Parramatta props Kane Evans and Reagan Campbell-Gillard have drawn inspiration from a meeting with the Cobargo farmer who lost his father and brother in the raging inferno that devastated the NSW South Coast town.
Evans and Campbell were among a group of Eels players who visited the farm of Tim and Leanne Salway on Thursday before meeting the local community at the Cobargo Hotel for dinner ahead of Saturday night’s EISS Super Saphire Trial Tribute clash with Penrith in Bega.
Salway told them how a giant fireball fuelled by tornado-like winds had swept through his property towards the adjoining dairy farm, where his father Robert and brother Patrick were later found dead.
He also lost more than half his dairy stock and had to milk the surviving cows for 11 days while knowing that the milk would perish due to a lack of electricity.
"Coming down here and seeing how people have reacted to what has happened has sort of taught me to keep pushing through tough times," Evans said.
"It was a pretty amazing story to hear first-hand and they were showing us how the fire and the tornado swept around the area.
"If I ever thought I had it hard, after listening to that I realise I have got no troubles in my life and nothing that is even worth complaining about.
"Tim lost 163 cattle and he also lost his father and he lost his brother, and the next day his grandmother passed away. Just to see how he is six weeks later, he was so upbeat and happy.
''He was strong and still pushing through, it just shows what a leader he and his family are.
"It's humbling and a massive privilege to come down here and I’ve learned a lot so probably more than me giving back, I have taken more from them."
The largest turnout locals could remember at the Cobargo Hotel was on hand to greet the Eels players and former club greats Mick Cronin and Bob O’Reilly, as well as Preston Campbell and Danny Buderus.
Locals and emergency service workers spoke with the players while there was live music in a beer garden overlooking the wreckage of buildings in the main street that had been destroyed in the fires.
Campbell-Gillard said it was good to see kids with smiles on their faces as they got posters, balls and caps autographed or posed for photos with the Parramatta stars.
"They have obviously been through a lot in the last two or three months so any little thing we can do to try and build their spirits back up is good," Campbell-Gillard said.
"Hopefully we can put on a good performance for not only this community but all of the other communities that have been effected on the South Coast. The whole nation and virtually the whole world knows about how this area was effected.
"Lives were lost, it effected families and these were farmers for whom this is their livelihood and has been for generations. I am pretty sure they [the Salways] were a sixth generation family and three generations are gone in one hit.
"It's crazy to think what they actually went through and to see there smiling is amazing. I have had a pretty good yarn to the families that were effected and they are pretty happy that the boys can obviously lend a hand and do something to help."