2017 Community Service Award Finalists Announced

By Pete Fairbairn, 17.11.17

Five finalists have been announced in the 2017 Community Service award, to be presented at the annual Volvo-RUPA Awards Luncheon in Sydney on Wednesday December 13th.

Robbie Abel (Brumbies), Richard Hardwick (Western Force), Mahalia Murphy (Australian Women’s Rugby Sevens), Matt Sandell (Waratahs) and James Slipper (Reds) have all been nominated for the award, which is presented annually to the player who has made extraordinary service to the community through charity events, appearances and promotion of a community or not-for-profit cause or initiative.

Finalists are put forward by the RUPA Player Development Managers, and the winner is decided by RUPA Chairman Bruce Hodgkinson SC and RUPA President Dean Mumm.

The Community Service award was first presented in 2011. It’s’ previous winners are Eddie Aholelei (2012), Matt Hodgson (2016), Pat Leafa (2013), Patrick McCutcheon & Henry Speight (2014), David Pocock (2011) and Paddy Ryan (2015).

Robbie Abel (Brumbies)

Since re-joining the Brumbies in 2016, 28-year-old hooker Robbie Abel has consistently displayed his selflessness and desire to be a positive influence on the team, the Club and the community, and despite cementing a regular spot in the Brumbies’ side this season his endeavours in that area have not changed.

In addition to his Brumbies appearances, every week Robbie contributes a large amount of his time away from Rugby to a wide range of voluntary work with disadvantaged young people and their families. With his Indigenous and Pasifika heritage, a significant amount of his work is with people from these backgrounds although people from a range of cultures have been assisted by Robbie. During the Super Rugby pre-season and competition proper, he contributes at least ten hours per week to voluntary work, and this increases dramatically during the National Rugby Championship (NRC) season with its schedule allowing for greater flexibility.

With the time he donates, Robbie conducts coaching clinics, fitness and health programs, one-on-one and group mentoring, family support, school visits and camps, and counselling. Robbie’s gentle and caring nature means he is inundated with requests for assistance, and he always finds time for a person in need and his impact on many young lives has been immense.

Robbie has also been nominated for NAIDOC Person of the Year and Sportsperson of the Year in the 2017 Canberra and District NAIDOC Awards.

Richard Hardwick (Western Force)

Besides a massive year on the field for the powerful flanker, which saw ‘Dickie’ make his Wallaby debut in the June Test series, 2017 also saw the 23-year-old make a remarkable contribution to the Bloody Slow Cup in regional Western Australia.

The annual Bloody Slow Cup is held in the Pilbara town of Newman, nearly 1200 kilometres north of Perth, and raises money for WA Police Legacy as it serves to honour four police officers who died in a plane crash in Newman on Australia Day 2001. It is played between Australians and New Zealanders within the mining community, with Hardwick spending a week within their midst promoting the event and coaching both junior and senior teams in the competition.

Dickie has also given his own time to be a selector for a local Rugby academy at 3 trials to pick a team to send to the Armidale U12’s Rugby Camp in NSW in 2018, offering his insights to the young players on setbacks and advice on how to make it as a player, as well as undertaking numerous other community appearances for the Force and Wallabies, always with a big smile on his face.

Mahalia Murphy (Australian Women’s Rugby Sevens/Wallaroos)

2017 was a massive year on the field for Mahalia Murphy, with the 23-yar-old indigenous star featuring for the Australian Women’s Rugby Sevens team at four tournaments (including a star turn in Sydney), playing for the university of Adelaide in the inaugural Aon Uni 7s Series and also transferring her skillset across to the fifteen-a-side code as she represented the Wallaroos at the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland, scoring three tries.

Her work off the field was just as impressive, if not more so. Mahalia gets asked to do a large number of appearances and community work and she never turns it down. She is very proud of her culture and works hard to give back and take every opportunity she is given.

In 2017, among her appearances she attended the Deadly 7s, visited five schools (Doonside Primary School, Endeavour Sports High School, Evans High School, Marayong Primary School and Shavely Primary School), attended the NSW Waratahs Girls Camp and represented the code at a TAFE Open Day.

She also supported numerous charitable causes, including Clondarf Foundation, Lloyd McDermott Rugby Development Team and NAIDOC (Campbelltown, Hyde Park & Redfern). She plays an active role in trying to encourage and empower young women to pursue Rugby Sevens and is always more than happy to dedicate her time.

Matt Sandell (Waratahs)

For a young man determined to make his Super Rugby debut, a second successive season-ending knee injury represents a most unfortunate and unwanted setback. This was the fate that befell young Waratahs front rower Matt Sandell in 2017, and while obviously disappointed to receive the prognosis the Mudgee product took it in his stride and resolved himself to instead contributing to the team and the Club by helping grow and promote Rugby and the Waratahs throughout the state.

Matt attended 19 events on behalf of the Club and completed a staggering 59 hours’ worth of appearances for the Waratahs. On top of this, and as well as committing a vast amount of time and dedication to his own personal injury rehabilitation, Matt was also the Under 13’s skills coach at St Josephs College and made himself available to assist with his junior club in Mudgee whenever he returned home to see his family.

Matt presented the RUPA Medal, on behalf of all of Australia’s professional players, to the Best on Ground in the Final of the 2017 Australian Schoolboys Championships, and also made himself available to undergo initial facilitator training as part of the partnership between Australian Rugby and Our Watch, an organisation that has been established to drive nation-wide change in the culture, behaviours and attitudes that underpin and create violence against women and their children.

James Slipper (Queensland Reds)

Queensland Reds Captain James Slipper’s 2017 Rugby season was significantly derailed when he suffered a season-ending torn Achilles against the Lions in Johannesburg in Round Four, and similarly disrupted when a fractured cheekbone brought a premature end to his NRC campaign with Queensland Country following a successful return from a long rehabilitation.

James’ attitude to his injury was admirable, however, as the 86-cap Wallaby put his hand up to say he wanted to do as much as he could in to represent the Reds within the community. He traveled as far as Cherbourg, Townsville, and Bundaberg promoting Rugby and the Club, going well beyond what was required of him in this space without any fuss and setting a shining example for his teammates.

In total, he has made over 30 appearances in 2017, attending Rugby clinics, presentation days and a number of fundraising events. James has not only supported Rugby events during this period, but has also he has attended QLD School Sport Dinners, made a number of visits to Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital, attended the Red Frogs Gala Dinner, and took part in filming for R U OK Day.

The Community Service award is one of eight major awards presented at the Volvo-RUPA Awards Lunch including the RUPA Medal for Excellence, the most prestigious player-voted honour in Australian Rugby, as well as the Taylors Wines People’s Choice Australian Player of the Year and Academic Achievement awards.

Stay tuned for announcements regarding the finalists in other award categories over the coming days and weeks.

Pete Fairbairn
Communications Manager
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