THE TOUCH OF CLASS

Mt Druitt - St Mary's Standard (East) - - SPORT - Marissa Ge­or­gopou­los

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

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