Australian, Queensland and Broncos league star Sam Thaiday is lending his weight to fundraising efforts for a charity helping at-risk South Auckland teenagers unlock their potential.
The Rising Foundation - founded by former Fisher & Paykel chief executive John Bongard - has been appointed the official charity of February's Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines tournament. Thaiday, a Nines ambassador who defeated Chiefs prop Ben Tameifuna on the Fight For Life boxing card, has been in Auckland to promote the tournament and the charity.
The Broncos captain is heavily involved with similar charities in Australia that work with indigenous young people.
"I'm really happy that I'm on board," Thaiday said.
"If you talk to a lot of the Pacific Island players in the NRL, it is all about opportunity and being given a chance. This programme does that. It gives kids an opportunity to fulfil their true potential. They are talented kids and sometimes they just need some positive role models to point them in the right direction to help them with their lives, whether that is in a sporting direction or just in their everyday lives getting jobs and helping their families."
Having started its programmes at Papakura High School, the Rising Foundation now works with more than 600 kids from greater South Auckland schools. It is hoping to raise $80,000 from gold coin collections and other Nines-related fundraisers, which would allow it to spread into more schools.
An old boy of Papakura High, Mr Bongard said he started the charity to help give something back to the community in which he grew up. Some of the kids in its programmes were talented sportspeople, such as Junior Kiwi Arthur Crichton and Warriors junior prospect Foli Waru. However, the foundation did not solely target elite students.
"Success is really kids going through the programme, going into the community and getting a job," Mr Bongard said. "There are not many doctors and lawyers but there are a hell of a lot of good, solid citizens."
League's popularity in South Auckland made linking with the Nines a natural fit and would help the foundation to expand, he said.
"It helps raise our profile, which is good because as we add more kids we need to raise more money. So far we haven't really gone out and shouted about what is going on."