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When Sonny Bill Williams, Reni Maitua, Willie Mason and Steelers-Dragons legend Jeff Hardy walked the streets of Broken Hill, Wilcannia and Menindee recently, people stopped their cars in the middle of the street to go and grab a photo.

“It was massive,” NSWRL Indigenous and Community Manager Kristian Heffernan said.

“These kids get no-one at this level of high-profile sporting greats coming so far to see them.”

The three Bulldogs 2004 NRL Premiership winners are NSWRL ‘Deadly Blues’ ambassadors to help deliver the health and lifestyle messages for the Deadly Choices programs.

“It’s been a huge shock for me that we have the gaps in medical and social care between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in a country like Australia,” Maitua told

“We have so many people in remote and rural communities – especially Indigenous groups – that need support.”

Williams said it was an easy decision to join his former NRL teammates.

“I’ve been speaking to Reni and (former Bulldogs star) Willie Tonga, who is involved in the Deadly Choices program up in Queensland, about getting involved so I was keen to get into this,” he said.

“For me I’m a big believer in giving and if you give, then you receive. I know we might only be a blimp in the scheme of things, but we’re going to try our best to help where possible.

“I’m a big supporter of Indigenous people and the struggles they are going through. I hear of the hardships and I want to help out where possible.

“We may not be able to change everything, but we’re doing our part.”

Heffernan said the impact of Williams, Maitua, Mason and Hardy was immediate.

“Both kids and adults were so excited to think NRL greats and a dual international and heavyweight boxing champion like Sonny are interested in them,” Heffernan said.

“The impact can’t be measured with words. You need to see the smiles on everyone’s faces and the social media posts ‘You’ll never guess who I met today’.”

Maari Ma Health – the Aboriginal medical service in western NSW – delivers the Deadly Choices programs, of which the Deadly Blues is a part of.

“We go out there to speak about healthy lifestyles, making ‘deadly’ or great choices on diet and exercise, and encouraging health checks for the local Aboriginal community,” Heffernan said.

People who sign up for that get a Deadly Blues NSW shirt.

Hardy has strong Aboriginal community links. Mason, Williams and Maitua have Pacific nation heritage but Maitua says the cultures of Pasifika people and indigenous Australians are similar.

“When I’m in front of the indigenous mobs that we speak to, I tell them that we have the same sense of family, same sense of community – we can’t relate on every level but Polynesian and Indigenous peoples do have a lot in common,” Maitua said.

“So, it’s confronting to see the health problems of our first nations people are still having.

“But it’s inspiring and energising to go out and meet them and see them start to believe in who they are – proud owners of the world’s oldest living culture.

“That’s something we do with our Pasifika heritage. We’re really proud of our roots and heritage and we want our Indigenous brothers and sisters to feel the same way.”

The Deadly Blues ambassadors will make over a dozen visits to rural NSW centres like Nyngan, Bourke, Armidale, Tamworth, Coffs Harbour, Kempsey, and Taree during 2022.

Heffernan said a return visit to Broken Hill is now locked in for the end of the year.

Acknowledgement of Country

New South Wales Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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