All season long, Sia Soliola has begun his week by volunteering at the Uniting Church’s Early Morning Centre in Canberra’s CBD.
It provides support to the city’s homeless.
“It’s a great way to get rid of ‘Mondayitis’ to be honest,” Soliola told SBS News.
“Some people are dreading Mondays, but for me, Mondays are pretty cool.”
The Canberra Raiders star plays a physically demanding sport, but while most NRL players spend their Mondays recovering, Soliola is at the centre at 7am to prepare and serve food to those in need.
“It gives me a sense of gratitude as well the gift of giving,” Soliola said.
“It’s something that my Mum always taught me, it just keeps me grounded.
His impact on the local community has been profound, says the centre’s John McDonald.
“He does small things, like someone needed a pair of shoes, he took his shoes off here and gave them to him and walked off in socks,” Mr McDonald said.
“He does things like that.”
“He’ll stop people, talk to them, buy them something to eat, just small things like that make a lot of difference.”
“He’s not doing it to make himself look good, it’s just part of his life.”
‘Educating a nation’
On Sunday, the Raiders will be looking to stop the Sydney Roosters claiming back-to-back premierships in the NRL Grand Final.
It’s only adding to what might be one of the biggest weeks in Rooster’s star Angus Crichton’s life.
Just three days after playing in his first grand final, the 23-year-old will launch his own charity, the First People Project.
A passionate filmmaker, he hopes to use it as a platform to educate the world about Indigenous Australia.
“There’s so many different Indigenous communities and there’s so many different cultures that I probably say 90 per cent of Australia don’t even know exist,” Crichton said.
“I think it’s a shame that us Australians don’t know enough about our own history.”
His desire to learn about Indigenous Australia started when he was attending Sydney’s Scots College and became friends with two children from East Arnhem Land – Delly and Leon.
“They’re from a little community called Gapuwiyak and, for me, I had never heard of Arnhem Land,” Crichton said.
“If I never met those boys, I probably still wouldn’t have heard of it.”
That didn’t sit right with Crichton, so in each of the past four years, he’s made the journey to Arnhem Land.
“I think meeting those boys obviously opened my eyes a lot.”
The Early Morning Centre is just one of several local charities Soliola assists.
Last year he raised $50,000 for dance mentoring program Kulture Break, by shaving his head.
He is also an ambassador for the Foundation of Angelman Syndrome Therapeutics (an organisation looking to find a cure for the neurodevelopmental disorder) and young men’s support charity Menslink.
The 33-year-old has been described as the Raiders’ spiritual leader by captain Jarrod Croker.
“We call him uncle here,” Croker said.
“He’s sort of the uncle everyone looks up to and he does all the little things around the club.”
“He’s cleaning up, chucking rubbish in the bin, cleaning up locker rooms, making sure the boys do their dishes – that sort of stuff.”
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart also shares a close bond with Soliola. He handed him his debut in 2005 at the Sydney Roosters.
“He’s is just an inspiration,” Stuart said.
“He’s a great role model for the other younger players to understand that it’s not just about you as a rugby league player, it’s about others as well.”
“He goes out of his way a lot of the time and it’s not just for the homeless, it’s a lot of charity work.”
Soliola is nominated for the Ken Stephen Medal, which recognises a player’s community work. The winner will be announced before the grand-final.
The first objective of Crichton’s foundation will be to tell the stories of Indigenous communities across Australia.
“They’re all so different, they’re also so rare and intricate in their own ways,” Crichton said.
“There’s so many other Indigenous communities I’ve still got no idea about.”
“So the plan for me is to go and tell the story of Gapuwiyak and East Arnhem Land, and then to go and tell the story of Central Australia, Torres Strait Islands; all those other sorts of communities.”
Crichton also hopes to help young Indigenous people get into the workforce or achieve a tertiary education.
Roosters teammate and NRL Indigenous All Stars representative Latrell Mitchell has become an ambassador the foundation.
The charity will be launched at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Wednesday 9 October.