Looking at the four rugby league players standing solid and proud on the stage of Irrawang Primary School's Hall, it’s hard to imagine the men as young victims of a bullying.
However, Newcastle Knight’s new recruit Michael Dobson and First Nation Goanna's Rod Jensen, Dennis Moran and Rickki Sutherland revealed they too have been bullied or been bystanders to bullying when they were at school.
The four players visited Irrawang Primary School in Raymond Terrace as part of the NRL’s Tackle Bullying program that aims to empower students to stand up for themselves and others who are being bullied.
First Nation Goannas and veteran rugby league player, Rod Jensen used the opportunity to reflect on when he was at primary school.
Jensen explained when he was a little kid, he used to get picked on a fair bit.
“A lot of people just didn’t really like me that much," he divulged.
“The way that I kind of got back at it all was that I joined the local rugby league side.
“I was quite good at it, then I was really good at it. Then people wanted to be my friend and enjoyed having me around.
“That’s how it all started.
The players conveyed the message to the students that they are never alone in a situation where they are being bullied and should always tell a friend, parent or teacher.
Jensen said there was another catalyst that helped him reach his potential.
“I also met one other person that was really special to me. I met a man called Mal Meninga,” Jensen said.
“He came to my school, just like I’m doing right now.
“He spoke to everyone, but it felt like he was talking to me specifically.
“Meninga said, ‘You have a lot of dreams. And should reach out for those dreams’.
“I continued to chase my dreams of playing rugby league and I knew it was possible to do so much more.
“And now I’m hoping when I go out deliver the same message that Mal Meninga delivered to me.
Dobson, Moran, Jensen and Sutherland enjoyed the opportunity to speak at the school and present the program that aims to empower students to cope with difficult social situations.
Ex-Knights and NRL ambassadors Danny Buderus, Anthony Quinn and Adam MacDougall also visited a number of schools in the Hunter to present the Tackle Bullying program as part of the NRL's Community Carnival.
The month-long NRL Community Carnival involves players and ambassadors delivering lesson plans using the new 'Tackle Bullying' educational resources developed by the NRL in conjunction with the Australian Catholic University (ACU).