How the NRL and VSA are collaborating to support veterans
The power of sport is undeniable. It brings with it passion, dedication, camaraderie and confidence. It builds communities, encourages and inspires.
At Veteran Sport Australia, we’ve had the honour of partnering with many like-minded sporting organisations to further our reach, engagement and impact throughout the veteran community.
One of our strongest partnerships, which we’re very proud of, is with the NRL.
Battlefields to Footy Fields
Our partner Battlefields to Footy Fields program is a ground-breaking initiative that provides veterans with the tools and support they need to referee rugby league, whilst assisting with their reintegration into their local community.
Launched in 2019, together with the NRL we’ve witnessed a strong uptake in the program and the life-changing impact that being involved with Battlefields to Footy Fields can have.
“I just couldn’t find where I fitted into society. That was just taking its toll on me. I’d been in and out of hospital a few times. Refereeing gets you out of the house and active. I wouldn’t have done half the things I’ve been doing in the last 18 months if it wasn’t for the NRL.
I have started getting back into contact with mates I served with. I don’t believe I would have done so without my new-found confidence through doing the Battlefields to Footy Fields program.”
Troy Burgess, Australian Army veteran and Battlefields to Footy Fields referee
We’re now looking forward to the program’s continued expansion – including offering veterans the opportunity to become sports trainers, in addition to refereeing.
Activating the Hunter
Our recent Battlefields to Footy Fields activations held in the NSW Hunter Region – rugby league heartland and Newcastle Knights territory – in April 2021 proved extremely successful. It was a testament to the strong link between our veteran and rugby league communities and the dedication of the team at the NRL.
The day kicked off with former State of Origin and international referee Tony Archer, Battlefields to Footy Fields ambassador and referee Troy Burgess and VSA’s Rachel Kerrigan joining over 30 veterans at the Australian Army School of Infantry in Singleton to talk about ways to get involved in the program.
Building on the momentum from the morning, that afternoon the team joined forces with NRL Game Development Officers to put on a fantastic rugby league skills session for local Defence school children. To finish a huge day, that evening the team then ran an information session for local veterans who were interested in joining the program at Raymond Terrace Bowling Club.
CEO of Veteran Sport Australia, Michael Hartung, says that he’s proud to partner with the NRL and paid tribute to the NRL’s commitment to the veteran community.
“Battlefields to Footy Fields is a hugely successful program that’s having a big impact,” says Michael. “Tony Archer, Troy Burgess and the team at the NRL support our veteran community every step of the way. We’re excited to see what the future holds for the program and encourage veterans from around the country to reach out and get involved.”
An Anzac Round to remember with the Parramatta Eels
The NRL boasts a passionate community, and some of the country’s most loyal fans. Some say none more passionate than a Parramatta Eels fan.
In the lead up to one of the most significant rounds on the footy calendar – the Anzac Round – the Eels unveiled their 2021 Anzac jersey. The Eels announced that they would donate $5 from every jersey sold to Veteran Sport Australia. As an organisation, we’re honoured and humbled to be recognised by the Eels, their supporters and the NRL in such a significant way
Fittingly, this year’s Eels Anzac jersey was again designed by Royal Australian Air Force veteran, Squadron Leader Kathy Turner CSM, a permanent Air Force veteran Engineering Officer and active Reservist with 30 plus years’ service including operations in Kuwait and Kyrgyzstan. We extend our sincere thanks and appreciation to Squadron Leader Turner, who is still working in defence and is a freelance Graphic Designer and owner of Graphite Design Coal Coast, for her support.
The theme of the wonderful jersey is centred on the 100th Anniversary of the RAAF, which was formed on 31 March 1921. The jersey commemorates 100 years of service of the RAAF and its personnel past and present to Australia and its people. In this time, over 350,000 Australians have served in the RAAF and 11,191 have given their lives. Their service and sacrifice will always be remembered.
The design storyline of the jersey is aligned to the Air Force 100 theme – “Now. Then. Always.” From modest beginnings to a world-class new generation force. From the first and oldest base, RAAF Base Point Cook in Victoria, to latest and youngest base, RAAF Base Tindal in Northern Territory. From the first fighter aircraft SE5A to the new generation fighter aircraft F35 Lightning. From WWI veterans to current veterans.
Other elements of the design include the SE5a and F35 silhouettes in pairs to represent wingmen and mateship – dual fighters on mission, friends and teammates who serve alongside each other in battle and on the footy field. The Southern Cross from the Northern Territory state flag on the shoulder symbolises the RAAF motto “per ardua ad astra” or “through adversity to the stars”, while background stripes yellow to blue represent Anzac dawn to sunrise and passage of time akin to the words of the ANZAC Ode of Remembrance.
During the Anzac Round, Battlefields to Footy Fields referee Troy Burgess was also the keynote speaker at the Parramatta Eels’ ‘Legends Lunch’ in Darwin and refereed the annual ‘Friends of Parliament’ game the day before the NRL clash.
NRL’s Ted Larkin Oration Dinner
Veteran Sport Australia had the pleasure of attending the NRL’s Ted Larkin Oration Dinner in April. The annual event is held in honour of Edward Rennix ‘Teddy’ Larkin.
Larkin was a member for Willoughby (NSW), Australian rugby union representative and Secretary of the NSWRL from 1909-1913. He served in the First World War and was killed on 25 April, 1915 during the Gallipoli landing. In true Anzac spirit, Larkin turned first-aid away protesting ‘there’s plenty worse than me out there’. He lost his life soon after.
A tremendous innovator throughout his life, many of Larkin’s pioneering initiatives have been central to the development of rugby league and still resonate today.
The event was made particularly special by the presence of our Patron, Sir Peter Cosgrove, who was invited as a guest speaker. Sir Peter shared stories of his time in the army, the power of sport and the incredible experience of his involvement in the Invictus Games Sydney 2018.
We’re excited about the future of our partnership with the NRL and the new and inspiring ways we can work with and support our veteran community. We look forward to continuing to work with the NRL, who share our belief in the power of sport to change lives.