Family of League assisting rugby league people in need.

Russell’s Journey: Strength, Resilience and the Power of Community

(The following was written by one of our wonderful wellbeing recipients)

On January 8th, our lives took an unexpected turn. At 12:30 PM, (my husband) Russell suffered a severe accident, falling off a ladder while giving a mate a hand. In an instant, our world was turned upside down. Russell sustained a nasty head injury, broken ribs 2-9 with multiple fractures on his right side, adding up to 12 in total, a punctured lung, a pneumothorax, a hemothorax and a broken left hand. Weekly X-rays to monitor his pneumothorax and hemothorax, and while his recovery has been slow, each small victory is celebrated. He’s progressing well, and every step forward is a testament to his strength and resilience.

Our son Tristan, who is also involved in Rugby League and has played U21s for Norths Devils over the past three years, was onsite with Russell. He heard a noise behind him and found his father unconscious, lying in a pool of blood from his head wound. The ambulance was called immediately, and Russell was rushed to St. Vincent’s Hospital, where he was admitted to the ICU. To add to our difficulties, Russell’s COVID test came back positive, restricting visitors to just me (his wife Sam).

The early days were terrifying. Russell was in critical condition, and the ICU protocols meant our children and extended family couldn’t visit. Yet, every day, we witnessed a miracle. Russell’s condition gradually improved, and soon he was discharged and came back home to Brisbane, where further testing revealed his injuries were worse than initially thought. He was readmitted for another week of treatment. Despite these challenges, we were grateful for every small step forward and that he was with us and could heal.

Reflecting on the accident, it’s incredible how something as routine as climbing a ladder can lead to such profound consequences. Russell has been in the construction industry for over 30 years and has played footy since he was six. He had never broken a bone before this. Climbing ladders was second nature to him. This incident has served as a stark reminder of life’s fragility and unpredictability.

Through this ordeal, we have been overwhelmed by the support we’ve received. Tristan’s friends stepped in to help with work for our friends, and our amazing network of family and friends rallied around us.

One organisation, in particular, has been our lifeline: The Family of League. Their unwavering support has been remarkable. From food and fuel vouchers to assistance with paying bills, they have been there for us every step of the way.

Russell’s healing journey continues, with at least three more months of recovery expected after his next operation. The road ahead is daunting, and there are moments of uncertainty, but our faith remains strong. We believe in Russell’s ability to heal and know that, with time and support, he will make a full recovery.

The accident has not only been a physical battle but an emotional and financial one as well. Living week to week has been our reality for a long time, and this incident has intensified our struggles. However, the generosity and kindness of our community have been our lifeline. The GoFundMe page set up by Damien Matthews, and the countless messages of support have made an immeasurable difference.

We had the honour of sharing our story at The Family of League’s May event hosted by the Redcliffe Dolphins. The genuine support and kindness we encountered there were overwhelming. It was a humbling experience to be surrounded by people who truly cared about our journey and wanted to help. We hope our story can bring hope to others facing similar traumas and encourage those who can, to please support this incredible organisation.

I want to highlight the role that The Family of League has played for us. Their support has been instrumental in keeping us afloat during this turbulent time. Nothing could prepare us for the challenges we faced in the past year – from the illness and passing of Russell’s father to my mother’s health struggles. Russell’s accident compounded our difficulties, leaving us without income for six months so far.

Their fundraising efforts, luncheons, and golf days are vital in supporting families like ours who are facing unimaginable hardships. If you can, please support their initiatives. Your contributions make a significant impact on families of League that are in need.

We just wanted to express our deepest gratitude to everyone who has helped us along this journey. Your kindness, prayers, messages, and support have had a profound impact on our lives. We are incredibly blessed to have such an amazing community. We will never forget the love and generosity we’ve received.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We are blessed beyond measure.

With heartfelt gratitude,

Sam, Russell and Family ❤️‍

Lee Hagipantelis appointed Non-Executive Director of the Family of League Board

The Chair of the Family of League Foundation Helen Wood Grant today announced the appointment of Lee Hagipantelis to the position of Non-Executive Director of rugby league’s charity of choice, Family of League, effective immediately. 

Lee has enjoyed a long association with rugby league both as Wests Tigers Chairman for four years and as a major sponsor at NRL club, state league and junior rugby league level over many years.  He is the owner and principal of Brydens Lawyers, arguably the largest litigation firm in New South Wales. Lee practises in all areas of law, overseeing all divisions of Brydens Lawyers, and sits on the Advisory Group for the University of Wollongong for Southwestern Sydney. 

Chair of Family of League, Helen Wood Grant, said “Lee’s impressive legal standing is equalled only by his extraordinarily high level of community engagement over so many years which speaks to his devotion to giving back to community.  We are absolutely delighted that he has found time to extend this contribution even further by volunteering at Board level for our Foundation.  His energy and enthusiasm, his understanding of the rugby league family coupled with his legal and professional excellence will be wonderful assets for Family of League. My fellow directors and I look forward to benefiting from all Lee will bring to the table.”

Brydens has sponsored Variety – The Children’s Charity B to B Bash, currently sponsors 15 rugby league clubs throughout NSW, is major sponsor of the Leukaemia Foundation, sponsors soccer and AFL clubs, provides scholarships for five students at Western Sydney University to assist students in need to become lawyers and are panel solicitors for the Police Association of NSW.

Mr Hagipantelis said, “I am deeply honoured and humbled to be appointed to the Board of the Family of League. This opportunity aligns with my personal values of compassion, community service, and dedication to making a positive difference in people’s lives. I am fully committed to serving with integrity, empathy, and a strong sense of community responsibility, striving to contribute meaningfully to the Family of League’s mission and impact. I have seen how the Family of League can empower individuals, strengthen communities, and create lasting change, and I look forward to playing a part in its important work.”

April Monthly Wellbeing Activities

Sometimes it never stops.

A gentleman now in his 70s, who in his younger years ran on the paddock as both a player and referee in the beautiful Southern Queensland as well as the North Coastal region of NSW, together with his wife, is sharing a very tough road ahead.

Having suffered a heart attack many years ago, the damage to his body was so impactful it left him with no choice except to retire from both sporting activity and work. At around the same time his wife was diagnosed with MS. Having spent many years without the control of her left side… she now lives with constant pain. Two years ago, she also underwent hip replacement surgery, in the process she contracted a golden staph infection.

Just when you think this couple had enough, in February this year the wife was diagnosed with bowel cancer and to make matters worse has had cancerous masses located on both sides of her lungs.

Family of League have been invited to improve wheelchair access to their home, requiring the removal of stairs and the installation of a ramp… while at the same time affirming they are not facing adversity alone.

When battle injuries finally catch up.

A middle-aged fellow who played in the 90s for high profile clubs in the NSWRL and UK has also incurred a physical setback. Having once played in an NRL Grand Final, in recent years this tradie has been plying his trade in the community and being a useful member of society.

Having played for substantial clubs over many years, his on-field history left him with a series of concussions and major issues with his knees, specifically cartilage removal and ACL repairs. The past few years have seen this gentleman spend more time in hospital than out… resulting in substantial time away from work and a dramatic impact on his and his family’s financial situation. Family of League wellbeing offices are involved in alleviating his many concerns.

Sometimes the best medicine can be quite simple.

Having played in JRLFC and community footy in the Southern Sydney region, as well as time as a referee, this fellow was enjoying life to the full until that fateful day in 2022 when he was involved in a frightful car accident.

He now battles the pain of standing for long periods of time and cannot leave his house. Work is out of the question. These days, his time is spent planning for and attending the many ongoing surgeries his injury requires. And it was at one of these hospital recuperation times, that our wellbeing officer caught up with him and listened to his many on-field adventures, shared a few laughs and reflected on the changing times… while leaving him with a few Family of League mementos. Sometimes, the greatest gift of all can be just time.

These are some of the many wellbeing recipients Family of League have assisted in April, with more info soon to come about our busy activities in May.

Roosters fan flying high

Family of League provided two Roosters fans a ‘morning of a lifetime’, by arranging a visit to the Chooks’ Captains Run and meeting their coach and players. However, these were not average Sydney City fans, read on as dad, James, shares his daughter’s life-long issues and how Family of League provided them a special and much-appreciated experience:

“Now that we have arrived back in Armidale I wanted to write an email expressing our very sincere thanks to you and the rest of the Family of League team. Olive has definitely had such an amazing time and we are confident that she will have made memories to last a lifetime. Thank you for the effort and generosity that was shown towards my family. It really does mean a great deal to us to see Olive happy and feeling extra special. As I mentioned to you, she has had some rough news in the past week with another lot of major reconstructive surgery now required for her to breathe and live safely and tracheostomy free. 

It has been such a long and incredibly challenging road over the past 10 years since Olive was born. Here is just a snapshot of her story.

Olive was born 13th of November 2013 in Armidale and was immediately unable to breath. What is usually a time of joy and celebration very quickly turned as panicked doctors and other medical staff ran into the room and worked on keeping Olive alive, eventually intubating her so that she could breathe. Later that night Olive and I (Mum, Renee, had undergone a caesarean and cold not travel) were airlifted to John Hunter Childrens Hospital in Newcastle. What we thought might be a quick visit to Newcastle to remove whatever was blocking Olive’s airway became a three month stay much of which in Intensive Care as doctors struggled to diagnose and treat her condition.

She eventually left with a tracheostomy which she had for 9 of her 10 years of life, recently having to have it reinserted after her condition deteriorated late in 2023.

Caring for a young child with a tracheostomy is difficult, dangerous and unrelenting. Olive required vigilant 24 hour care and this was almost solely provided by my wife and I as it was very difficult to source someone to relieve us. On three occasions over these early years Olive’s tube blocked unexpectedly and she required emergency CPR to revive her. As you could imagine sleep and normal family life was very challenging and limited. Due to her obstruction Olive was also unable to speak or make any oral noise until she was four years old so her early years were spent signing.

Over her life, Olive has spent a significant amount of time in hospital. A common cold or infection is quite serious to her and has often led to treatment in intensive care and long hospital stays. On top of this Olive has had several major reconstructive surgeries to try and allow her to live a safe and normal life. These are complex and demanding surgeries where her airway is reconstructed with cartilage harvested from her ribs. Each time she has endured one these operations she has spent many weeks in hospital and been very weak and fragile once discharged.

While these surgeries have improved Olive’s condition, unfortunately they haven’t been successful in completely repairing her airway. She did enjoy a year of tracheostomy free life back in 2022/23, but her condition deteriorated late 2023 and her tracheostomy had to be reinserted early this year.

In all, it has been a very long and extremely tough journey for her…yet through all of this she is an amazing little girl, so positive, happy and determined to do well in life and make the absolute most of it!

Chris, Trent and the Roosters boys were all so generous with their time and were very kind to Olive. Spending time with them at training and watching the game gave her an enormous lift and made her feel very special. Olive’s smile over those couple of days and whenever we mention them since has said it all! As a longtime Roosters fans, (myself about 40 years and Olive going on 11..hahaha) we have not had the opportunity to watch many Roosters games live. The Anzac game was my second and Olive’s first so the whole experience really was a big deal for us. Having been to the game, it has inspired us both to try and find a way to get to more games and continue to support the mighty Roosters. 

Again, thank you very much for organising such memorable experience for Olive. We look forward to catching up with you next time we are down in Sydney.”

Thank you, James, glad we could assist… we wish you and your wonderful daughter, Olive, the best of health and a fantastic future.

(Pictured top L-R) Sydney City players provide signatures to Olive. (Bottom L-R) James, Olive and Coach Trent. National Events and Partnership Manager Doug Keen, Olive and her dad, James.

Rugby league fans assisted by the Family of League's wellbeing assistance.

March Monthly Wellbeing Activities


A 50-year-old lady, together with her husband and teenage son are hitting crisis point. While both parents have had very active lives with their footy club, their son, who has spent years running on to the paddock since commencing with the Under 7s, is now suffering from Osteosarcoma… a form of cancer.

Initially dismissed as just a niggling knee issue, Mum finally talked her son into getting a professional opinion. After an MRI, the cause of his complaint was identified as cancer behind the knee.

To make matters worse, initial treatment did little to mitigate the growth. The medical team then advised both parents the cancerous growth was moving towards their son’s thigh. After an incredible amount of stress, the difficult decision was made to amputate their son’s leg above his knee… thus saving his life.

The young man then endured chemotherapy while learning to adjust to his new life in a wheelchair, while preparing to receive his prosthetic leg.

However, while there was tremendous hope he would adjust to his new lifestyle and the family planned for the best way forward, his health now changed for the worse. During a follow-up examination, it was discovered the cancer had now spread to his lungs.

This devastating find has led to him receiving a terminal diagnosis.

After suffering a collapsed lung, the son and family relocated to their state’s major city and hospital facilities. As one would expect, this family disaster has affected their work/financial situation… which is another worry as the parents prepare for their son’s final days.

Family of League are assisting with their financial pressures while also providing other support where we can.

Battling issues in and outside the home

A single mother of two, who has been under financial pressure for quite some time, is now facing the pressures of keeping her home. While having spent over 12 years supporting her sons throughout their community footy, she also assisted with the team management, canteen, can bar and barbie fundraising duties. So, rugby league and her family have been no strangers.

Unfortunately, as of late, the mother has also been a victim of domestic violence. Now by herself, and looking after one of her sons, she is under pressure to provide food on the table as well as dealing with rental and bond arrears. So much so, she is in danger of losing her and her son’s accommodation. Plus, there are transport costs and outstanding utility bills.

It has been determined that, as this mother has been a great supporter of our game, the Family of League are here to support her at this critical time.

Taking knocks on and off the field

A man in his mid-40s, who previously played over 20 years in JRLF/Community footy teams, as well as playing for a major NRL team, is now fighting battles off the field. Due to receiving head knocks and other health issues, he was advised to stay off the paddock and allow his body to adjust to a less combative lifestyle.

Just over a year ago, he suffered a stroke. Several months later, after returning to partial work, he incurred another medical relapse… resulting in him losing partial sight in the upper right quadrant of both eyes. Doctors are advising he may not be healthy enough to ever return to work, leaving him with a mountain of bills to pay.

Having invested much of his life in rugby league, the Family of League are here to offer him a financial hand and other assistance in appreciation of his footy commitment.

These wonderful football people, and many other wellbeing recipients, have been assisted due to the magnificent support from our members, donators, corporate sponsors and fundraising event supporters.

Family of League Central Coast raising funds for our rugby league community

Enjoying the centre of fun at the Central Coast


After several days of torrential rain on the Central Coast it was just like a modern miracle when the sun burst through the clouds and provided us with the best, sunniest day we could ask for. Inspired by this turn of events, the members and their guests assembled at Ettalong Bowling Club at 8am sharp to support our Annual 2024 Bowls Day. With tremendous promotion both in the press and local radio, attendee numbers were overwhelming… accounting for one of the largest attendances to date.

We are lucky to have Mr ‘Bowls’, Johnny Roberts, with us, together with over 150 men and women registered and organised into teams filling three rinks to capacity. The day began with what is known as the ‘Spider, where every player bowls a single bowl to see who can get closest to the jack. Always a great way to get everyone into the mood.

As the day took off, there were plenty of colour and tall tales shared – some true, some not – so true was the order of the day, from old footballers with many icy cold schooners reaching the lips early to quench a bunch of very thirsty Bowlers.

After the bowls side of things was complete, the indoor component of the day was introduced by Committee Member Leigh Peacock who gave all the patrons a rundown of the day’s proceedings. Followed by a terrific piece from the Family of League Wellbeing Officer, Chloe Minehan, explaining her role in the foundation and outlining what we do for the men, women and children of the rugby league fraternity. Lunch was then served by the hard working voluntary committee of Ettalong Bowling Club, who’s support we greatly appreciate… not to mention their great BBQ feed with a bargain basement fee of $25.

Raffles were well supported as usual, with great prizes supplied by all our sponsors of the day. Our President, Neville Glover, and Treasurer, Lance Henry, were instrumental in getting some quality sporting memorabilia for our auctions… hosted by (yours truly) Gregg Kable. Again, the bids were hot and fast right throughout the afternoon, with all merchandise reaching their individual reserve figures. So, thank you to all!

Family of League’s Event Manager, Doug Keane, also contributed with a silent auction, including some outstanding items up for bids. This proved a masterstroke, as the bids were hotly contested with some excellent figures providing a handsome return.

Attempting to entertain the crowd, I delivered some old gags… scoring a few belly laughs which kept the crowd entertained.

We were also fortunate to have in our midst former State of Origin and rugby League test player, Jim Leis, who shared experiences from his great career; and had all in the room hanging off every word. Jim was informative with plenty of stories about his illustrious career at Wests, Canterbury & Cronulla, and we thank Jim so much for his time.

In conclusion, we raised over $7,000 on the day. An acknowledgement to the hard working Family of League committee members, providing one of our best results to date. Finally, a special thank you to the board staff and management of Ettalong Bowling Club, for their hospitality every year.

Family of League wellbeing support for the rugby league community

February Monthly Wellbeing Activities

A veteran of on-field battles doing it tough off-field

A mother of three daughters and avid Broncos as well as Warriors supporter, this 30-something player has run on the paddock for over half a dozen teams and grades. In the process of leading a busy life on the field, as well as an active family life in between games, this mum started to notice a growing and deeper pain, from what had previously been slightly annoying but regular headaches.

This now presented as something quite menacing.

Late last year, upon consultation with a radiologist, she was told some very confronting news… and underwent brain surgery to remove a large tumour pushing on her brain stem.

Because of her intensive recovery, she is unable to work or drive for quite some time.

Although this operation has relieved the intense headaches she had been suffering from, she is now facing pressure associated with paying the bills and maintaining a stable household; having exhausted her sick leave and holiday entitlements.

Our foundation is now assisting with payments towards her mortgage, utility bills and living expenses.

Sea eagle fan grounded with a busted knee

Another mum, with a passion for the Sea Eagles and one of her three sons playing in a local JRLFC, has incurred a knee injury.

In recent months, she has been on unpaid maternity leave looking after her 8-month-old twins. To compound her loss of income, her tradie husband has recently lost his job. This can’t be easily replaced as he has to ‘keep the home fires burning’ and look after his three children and recuperating wife… who is unable to bear weight on her leg.

Because of their connection with the JRLFC, and their club voicing that this mum has been a great asset to junior footy, Family of League are stepping in to provide monetary support with their escalating financial pressures.

The damage one miscalculated step can make

An ex-player in his 50s, who played from the late 70s to late 90s for teams on both sides of the Qld/NSW border has also been doing it tough.

In a family besotted with rugby league, he and his wife raised several children, with two of the three playing for local footy clubs… as well as the community cricket team in summer.

As a self-employed carpenter, he is often approached to lend his experience to his friends and neighbours. Early in 2024, he was doing ‘the right thing’ and assisting a friend to remove corrugated iron off a household roof. To everyone’s shock, witnesses spotted him falling headfirst directly on to the concrete at the base of his ladder.

Sustaining a number of serious injuries, including a contusion to his head, multiple fractured ribs (some ribs were later described as shattered), punctured lung leading to pneumothorax and a fracture to his left wrist/thumb. Needless to say, although he lived… he is in a very bad way.

While swathed in a mass of bandages and facing a substantial time of recuperation ahead, as the sole income earner for his wife and himself, this gentlemen is also faced with a barrage of financial worries.

As there is no question to he and his family’s commitment to rugby league and their many years of support for our sport, the Family of League Foundation has stepped in to alleviate their fiscal concerns.

Las Vegas rugby League

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas… unless you work for Family of League!

LAS VEGAS, NV – National Manager for Fundraising, Partnerships & Events, Doug Keen, recently embarked on a trip of a lifetime with his family, personally funding their visit to the NRL’s Double Header season opener in Las Vegas. This adventure brought back many memories for Doug, specifically his deep involvement with American Rugby League since the 1990s, as a trainer and referee, which solidified his passion for the sport.

Prior to the upcoming game day, Doug had the opportunity to reunite with friends he hadn’t seen in decades at the USA Rugby League Players reunion, also held in Vegas. The event was a nostalgic gathering, evoking cherished memories from Doug’s extensive involvement in the sport.

Many states of excitement

Additionally, Doug and his family took advantage of their time in this area, exploring nearby popular tourist destinations such as Hollywood, Universal Studios, Disneyland – and even venturing to Palm Springs for a delightful-desert sojourn.

They also enjoyed visiting the famous Raiderettes’ museum, adorned with all the American football culture this gun entertainment team is well known for around the world.

Doug and his family also had the privilege of staying at the Las Vegas Hilton. Alongside the footy players, media circus, and NRL club administration, further immersing himself in the rugby league buzz that permeated the city. Similar to a game of ‘Frogger’, they jumped from one bunch of footy friends to another… all abuzz with footy fever, while building incredible memories for years to come.

However, when it came to game-time, he was certainly impressed by the state-of-the-art Allegiant Stadium. Doug described it as “first class” and marvelled at its sheer size, styling and presence… having only been built just three years ago. Plus, the fans themselves were super hyped for an outstanding experience, with thousands adorning themselves in team jerseys and club colours, creating a vibrant atmosphere.

Action on an off the field

Doug is not one for kicking back and just watching. Not only was he super enthusiast about attending the games, in between bumping into old buddies like the NRL’s Renee Gartner, he also participated as a sideline participant. Appointed as the person responsible for overseeing a constant supply of footballs for each match, he made sure there were plenty of backup footies when the ball was kicked out into the crowd. Unlike Australia, in the US, when the ball is kicked out, any fortunate fan that catches the ball… keeps the ball. Fortunately, when that happened, Doug was on the job!

Reflecting on the event, Doug expressed his belief that this footy extravaganza lived up to all the hype, even exuding a grand final atmosphere. He predicts that next year’s crowd will easily expand to an impressive 45,000 to 50,000 attendees.

However, amidst the excitement, Doug also kept a constant vigilance for any ‘unfair play’, even off the paddock. This paid off when he thwarted three pickpockets attempting to steal his wallet from a back pocket. His assertive response, including calling loudly for police and security, sent the criminals fleeing.

Wrapping up this amazing experience

In Doug’s eyes, the event was truly memorable and executed with utmost professionalism. His involvement in the game events and familiarity with key figures in the footy world even led to several TV interviews broadcast to Australia.

Doug’s enthusiasm for the experience is evident as he wholeheartedly recommends attending next year’s event. He advises visitors to allocate more than just a weekend (he and his family spent a week), as there is an abundance of activities to enjoy in Vegas and along the West Coast of the United States… and all of it, according to Doug and his family, was an outstanding experience!

Doug has also brought some of that USA razzle dazzle back with him, as he prepares his latest Family of League fundraising event at Ryde Eastwood Leagues Club. Kicking off this Friday 15 March at Noon, this ‘Rugby League-Australia to the USA’ lunch event features Cliff Lyons, David Boyle, Denis Fitzgerald, Paul Dunn, Gladiator Mark McGaw with MC Renee Gartner and comedian Rob Shehadie + more! For details click here.

Darryl Van de Velde

Darryl Van de Velde

The Family of League Foundation sends our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Darryl Van de Velde. Darryl was part of our family, serving as Director from 2012-2019, being awarded Life Membership in 2017 and was instrumental in the establishment of our Foundation (then Men of League) in Queensland including the formation of its Events Committee, as State President and volunteering in a range of leadership roles.  He was a long-serving and hugely influential Director of the QRL and held numerous roles throughout rugby league at every level including as inaugural CEO of South Queensland Crushers.

A champion of grass roots footy, Darryl was a former professional rugby league footballer, coach and administrator.  He played club football in Queensland for Souths and represented his state in 1977. After playing, he coached the Brisbane Rugby League premiership’s Redcliffe side in 1986 and 1987, taking his club to consecutive grand finals. Darryl also coached in the UK for Castleford, Warrington, Huddersfield and London Broncos.

Chair of Family of League, Helen Wood Grant, said, “We are deeply saddened at the passing of this remarkable man.  His contribution to so many aspects of rugby league is incalculable and his energy and kindness along the way left an indelible mark on anyone lucky enough to know him.  Our Foundation was incredibly fortunate to have Darryl’s time and talents devoted to it for many years and his recognition as Life Member attests to his outstanding contribution.

It was my privilege to serve on the Board alongside Darryl and to know him personally. To his much-loved wife Jacque and his daughters, and to his army of friends, on behalf of Family of League Board, staff and volunteers I send my profound sympathy and share your sorrow at the scale of this loss.”