NSW-based volunteers Theresa Tasaico and Sheree Payne have been surprised by video calls from Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler, Sky Blues captain Kezie Apps and five-eighth Corban McGregor after taking out prestigious honours in the NRL Community Awards.
Tasaico, who helped revitalise Rugby League in the St George District and has already been named the Gordon Lowrie NSWRL Volunteer of the Year, took out the EISS Super NRL Volunteer of the Year while Payne, from Kiama Public School, was named the Teacher of the Year.
Both award winners will each receive $5,000 and will be invited to a Major Event experience next year at the Ampol State of Origin match in Sydney or the NRL Grand Final. The awards were voted on by a panel that included Peter Beattie from the Australian Rugby League Commission.
Fittler and McGregor were given the honour of informing Tasaico about her award, after she played a pivotal role in restarting Riverwood Legion Junior Rugby League Football Club in southern Sydney, which she has taken from three clubs in 2017 to nine clubs in 2021.
She holds down many roles including Club Secretary, Executive Board Member, Team Manager and Canteen Manager, is Vice President at the St George Junior League Club, and has started up a range of women’s and girl’s Monarch Blues Tag teams, and Men’s A Grade and Over 35s Blues Tag teams.
McGregor told Tasaico she had been chosen to receive the award from 246 nominations.
“It’s amazing to see all the hard work you’ve put into your club and this award is just a small recognition of the measurable difference that you’re making,” McGregor said.
“From rebuilding Riverwood Legion Junior Rugby League Football Club and dividing your time between many important and different roles, your determination to show that Rugby League can unite a community has been really inspiring.”
Fittler, who also congratulated Tasaico for taking out the Gordon Lowrie NSWRL Volunteer of the Year Award, said: “We’d really like to thank you for doing such a brilliant job and being our Volunteer of the Year.
“I know firsthand how hard it is to keep clubs up and running. For you to have the strength and the tenacity to keep going, and drive this new team, is admirable.
“We’re in such gratitude to you, and the people that have helped you, because I can only imagine how hard it would have been and how much time it took.
“You’ve done a wonderful job and thank you very much.”
Tasaico was humbled to be recognised again for her volunteer work.
“I am very shocked and obviously very humbled, let me tell you,” she said.
“You never feel worthy of these types of things. You feel someone else would have done something more deserving so you think, ‘Why me?’
“But now that it’s happened I think it’s good for the game to see some of the people behind the scenes and it might encourage a few others to get involved with their local club.
“We can all do with more volunteers.”
Payne is a passionate teacher who for more than a decade has integrated Rugby League at Kiama Public School from inter-school and whole school Gala Days to implementing the NRL’s Education Programs in the classroom.
She has created a partnership with the St George Illawarra Dragons to deliver respect, health and wellbeing messages, utilises High School students to act as referees or coaches for the student at Kiama Public School and has invited NRL Development Officers to run sporting clinics.
Apps, who plays for the Dragons in the NRLW and has worked alongside Payne, informed her that she was one of 34 nominations across NSW and 69 nominations across Australia.
“I wish that I had a teacher like yourself promoting and encouraging the kids, especially through Rugby League, because that’s obviously something that you know I love,” Apps said.
“Congratulations for this award, you definitely do deserve it.”
Fittler said: “From my point of view the kids coming through that have had helpful teachers, helpful coaches, helpful parents, the difference it makes is incredible.
“We really appreciate all the work you’re doing.”
Payne was humbled to be acknowledged for her efforts.
“I am just speechless,” Payne said.
“I was asked for a few photos of me when they wanted to nominate me for the award and I said, ‘Well no, I don't think I have any' because I'm always behind the camera, not in front of it.
“I am really shocked that I won. I am lost for words but I’m really grateful, although I feel the real star is the great messages the NRL education program has on eating healthy, fitness and mental health choices.”
Other NSW-based finalists in the NRL Community Awards include the Casino Cougars for the Club of the Year, William Douglas from Bingara for Young Person of the Year and Belinda Allen from Queanbeyan for the Women in League Award.
Click here for a list of all award winners.