When Cronulla Sharks cult hero Toby Rudolf elected to shave his head last year to raise awareness for blood cancer"- it sparked further awareness around the illness.

Rudolf, who quickly rose to prominence as a fan-favourite in NRL circles, has spoken out on just about every off-field social matter imaginable, in the process turning into one of the competition's genuine good guys.

But shaving his head, and playing the start of the season without his regular flowing locks, was a stark reminder that blood cancer can impact anyone, no matter age, gender or fitness levels.

Cancer simply doesn't discriminate, and the NRL have been affected on multiple occasions in recent times.

19,000 Australians are diagnosed with blood cancer each year and many - at varying ages - find themselves needing urgent stem cell treatment

Rudolf originally said he was driven to raise awareness and money for the cause after meeting a young fan named Elsie, who was just three years old at the time of her diagnosis.

“I am actually shaving my head. I met with little Elsie I think it was last week, and met her family,” Rudolf said on Fox League at the time.

“She hasn't fully recovered yet, she is still going through some treatment but there was a video of her singing ‘up, up Cronulla' when she is going through her toughest times.

“[Meeting her] was a pretty inspirational moment for myself and I thought what's the best thing I can do?”

In his pursuit to raise awareness, Rudolf managed to raise tens of thousands of dollars for the cause, generating discussion and conversation around an illness that sees one Australian diagnosed with blood cancer every 28 minutes.

NRL Rd 4 - Cowboys v Sharks
TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 06: Toby Rudolf of the Sharks is tackled during the round four NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Cronulla Sharks at QCB Stadium on June 06, 2020 in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

For many of those battling the illness, the only hope of recovery is a stem cell transplant from a complete stranger.

The catch to this is that a direct genetic match must be found between the patient and the donor for the stem cell transplant to work, and right now, more than 1,000 Australians are in urgent need of a donation.

Strength to Give, the Australian stem cell donor registry, facilitates and supports individuals to donate stem cells to those in need. A simple cheek swab and basic eligibility verification is all it takes to potentially change someone's life. In most circumstances, it's a very straightforward process with only one in ten donations (typically for children) requiring minor surgery. In nine out of ten, it's a quick outpatient procedure similar to a long plasma or blood donation.

The NRL is built on its multiculturalism. The competition continues to see, year-on-year, a larger and larger talent pool from the Pacific Islands that surround Australia, while Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people have produced some of the best talent ever seen in this sport, and continue to do so currently with names like Latrell Mitchell, Cody Walker, Selwyn Cobbo and Nicho Hynes lining up for the Indigenous All Stars in a game against the Maori All Stars in the pre-season last year.

The team that ran out in Townsville for this year's game was similarly talented, with a number of those players also playing for the Kangaroos in end-of-year Tests, or for their respective states in the State of Origin arena.

When it comes to stem cell treatment though, there is an urgent need for people from diverse backgrounds, including First Nations people and people of a Pasifika background to register as potential donors. Ethnicity can play a major part in determining whether an exact match can be found between patient and donor.

And the kicker is this: You ultimately could be saving anyone's life.

From a friend, to a family member, to an NRL star, blood cancer simply doesn't discriminate.

Few players in the competition understand that better than Tim Mannah, who lost brother, Johnny, to the illness in 2013.

A promising prop himself, he played 24 games with the Sharks between 2009 and 2011, even after initially being diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2009.

With Mannah finishing his career at the Parramatta Eels, the two clubs now play for a cup in his name each time they clash throughout the season, with the game continuing to raise awareness and spark discussion around the illness.

In his patient story on the Lymphoma Australia website, Mannah said he had originally believed his issue to be an “annoying back injury” only for doctors to draw blood which revealed the diagnosis.

As a young, fit athlete, Mannah said he never believed he could have had cancer prior to his diagnosis.

But treatment can give a second chance at life for those battling with blood cancer, and the story of Sage Wilder just goes to show the impact a complete stranger can have on another's life.

Diagnosed at just 22 years of age - at the time playing in the lower grades, dreaming of an NRL career - he admitted upon his return to local rugby league following his diagnosis that he thought he was “done with footy.”.

In the prime of his life, Wilder first reported pain in his ribs and shoulders, combined with sweats at night which led to him seeking treatment.

After undergoing chemotherapy, Wilder, who also had a tumour around his heart, was declared in remission in 2017.

Returning during 2021 with the Cronulla Caringbah Sharks in local rugby league, Wilder still sees a haematologist every six months for a blood test.

And yet, not everyone diagnosed will be met with a second chance like Wilder, which is where there is a role to play through Strength to Give.

To give a stranger a second chance, and to be a hero to someone else.

Blood cancer can affect anyone. While Australia's stem cell registry is specifically looking for men aged 18-35 to join the fight against blood cancer, diversity can be the difference between life and death as patients are more likely to find a donor match from a similar genetic background. Right now, only 21% of Australia's registered donors are from an ethnically diverse background.

You too can be a game-changer: Swab A Cheek to Save A Life.