UK Armed Forces prepare for World Cup with a special visit

Before they bring the noise to the rugby fields of Sydney for the forthcoming Festival of Rugby League World Cups, members of the UKAFRL team brought smiles to the faces of hospitalised youngster at the Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick writes Dan Abrahams.

Five players: AB Ryan Matthews, SAC(T) Jordan Andrade, Spr Kev Brown, Gnr Ben Rowan, Mne Jamie Birdsall, together with Head Coach Flt Lt Damian Clayton, spent more than two hours visiting patients in the hospital that specialises in treatment of rare cancers, chatting and sharing plenty of laughs with families and youngsters and handing out UKAFRL stickers, before appearing on the hospital’s in-house TV channel beamed for its Starlight Children’s Foundation Room.

Clayton said: “The visit to the Sydney Children’s Hospital gave us the chance to share our love and get out in the community, it was really well received by the nurses and the patients were all smiling, which was humbling, they were excited to see us, and it meant a lot.

“It lines up with our core values and the lads will have gained an insight into the amazing work done there, and the amazing bravery of the youngsters and their families.”

The players chatted with mum Libby McDonald and daughter Georgia, who is a day patient at the hospital, sharing jokes about her upcoming 18th birthday, before sharing a thumbs up and more smiles with Rafael Granato and mum Karen, along with Gillian Moody and son Maxwell, all of whom are now promising to cheer on the lads during their campaign that opens on Friday, 7 July against Fiji at St Mary’s Stadium.

Gaining new fans at every turn, the players then spent time in the Starlight Express Room with Captains Squish and Rainbow, who provide priceless entertainment for youngsters in the room of the same name.

With activities ranging from drawing and computer games, to a cinema screen showing all the latest movies, the room also features a stage area on which the guys were invited, handed microphones and while being filmed live, given dares from patients, who call in for their beds, which included a dance off, balloon shaping, a hula hoop challenge and performing a worm dance across the stage, along with a live joke session.

Sapper Kevin Brown said: “Our visit to Sydney kids’ hospital was a good experience for both us as players and the kids we visited. It was good to go in and watch their faces light up when we went in to say hi.

“Just seeing what some people have to go through in life makes you thankful for what you have with family and health.

“The strength of the kids was amazing, to be honest some have had to live most of their lives not knowing any different but just battling on, as for the parents, their faces and reactions was top class and thankful for us being there, but to go through what they do must be very hard.”

He continued: “One thing that I won’t ever forget is how amazing the entertainers Captain Squish and Kitty were in the entertainment room from the Starlight children foundation.

“They were very bubbly, happy, chirpy and energetic, entertaining the children all day every day.

“The job that they do must be so difficult, but they make it look so easy. Seeing the things they see on a daily basis, it takes a special kind of person to do their job. They had us on a screen which aired throughout the hospital so the kids could ring in and give us silly dares to do, which was funny and showed us how hard their job actually is, but it must be so rewarding to know they make the kids’ lives as good as they can be, and put a smile on everyone’s face.

“Excellent job girls keep up the good work. All in all it was a good rewarding visit seeing some amazing strong people in their day-to-day lives. Thank you for the opportunity; it was one I was grateful to be a part of; and, of course, to learn some new dance moves and balloon modelling skills, which was one of our dares.”

The team has provided free tickets to their games for families and patients from the hospital and will be hoping their new found fans will cheer them on to victory.

UK Armed Forces play tournament hosts Australia on 9 July, 4.15pm, before playing New Zealand on 12 July, (6.00pm).

The UKAF squad, which is coached by Damian Clayton, is Ben Taylor, Luke Cooper, Mike Haldenby, Ryan Matthews, James Parry (all Royal Navy), James Hutchinson, Jordan Andrade, Liam Bradley, Garry Dunn, Adam Flintham, Dave Hankinson, Ben Mellor, Lee Queeley, Josh Scott, Scott Stevenson, Si Wray (RAF), Kev Brown, Ben Cartmell, George Clarke, Mike Hoyle, Jordan Kerman, Ben Rowan, Steve Wicks (Army), Jamie Birdsall (Royal Marines).