WHY I GOT INVOLVED
There were a couple of things that happened to me growing up that first planted the seed in my mind that I should do my bit for Indigenous welfare.
The family moved to Avoca Beach on the Central Coast when I was four and I grew up mainly playing rugby league. But a lot of my mates played union, so I joined in on that as well.
I got picked in a rugby representative team and some people from Knox Grammar School were at the tournament we played in. I was offered an Indigenous scholarship to attend Knox through the AIEF and it struck me how lucky I was to receive such an opportunity.
So many Indigenous kids living in the country are not even remotely in a position to get a chance like that and it got me thinking: ‘What can I do to try to make their path to success a bit easier?’
Going to school at Knox and representing it in union was an awesome experience. Angus Crichton and I were in the NSW Schoolboys team together. But I still played league on Sundays. I might’ve considered union long-term, but when the Roosters approached me they just sold league better.
The other thing was watching my dad. I’m Indigenous through his side of the family. He was a roofer when we first moved to the coast, but he had a terrible accident. Fell three storeys and landed on a set of metal lockers.
If he had hit the concrete direct he would’ve died for sure and as it was he smashed his jaw in multiple places, broke both his legs and crushed the cartilage in his knees and ankles. There’s no cartilage left. He had about 17 surgeries to get his body back working again.
He became a teacher’s aide and did a lot of work with the Aboriginal kids at Berkeley Vale High School. I was impressed by that. I was still a kid myself, but I could see it was important.
Dad was on crutches for about a year and had to use a walking stick for quite a while after that, but all the while he was working for organisations including Youth Connections, which helped troubled kids who had dropped out of school.
I can’t thank the club enough for how much they are supporting me. It’s not a token thing at the Knights, it’s that one-team, one-town mentality. They’re about supporting the community.
Mum and Dad run an office supplies company now and have an Aboriginal product range Dad does the artwork for. They donate a percentage from each product sold from this range back into the CCA.
I’ve never had to worry about not having a home. I haven’t been in a position where my welfare has been compromised.
I had the chance to play for a great club like the Roosters and learn from great players like Pearcey at halfback, Jake Friend at hooker and Mick Gordon at fullback. Even though I’m a five-eighth by preference, that helped me develop important utility skills.
Now I’m getting the chance to progress my career with another great club in the Knights. Working with players like Pearcey again and a great young talent in Kalyn Ponga.
My younger brother, Fletcher, is studying acting in Sydney. He wants to go to Los Angeles next year for further training. I did some work as an extra in shows like Home and Away when I was a teenager. I was in a few NRL advertisements too, with players like Matt King and Nathan Hindmarsh.
There are so many Indigenous kids out there who deserve chances like these, but won’t get their chance to blossom.
That’s got to change.
WANT TO MOVE IN OR WHAT?
Kalyn’s living with me now. His mum and dad moved with him to Newy and he was living with the family, but every weekend he was crashing at my house.
Then it reached the stage where he was staying weekdays and I was, like, ‘Do you just want to move your stuff in here or what?’ I was on my own and had room for him.
That picture he put on Instagram of him backflipping off the roof into the pool was taken at my house. It was in his first pre-season here. I’ve jumped off the roof into the pool, but not backflipping. It’s not something I encourage him to do!
It’s Kalyn’s first time living away from home, so it’s a bit of a learning curve for him, but he’s a great guy. We get on really well.
I might’ve considered union long-term, but when the Roosters approached me they just sold league better.
It’s amazing watching up-close what he can do on the footy field. It looks like he sees things clearer than everyone else.
I think he’s just like Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in that he’s an incredibly well-balanced runner. They run these weird angles and it’s so hard to tackle them.
Kalyn runs amazing curves without losing any speed and defenders hate it. They can’t line him up properly and he beats them.
Pearcey’s on fire at the moment too. It’s gradually coming together here. The club has done a great job recruiting in the last couple of years and us backs are playing behind a great forward pack.
It took us a while to get going because we hadn’t worked out who we were as a team, but we’ve sort of got our blueprint now and we’re just trying to recreate that every week.
We know what to do, which is cool. We’ve just got to keep doing it.
An online auction for the boots Connor and the rest of the Knights players wear against the Roosters will begin at www.newcastleknights.com.au after the game.
For further information about Connor’s Cultural Choice Association, go to www.ccai.org.au. Donations over $2 are tax deductible.