Australian Rugby League Commissioner and Balmain Tigers legend Wayne Pearce will present the Ken Stephen Medal at the 2012 One Community Awards this month, 25 years after he won the inaugural award celebrating the inspiring work NRL players do in the community.
One of the highlight events on the Rugby League calendar, the One Community Awards - being held this year at Sydney’s Town Hall on Monday, September 24 - brings together NRL stars and the game’s grass-roots volunteers, officials, referees, coaches, players, and teachers.
While the focus this weekend will be on the likes of Ken Stephen Medal finalist Johnathan Thurston in the Cowboys sudden-death Semi-Final against the Sea Eagles at Allianz Stadium, Pearce said the work the players do off the field is just as significant to fans across the country.
“It will be a real honour to present the Ken Stephen Medal this year … back when I achieved it, I don’t think people understood the significance of what it means,” said Pearce, who won the 1988 award while playing for Balmain.
“There is a greater general awareness across the code of the social responsibility of players to step up and use their profile in a way that benefits the community.
“Anyone can make a difference, but it’s easier when you have a profile. I believe it is a social responsibility of all high profile people, not just athletes … whether in sport, business, politics, cultural arena, whatever … to use their profile to help make a difference.”
Since the Award was first presented to Pearce in 1988, an impressive list of players have been honoured, including Peter Sterling, Paul Harragon, Mark Coyne, Ian Roberts and in more recent times Hazem El Masri, David Peachey, Preston Campbell, Nathan Hindmarsh, Andrew Ryan and 2011 recipient Sam Thaiday.
This year’s Ken Stephen Medal finalists are: Jharal Yow Yeh (Brisbane Broncos), Terry Campese (Canberra Raiders), Dene Halatau (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Ben Ross (Cronulla Sharks), Scott Prince (Gold Coast Titans), George Rose (Manly Sea Eagles), Matt Duffie (Melbourne Storm), Akuila Uate (Newcastle Knights), Johnathan Thurston (North Queensland Cowboys), Tim Mannah (Parramatta Eels), Tim Grant (Penrith Panthers), Jason Nightingale (St George Illawarra Dragons), Anthony Minichiello (Sydney Roosters), Elijah Taylor (Warriors), Keith Galloway (Wests Tigers).
The Award is named after the late Ken Stephen, who dedicated more than 28 years to Rugby League as a player, community advocate and administrator and is the highest accolade an NRL player can receive for their tireless efforts off the field.
Telstra will give $5,000 to the winner and $5,000 to their favourite charity.
The One Community Awards, to be attended by almost 400 guests, including NRL club officials and players, award nominees, sponsors and prominent politicians, will launch a spectacular week of Grand Final celebrations, culminating in the Telstra Premiership Grand Final at ANZ Stadium on Sunday, September 30.
Other One Community Awards to be presented include:
• Toyota National Volunteer of the Year
• Harvey Norman Women In League Achievement Award
• Telstra One Community Grass-roots Club
• AAMI Service to the Community Award
• AAMI Service to Refereeing Award
• ARLC National Teacher of the Year Award: Primary and Secondary
• ARLC Young Indigenous Learn Earn Legend! Award.