A school like no other
There is a school in a remote part of Kavieng, in the Papua New Guinea province of New Ireland, where every kid supports the Bulldogs.
The classrooms of the Nehemiah Christian School are all painted blue and white and the kids wear blue and white uniforms.
Before going there on a post-season trip with the club to help build a community hall and do school visits, I knew nothing about it. A school like that in that place … I just feel every Bulldogs player should know about it and the story behind it.
When they told us we’d be visiting a school that liked the Bulldogs, I thought there would be a few posters hung up around the place. One of the first things you see is in the school hall, where they had a massive wallpaper of Josh Reynolds, Trent Hodkinson, Josh Jackson and Sam Perrot celebrating. That was really cool.
We had some former players there who make annual trips to the region with the club. Corey Hughes, Reni Maitua and Daniel Holdsworth were back again and the kids and teachers knew all of them on a first-name basis. That really amazed me.
One of the teachers said that no matter how old they are, people in the town start asking about coming to school in October because that’s when the Bulldogs are visiting.
I would have loved to go to a Bulldogs school. It gives you a sense of community if you support the team together with all your friends, as much as it seems you’re forced into it.
It wasn’t just that. The school backs onto a beach which has got a natural rock pool where the kids learn to swim. At lunch they climbed coconut trees to get some down to eat. It was a beautiful place.
Fishing for our dinners
Towards the end of the season, our club wellbeing and education manager Steve Pike was asking the boys if they were up for going on this year’s trip. He’s been taking groups over for eight years, helping with work on local projects.
No one was putting their hands up. At first, I was a little reluctant. When I saw I had to get malaria shots and other needles there was a little bit of concern, but as soon as I got there I was over the moon that I’d decided to go.
When we got off the plane, walking through Port Moresby airport, everyone seemed to know who we were and plenty of people were coming up asking to take photos.
As soon as we got to the island, we were complete celebrities. Everyone was running up to us wanting photos and signatures. I still feel I’m quite unknown in Australia but over there they knew my name more than they do here. I guess that shows how much rugby league means to the people there.
I didn’t go there with much expectation but Kavieng was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. The beach was amazing, the water crystal clear and everyone was so friendly and accommodating. I can’t wait to go back.
Any opportunity they get to mingle with a footy player is something good for them. They wouldn’t stop asking about Rhyse Martin, he’s Superman over there, their hero.
At first, we stayed in a resort with working toilets and electricity. Then we took a three-hour banana boat ride to Tunnung Island. It wasn’t like we were living rough but the electricity came from a generator and there was one toilet and one shower for the island.
The locals rely on farming and fishing for their food. It was the first time I’d been fishing and I got right into it. Trawling off the back of small boats, we caught mackerel, barracuda, trevally and tuna.
I stay away from the water in Australia, just a few shallow beaches, but going out there was pretty crazy and I really enjoyed it. We ate seafood every night, fresh and beautiful.
On Tunnung Island we helped build a community hall, putting on the roof. At my off-season weight of 113kg, they told me I was too heavy to get up on the roof so I got the foreman’s job, handing the hammers and nails to the boys up there.
If they ask me to go back again, I’ll jump at it. I told all our guys that if you get the opportunity, go straightaway.
In Australia, I think you get a fair bit of criticism and sometimes it’s hard to deal with. Over there, they make you feel so good about what you’ve done, like you’re the best thing on earth. I reckon if I’d gone over there without playing first grade, they would have taken care of me. They’re just nice people and super caring.
A career for after footy
I’ve always been interested in giving back. I take after my mum, who was always down at the local footy ground volunteering her time. I saw her do that and it inspired me.
I’ve done some work with special needs kids at schools and I find that really fulfilling and something I want to do more of. When I was in the under-20s we had to do work or study, so I did a lot of work in schools as a teacher’s aide. A lot of the time I would be assigned kids with disabilities.
They’d often be big fans of football and it was something we had in common. We could always muck around together, and I felt there was a strong connection there.
I’m a bit reluctant to jump into uni right now; I’m not sure if I’m up to the challenge at this point of my life with everything else I’m doing, but some form of teaching is a career I’m keen on after footy.
I like being able to work with kids one-on-one and build personal relationships and friendships. I don’t just want to be an authoritarian, telling kids what to do all the time. I want to have fun with them.