In the early hours of Day Two at the nib Newcastle Knights' pre-season Tamworth Camp, the boys split into small groups to visit those doing it tough across the drought-stricken Tamworth region – our farmers.
Up before 4:00am, the players were gratefully welcomed into the farmer's homes and lands but were quickly put to work.
One of the farms visited was that of Kevin and Jinelle Tongue, the parents of former Canberra Raiders workhorse Alan, along with his brother Paul and 13-year-old nephew Blake.
Laying down polytan for water pipes that spanned over a kilometre, the boys learned first-hand of the tiring work our farmers go through every day and just how big the effect the drought has had on the nation.
Young Knights half Phoenix Crossland admittedly had never been to a farm before this visit.
For him, it was an eye-opening experience.
“I didn’t really know how severe it was,” Crossland said.
“Coming out here and seeing it with your own eyes, it’s pretty bare and dry. They’re [the farmers] doing tough but they always keep their heads up.
“It’s two different worlds really. We’re pretty lucky. We can go to the corner shop and get water, while these blokes are getting it 100 metres deep from the ground."
Kevin is the third generation of his family to run the farm but like many of his trade, never thought he’d witness a drought as bad as this.
“We’re into our third year now and it’s the second year we haven’t had a crop,” Kevin said.
“It changes our lives dramatically. Where we used have time off and things like that, we’re now feeding stock every day.
“There’s repercussions on the mental health of everyone and it’s draining on the bank balance too.”
But still he and his family soldier on without complaint, as do many of his fellow farmers.
The Tamworth Camp challenged and push the players to their breaking point, but Crossland pointed out that seeing what others have to go through on daily-basis has helped to straighten his mindset.
“It puts things in perspective as footy players,” he said.
“We know when we get a break and we know when our season is going to end but these guys out here don’t know when the draught is going to end.
“If the worst thing that we have to do is run seven or eight k’s, we’re pretty lucky. These guys are out here seven days a week doing stuff that we can’t even comprehend, especially with the drought.”
Being a part of a rugby league family and playing it himself back in the day, Mr. Tongue knows how rugby league can unite and encourage the community in times of trouble.
Fitzgibbon: Camp, clinic and perspective
The visit from the Knights not only attempted to lift the spirits of fellow farmers, but they also got a bit of work done out of the players as well.
“It’s great to have the Knights up here, it really is,” he said.
“They’ve been putting troughs in laying poly-pipe. We’ve had the bore and the tank put in for a while, but we just haven’t had the time and the manpower to do what we’ve done here this morning. We’ve got a long way to go, but it’s great to have them and give them a feeling of what we’ve got to do.
“It’s great to show the players how tough and dry it is out here and the things we’ve got to do to keep our cattle watered.”