RUGBY LEAGUE: To these youngsters, Matt Gillett’s much more than a State of Origin star.
The 27-year-old from the Sunshine Coast is a friend and mentor to the children within the Falcons Footy - Rugby League for Children of Different Abilities program.
“The kids love him. He’s great with them and he’s formed a really strong bond with a lot of them,” Falcons CEO and program founder Chris Flannery said.
The burly Queensland and Broncos backrower brought attention to the group on Wednesday night, when he donated his man-of-the-match winnings to the initiative.
The program provides opportunities for girls and boys who live with challenges such as autism and aspergers.
They play footy at Sunshine Coast Stadium before Sunshine Coast Falcons’ home games. Gillett is often there.
“We asked him to come on board and he said ‘yes’ straight away,” Flannery said.
“He comes up and runs drills, he’s presented kids with shirts and medals and last year he got them all tickets and took them down to the Broncos versus Tigers match (at Brisbane).”
Gillett is also an ambassador for RSPCA Queensland and last week he and Flannery did a talk at Kawana High about domestic violence.
“He’s involved in a lot of community initiatives,” Flannery said. “He’s very proactive off the field and a great ambassador for the game.”
As a result of his efforts, he was last year nominated for the Ken Stephens Medal at rugby league’s Dally M awards.
The Falcons Footy program, which is supported by Maroochy RSL and co-ordinated by Nadine Krivkov, has been recognised by Autism Spectrum Australia with the above and beyond award.
“We’ve been running it for a couple of years now and we’ve got 50 kids enrolled,” Flannery said.
“Most of them have some form of autism but there is a lot of other kids with other disabilities in the program.”
“A lot of these kids can’t participate in mainstream rugby league or mainstream sports. They probably just don’t have the attention span to be involved in those games so it’s great for them to be able to play rugby league here in a safe, controlled environment.”
Coaster and ex-Maroons rake Kerrod Walters is also an ambassador.
By Steele Taylor of Sunshine Coast Daily
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