THE TOUCH OF CLASS
NRL stars are honing their skills while helping to keep youths off the streets by joining in daily Oztag games at Emerton. St Marys resident Osselan Fofoga-Tupai kicked off the popular Mounty County Wolfpack (MCW) Tag initiative with friends last year.
What started out as a get-together for 10 people, aimed at keeping young men active through Oztag, is now a daily community event drawing up to 100.
Organiser Osselan Fofoga-Tupai said he noticed numbers grow, as many of the region’s vulnerable youth jumped on board.
“We realised it was actually helping out a lot of the community,” Fofoga-Tupai, 25, of St Marys, said. “A mum thanked me — with some of the original boys — saying that by bringing her son down every day keeps him out of trouble.”
The free games at Popondetta Park, Emerton, regularly attract NRL stars.
Blake Austin (Raiders), Suaia Matagi (Eels) and Tyrone May (Panthers NYC) are often seen at the fields, while Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Moses Leota (Pan- thers), often stop by.
“We grew up with these boys ... to us they are family,” Fofoga-Tupai said.
The father-of-one said it was uplifting to see children as young as six get to “play with their heroes”.
Matagi, who lives nearby, said MCW Tag was an important part of positive community influence.
A reformed player, he said he found his feet in sport. He believes an outlet would have helped him growing up in New Zealand, prior to being jailed.
“I went off track because there was nothing to do. I was always in trouble with the law. It was all I knew at the time and was who and what I surrounded myself with,” Matagi said.
“That’s why this is so good; there is something here for the kids.
“If this wasn’t here you could imagine what else they (might) be getting up to.
“Hopefully we can inspire someone to know they have what it takes.”
While Austin is based in Canberra his parents live at Hebersham, meaning he visits whenever possible.
He said MCW Tag gave him “a chance to play footy” in the off-season.
“The biggest thing I miss about western Sydney is — whether it’s Heber Park, here, or even Tregear — there is always a game to get involved in,” he said.
“This is where you learn a lot of your skills and take it to your representative arenas and showcase it.
“You’ve only got to watch me struggle to keep up with them.”
Oztag Australia is involved and supplies the group with tags.
Watch video: mt druittstandard.com.au
Blake Austin, of the Canberra Raiders (from left), Suaia Matagi, of the Parramatta Eels, and Penrith Panthers young gun Tyrone May with youngsters from the Mt Druitt area. Picture: Justin Sanson