language of rugby league as a key connector.

Outside his club duties, Jacob is an ambassador for Heroes With Ability (HWA), supporting their initiatives and participating in inclusive gala days. He also sponsors Flinders Public School, facilitating their involvement in the Dragons’ The Best You Can Be (BYCB) program, promoting health and wellbeing to over 300 students. Jacob leads by example, encouraging his fellow players to engage in community work. His involvement is marked by reliability, enthusiasm, and a genuine desire to make a difference, and enriching the lives of many.

Dylan Lucas – Knights

A proud Wiradjuri man, Dylan is dedicated to impacting community. His commitment is evident in various club initiatives, such as participating in the Knights' Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) launch in November 2023 to foster cultural awareness and unity amongst his peers. His involvement in the NRL School to Work (S2W) program, including events like the SEWB on Country Day, and Knights Youth Summit Presentation, underscores his dedication to youth empowerment. Dylan participated in the Knights School Blitz, delivering educational sessions to local schools, as well as visiting the John Hunter Children's Hospital to spread cheer amongst young patients.

Dylan also led the Cultural Choice ‘Boots for Brighter Futures’ initiative at the Knights, organising the painting of players' boots for the club’s Indigenous Round – empowering Indigenous youth through creative activities. His involvement in the Proud Boys program by NSW Police further exemplifies his commitment to at-risk youth, sharing his personal experiences to inspire the participants. His efforts demonstrate a profound commitment to positively impacting young people and the broader community.

Triple treat for Jahream

Jahream Bula – Wests Tigers

Jahream’s dedication to youth development, and community support shines through his involvement with Wests Tigers’ community program. Annually, Jahream participates in the club’s Christmas Toy Drive, including visiting the Bill Crews Foundation homeless shelter. Jahream's approachable nature bring joy and comfort to the residents, showcasing his compassion and commitment to helping those in need. Jahream also plays a significant role in the Wests Tigers School Blitz, educating students about health and wellbeing messages. Jahream dedication in this space includes participating in interactive clinics and inspiring students to pursue their academic and athletic goals. His ability to connect with young people and share his experiences as a professional athlete leaves a lasting impact.

Jahream is deeply involved with the Redfern Youth Connect Centre, founded by his fiancée Aaliyah Haumono and her parents. The centre provides a safe space for Indigenous youth, offering educational programs, fitness activities, and leadership initiatives. Jahream's active participation and personal connection with the youth make him a valuable mentor and role model. Through these efforts, Jahream exemplifies the ideals of sportsmanship, leadership, and community spirit. His commitment to community service and youth development sets a powerful example, demonstrating the positive impact one individual can make.

Ben Lovett – Rabbitohs

As a proud man from Parkes in the Central West region of NSW, Ben is committed to promoting rugby league participation in regional towns. A standout peer amongst his Rabbitohs teammates, Ben has the heart and passion for regional communities. In 2024, during the Rabbitohs’ bye round, Ben travelled to Papua New Guinea with teammates Alex Johnston and Sean Keppie, delivering workshops, school visits, and rugby league clinics to the community. Ben’s support of Souths Cares and their 2024 northern NSW tour to Ballina, Casino, Maclean and Grafton, saw him co-facilitate mental health and wellbeing workshops to regional communities. Ben was also a fan favourite with his participation in the annual NRL Road to Regions program in Forster and Taree.

Ben’s commitment to youth development and supporting community is exemplified by his ambassadorship at Goal College, mentoring Year 11 and Year 12 students seeking to gain their HSC while developing their skills and experience for a career in the sporting industry. Ben will frequently stay back after sessions and volunteer to do extra work with students. He is relentlessly positive, as evidenced through his ability to connect with youth. He is selfless and generous, as shown through his unwavering support for community initiatives and impact to regional Australia.

Tom Gilbert – Dolphins

Tom exemplifies outstanding leadership through his unwavering commitment to community service. His active participation in club activities such as fan days, clinics, and school visits, ensure the opportunity to make a positive impact through the game of rugby league. Acknowledging his role in shaping the Dolphins' identity, Tom passionately fulfills his community obligations, earning admiration from teammates and the broader community. As an ambassador for the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital Foundation Giving Day, Tom supports the hospital by visiting patients, sharing experiences and offering encouragement and strengthening bonds with those he engages with. His commitment to community extends to the Paddy's Van initiative, providing meals to those in need. His advocacy has inspired teammates and staff to join with him in community service, ensuring their reach can inspire as many people as possible.

Tom’s dedication to inclusivity and his ability to connect with other on a personal level have made a profound impact. His resilience and continuous efforts to give back to the community illustrate his exceptional character. Tom’s selfless actions serve as a role model for NRL players, promoting the importance of giving back and fostering unity and compassion.

Reuben Cotter – Cowboys

Known for his on field and community leadership, Reuben regularly participates in the Cowboys Adopt-a-School program, visiting Ryan Catholic College to share the club’s values and ethos with students. His commitment to community extends to his proud Torres Strait Island heritage, where he supports community organisations such as Deadly Choices, promoting health and wellbeing among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. As an ambassador for the NRL Cowboys House, Reuben actively engages with Indigenous students, learning and sharing cultural knowledge with the students. He proactively participates in community events, such as regional trips to Mackay and Charters Towers.

Reuben’s unwavering support of the Brighter Lives Townsville Hospital Foundation, the charity partner of Townsville Hospital, where he visits patients and helps to raise much-needed funds showcases his leadership and ability to ensure all members of the community feel a sense of belonging. Reuben exemplifies values of inclusivity and social responsibility, using his platform to promote health, education, and cultural initiatives. Reuben remains dedicated to inspiring and supporting the community, especially the next generation of North Queenslanders.

Toby Sexton – Bulldogs

Dedicated and passionate for community service, Toby actively engages in both club and wider community activities. His commitment to community is evident when in the off-season, Toby led his team in volunteering at the Rev. Bill Crews Foundation, helping serve food and prepare hampers for those in need. Toby’s consistent efforts extended to school programs, co-delivering presentations and interacting with students. His leadership and organisational skills where exemplified during a fundraiser for his local football team on the Gold Coast.

At Canterbury Boys High School, Toby’s dedication to working with students living with autism and mental health issues has led to significant improvements in their wellbeing. By setting up physical activities and providing consistent support, Toby has helped these students develop better physical health, social skills, and emotional resilience. The feedback from teachers and parents attests to the positive changes in the students’ behaviour and outlook, showcasing the tangible benefits of Toby’s involvement. Growing up in Queensland, Toby’s dedication to make a positive impact continues at the Gold Coast University Hospital. His regular visits to the children’s ward bring comfort and joy to sick children, creating a positive atmosphere that significantly enhanced their wellbeing during challenging times. Toby embodies inclusivity, positivity, unity, and discipline, making a lasting positive impact on his community.

Nicho Hynes – Sharks

Nicho is known for his exceptional commitment to community service and always having a smile on his face. As one of the club’s most requested players, Nicho dedicates significant time to community activities, balancing these commitments with his busy training schedule. He is particularly supportive of individuals facing difficult seasons, frequently visiting hospitals and engaging with community members. Nicho is deeply involved in school initiatives and played a key role in creating the One Heart Diversity and Anti-Racism program, sharing his personal experiences with racism.

As a proud Wiradjuri and Darkinjung man, he advocates for Indigenous programs, supporting Deadly Choices and the NRL’s School to Work program. His dedication to mental health awareness led to the club’s first Mental Fitness Round, partnering with Gotcha4Life to promote mental fitness. Nicho champions the inclusion of young Indigenous players. His positive attitude, inclusiveness, and discipline inspire his peers and the community. Nicho exemplifies how athletes can use their platform to make a meaningful impact on society.

Brian Kelly – Titans

As a proud Bundjalung man from Ballina and Ballina Seagulls Junior, Brian’s deep connection to his roots and community fuels his extensive charitable work and youth development initiatives. Brain is actively involved in the Titans’ Leagueability program, fostering inclusivity in rugby league, providing training and mentorship to Australians living with a disability. His commitment extends leading the DSQ Run Out event, raising essential funds and awareness for Down Syndrome Queensland. His leadership was evident during the 2022 Northern Rivers floods, where he participated in rescue operations and supported long-term recovery efforts.

Brian’s instrumental role in establishing the Titans' first NAIDOC Day underscores his commitment to celebrating and honouring indigenous culture and heritage. This annual event, which will soon mark its 10th anniversary, has become a cornerstone of the club's community engagement efforts – promoting cultural awareness, inclusivity, and reconciliation. Brian’s leadership and vision in initiating this tradition has had a lasting impact, fostering a sense of pride and unity within the club and the wider community. Brian’s role in the Titans Cultural Collective and his mentorship of Indigenous students, highlight his dedication to cultural awareness and inclusion. Brian’s journey of community service began at a young age, characterised by his fun-loving nature, kindness, and boundless energy.

Shaun Lane – Eels

A dedicated player for the Eels, Shaun is deeply committed to charity work, youth development, and community support. Shaun has a robust history of supporting various charities. Notably, he has raised $15,000 for the Perry Cross charity through their annual gala raffle. As a Giant Steps ambassador, Shaun supports children and families affected by autism, and has a deep connection with Ronald McDonald House encouraging families facing challenging seasons. Shaun frequently engages in Eels community activities, supporting and encouraging students through school and junior club blitzes, holiday activities, and providing mentorship and inspiration. Additionally, Shaun attends Motiv8sports active kids camps, where he spends time coaching and motivating young sports enthusiasts.

Shaun Lane documentary: Out of My Lane

Shaun’s advocacy and commitment for mental health led to the creation of the impactful documentary, Out of my Lane. He also supports elite pathway athletes through mental health literacy and career guidance workshops and facilitates violence prevention coaching for junior league coaches. In addition to his community service, Shaun is pursuing a Master’s degree in Applied Positive Psychology, enhancing his ability to contribute effectively to mental health advocacy. His continuous efforts in fundraising, workshops and fan engagement exemplify his dedication to community. Shaun’s unwavering commitment to making a positive impact both on and off the field makes him an exemplary role model.

Acknowledgement of Country

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks respect and honour 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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