Easter Monday & the National Rugby League, NRL, Australia – some quotes from the Daily Telegraph about the impromptu post-match prayer group:
Semi Radradra, they say, moved first.
Grabbing rival, Kevin Naiqama. After that, Jordan Rankin.
A further five players from Parramatta and Wests Tigers then converging as — with tattooed arms thrown around the closest jersey, regardless of colour -— they formed an impromptu circle in the middle of ANZ Stadium.
And, sure, around them fulltime formalities continued as usual.
Players shaking hands, speaking with Fox Sports, even wondering aloud if Northies was open Easter Mondays?
But inside the group, heads bowed. Eyes closed.
Then, they prayed.
“Completely spontaneous, too,’’ Eels chaplain George Dansey will say later.
“And from my understanding, the first time a prayer group like that has ever happened in the NRL.”
So brothers and sisters, can I get an Amen?
For Jesus Christ, he’s alive in the NRL.
And, no, you may not like it.
Or even agree.
Unsold on some Magic Sky Daddy with his bagful of miracles.
Yet undoubtedly, He is risen.
Existing not only inside that Easter Monday huddle, but in the dozens of Christian gatherings — from intimate bible study groups to arriving at Hillsong Conferences en masse — now taking place right across the NRL.
More than a few extra black crosses on wrist tape, this revolution is Jarryd Hayne taking on the NFL. Will Hopoate resting Sundays.
And an NRL Christians group so popular … well, Wallabies Israel Folau and Will Skelton want in.
“Yeah, they’re attending church with us,’’ Eels forward Tim Mannah explains. “Joining guys from almost every Sydney club.
“And to see the way players are expressing their faith now … it’s completely different to even five years ago.”
Indeed, at Parramatta, a dozen players now pray before games. Afterwards, too.
Radradra is also the spiritual leader of this new ritual, determined to ensure his fellow Christians are as thankful in victory as defeat.
For this new movement, it’s intent on ending stereotypes.
“Like Christian footballers being soft,’’ Dansey laughs. “I like to remind players that Jesus Christ, he was as brutal as anybody.”
While employed fulltime by Parramatta, Dansey isn’t simply responsible for the Eels, or running the new NRL Christians group, but helping facilitate dozens of Christian journeys through regular meetings with NRL players over coffee.
When Hayne, for example, returned from his Fijian World Cup experience eight years ago with a headful of questions, it was Dansey’s bible the pair opened at Genesis.
And when Hayne was dropped, then briefly cut, by the San Francisco 49ers, last October, it was Dansey who again led prayers inside the punt returner’s Santa Clara home.
Giving thanks just as he had seven years earlier, when sat by the hospital bedside of an anonymous leaguie named Steve Meredith.
And Meredith, you should know, is the greatest Roosters forward who never was. A gifted Australian Schoolboy who, by 2006, was set to make his first grade debut having already won premierships in Jersey Flegg and Premier League. A Test debut with Samoa, too.
League’s Next Big Thing for all 13 minutes before his knee snapped so badly, he never played first grade again.
“Yet Steve, he was so upbeat in hospital,’’ Dansey recalls. “Was praising God for having been blessed to play that one first grade game.
“It was the same when Haynsey got dropped after the Baltimore Ravens match. That week, he actually went deeper into the word of God.”
So too now, is the entire NRL. For while the relationship between faith and footy is nothing new — Father John Coote was both Roman Catholic priest and Kangaroo way back in 1969 — the presence of that inaugural prayer circle is proof of a new dawn.
Of a code now allowing Hayne to walk. Hopoate, to rest.
A place where players can meet, in club space, for bible study. …
Back in 2003, having won a grand final with Penrith, Galuvao dropped to his knees in solitary prayer. Yet today, he says, “clubs are buying in … embracing the need to spiritually prepare players”.
Mannah agrees, adding: “Once players were too worried to reveal themselves as Christians, worried about what people would say if you stuffed up.
“But then Haynsey comes along and, vocally, says ‘hey I’m not perfect . what I am is on a journey with God’. Other players have really responded to that.”
And as they do, the stereotypes fall.
Take Parramatta winger Radradra, gathering teammates to give thanks following their opening round loss to Brisbane. Or Manu Ma’u, shredding the myth of Christian softness the second he joined that Easter Monday seven.
Which doesn’t mean there will no longer be the narks.
For Christianity, as English novelist CS Lewis once noted, is of no importance if false. Infinite importance if true.
But moderately important … nup, no chance.
Which is again why Hopoate now sits out Sundays. And Hayne, earlier this week, jetted out of Sydney once more for that pilgrimage all helmets, and shoulder pads.
Elsewhere, Joseph Paulo leads prayer at Cronulla. Kane Evans, the Roosters.
While out Penrith way, players gather most days with retired winger Dave Simmons, whose congregation will grow even larger once his theology degree is complete.
“All of which is great,’’ Galuvao says. “I mean, Jarryd Hayne, I’ve known him since well before he was going to church. When he had all those troubles in Kings Cross and so on. And back then, he had no direction. No purpose.
“But in Christianity, he found it. Made himself a better person. How can that be a bad thing?”
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