SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MAY 31: Blake Ferguson of the Eels looks on prior to the round 12 NRL match between the Parramatta Eels and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Bankwest Stadium on May 31, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Growing up in the central west town of Wellington, New South Wales, the one constant thing throughout my life was rugby league. One of my first memories was of ‘Rocket’ Rod Silva dazzling the opposition with a magical chip and chase. Looking to be like him I found myself in the backyard trying to emulate that moment. 

Wellington is a rugby league town. The rich history of the Wellington Cowboys in the Group 11 First Grade competition dates back to 1946 where they won the inaugural season and the importance of the Wellington Wedgetails in the Koori Knockout is well documented. 

Many of my childhood weekends were spent at Kennard Park cheering on the Cowboys, and when I wasn’t watching the Cowboys, I was in the living room watching Friday night football and Sunday afternoon football with my great grandparents. Rugby league was and still is everything to me. 

Not everyone gets the chance to play footy as a professional, especially first grade in the elite competition. Throughout the years the town of Wellington has become more known for its issues rather than its history and culture. It’s become a town with a high crime rate and a drug epidemic sweeping the streets. It’s a town where it can be easy to fall into the trap of addiction and lose sight for a better future. 

But this year in particular hope has arrived in the form of three talented NRL players that can all proudly say they are from Wellington. Blake Ferguson, Kotoni Staggs and Brent Naden. 

For Blake Ferguson, it has been a remarkable year for him personally. After winning a premiership with the Roosters, the veteran winger found himself in a move to the Parramatta Eels.

His injection of speed and strength and devastating kick returns have played a role in the position Parramatta are in at the moment. His form this year both on and off the field resulted in a recall to the big stage and once again wearing a sky blue jersey after many people said he would never return to State of Origin. 

Blake’s perseverance is an inspiring story. Nobody is perfect, but it takes a lot of courage to admit your past mistakes, learn from them and move forward to become a better person. It offers hope to many young people that find themselves making the wrong choices in life that there is a way to turn everything around.

Blake Ferguson is more than just an NRL superstar. He has a become a role-model to many young kids around the country aspiring to become NRL players themselves, however, even more importantly he has become a positive influence to his hometown and to his mob.

2019 has also seen the emergence of Kotoni Staggs for the Brisbane Broncos. The young centre already being touted by Justin Hodges as someone with the potential to be a great in the game.

Along with Brent Naden, who made his debut earlier in the year with the Penrith Panthers and was a key to turning their season around to the point where they’re now in contention to play in the finals. It has been a breakout year for both young stars and it’s only the beginning.

All three young men are filled with immense talent. Blake Ferguson has already proven himself to be one of the best wingers over the past decade and Kotoni Staggs and Brent Naden have the potential to become two of the most exciting and destructive centres in the game.

But it’s their off-field contributions that make them the great men they are. The respect they carry themselves with and the awareness that they are apart of something much more important. 

They are three proud examples that you can make it in life. That you can escape the negative cliches of a small town and achieve your dream if you stick at it and keep up the hard work. They are giving Wellington a positive spin in the media and are three young men that bring a small community together cheering on their local heroes. 

When I was a young kid I dreamt of being like Rod Silva with a footy in hand running up and down the field at Wellington Primary School. Today, young kids at the same school are running up and down the field with a footy wanting to be the next Blake Ferguson, Kotoni Staggs and Brent Naden.

For what seemed like a dream to me is no longer a dream for the generation of kids today living in Wellington. Each round they see three men that grew up in the same town they are living in, capturing success in their career and playing footy at the highest level.