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Casino Cougars crowned Grassroots Club of the Year

NSWRL Grassroots Club of the Year Award winner Casino Cougars has always prided itself on inclusiveness, especially between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. As a result, it should come as no surprise that True Blue and South Sydney five-eighth Cody Walker returned to his junior club to help support that message.

Walker made the trip during the bye weekend for the Rabbitohs, and before lockdown restrictions had come into force across NSW to combat the COVID-19 outbreak, to run a mindset program for the local Indigenous community.

“He took the under 16s and under 18s on training runs and spoke to the boys about the pressures and how he got to where he was and his achievements,” Casino Cougars President Adam Hickey said.

Walker isn’t the only True Blue who has given his time back to the Cougars over the years, with former local junior Matt King also returning to help out.

“When Matt gets a chance, he comes up and we do the Matty King Shield where all the Casino kids get together at school carnivals,” Hickey said.

Hickey added that former Dally M winner Preston Campbell has also visited the club and reminded the young boys about the importance of mental health and inclusion.

“He sat down and spoke to the boys about the same thing as what Cody was talking about,” Hickey said.

“Mindset, always being healthy, looking out for each other, just be a family at the end of the day.”

The move to invite former junior club members and NRL legends to return and talk to the younger generations of football has had a positive impact on participation numbers despite it being another challenging season for community sport due to COVID-19.

The club has also tried to make it easier for participants to get involved by encouraging them to use the Active Kids voucher supplied by the NSW Government to keep fees down.

“Our numbers grew and have been growing for the last 10 years,” Hickey said.

“I think back in 2012 we only had 130 odd kids and now we’re at 340 so everything’s just exploded. Last year during COVID-19 we still had 250 kids registered and then we had another increase of 90 kids this year so we must be doing something right.”

Hickey is extremely happy with the success of the Cougars and wanted to thank all the stakeholders who had supported them throughout the years, including the NSWRL.

“Thank you to our community, and to all the coaches and trainers,” Hickey said.

“Thank you to our local sponsors and especially the RSM Club for sticking with us for the last 45 years. That’s a big deal, without those guys we wouldn’t be where we’re at.”

The Grassroots Club of the Year Award is just one of 18 Volunteer of the Year Awards the NSWRL issues every year to acknowledge the tireless work volunteers contribute to community football every season.

The NSWRL has already announced other Volunteer of the Year Award winners including the Inclusive Volunteer of the Year Award, the Indigenous Volunteer of the Year Award, Community Coach of the Year (Male), Community Coach of the Year (Female) and Regional Volunteers of the Year. 

The Gordon Lowrie Memorial Award for the overall 2021 Volunteer of the Year to be announced next week.

NSWRL Volunteer of the Year Awards:
NSWRL “Gordon Lowrie” Volunteer of the Year Award (to be announced)
“Dennis Braybrook” NSWRL Referees Association Award (to be announced)
NSWRL Grassroots Club of the Year (Casino Cougars)
NSWRL Indigenous Volunteer of the  Year – Rhonda Hynch (Wilcannia Parntu Warriors)
NSWRL Inclusive Volunteer of the Year – Ethan Shultz (Albury Thunder)
NSWRL Coach of the Year Male – Alan Brookman (Valley Dragons)
NSWRL Coach of the Year Female – Pauline Wagner (Kyogle SRFLC)

Regional Volunteer of the Year winners (Gordon Lowrie Memorial Award chosen from this list)
Volunteer of the Year Bidgee Region - Katie Howard (Wagga Brothers)
Volunteer of the Year Western Region - Tammy Greenhalgh (Bloomfield JRL)
Volunteer of the Year Northern Region - Jack Woolaston (North Tamworth)
Volunteer of the Year East Coast Region - Rebecca Austin (Forster Tuncurry)
Volunteer of the Year Southern Sydney Region - Theresa Tasaico (Riverwood Legion)
Volunteer of the Year South Coast Region - Chris Shea (Southern Highlands)
Volunteer of the Year Western Sydney Region - Michael Zammit (St Clair JRL)
Volunteer of the Year Broken Bay Region - David Zimmer (Willoughby Roos)
Volunteer of the Year Newcastle and Maitland Region - Sharon Jones (Windale JRLFC)
Volunteer of the Year Central Sydney Region - John Critchley (Five Dock RSL)
Volunteer of the Year Macarthur Region - Robert Dreis (Appin Dogs)