Forget Bali: NRL stars shun luxury for changing lives
Six professional rugby league players plus crew put their faith in a man they barely knew and it changed their life.
Clint Newton, the former NRL player and now general manager of stakeholder relations with the Rugby League Players Association, has long been a fan of active recovery.
That is, using your head, heart and body during an NRL off-season to return to the game a better player and person.
David Nofoaluma, Jayson Bukuya, Victor Radley, Junior Tatola, Sam Bremner and Corban McGregor had had various levels of interaction with Newton, mostly in passing, before he asked them to come on a seven day trip to Fiji, to stay in hostels and shed creature comforts. Usually, this is the kind of request reserved for close friends and family.
Oh, and there was only around two weeks' notice to pull it all together.
None of them hesitated.
"These people didn't know me, I mean they know who I am and what I do, but I was asking them to do things you would only reserve for close friends," Newton tells foxsports.com.au.
"There were so many times where I sat back and thought - this is special."
That's how 'Transformers' was born, along with the motto: 'We will make this work'.
Shunning the stereotypical off-season Bali holiday for volunteering in the modest villages around Suva, the team, who didn't know Newton but barely knew each other beyond a handshake at the end of a game, dived headfirst into helping out.
Seven days in a foreign country helping communities and spending time with local children is physically taxing, but at night, they would discuss the topic of the day - from the environment to healthy relationships and culture - encouraging the brain and soul to work as well.
All of it was embraced with open arms, but none of it surprised Newton.
"It doesn't surprise me at all because I see it all the time. If you provide people the opportunity to take the mask off, you can see who they really are," Newton says.
"I've been around rugby league my whole life. People can't expect perfection, it's not realistic and they're going to be disappointed.
"But there are so many good people who play this game from different socio-economic backgrounds, cultures, life experiences and to learn about them, first they have to learn about themselves.
"The power of professional athletes from different cultures and genders is huge. This is just the beginning.
"We had players from other codes messaging us while we were over there wondering how to get involved."
First day on the tools painting local Primary School classrooms. Followed by a welcoming ceremony with kava. Amazing culture & they show that you don’t need materialistic things to make you happy. #Grateful 🇫🇯🇫🇯 pic.twitter.com/qemAUXyFvf— David Nofoaluma (@DNofoaluma) 6 November 2018
Of the six, Bukuya was the only one to have previously visited Fiji - and he was able to visit his home village for the first time in six years.
Diversity was important for Newton, who specifically sought Jillaroos stars Corban McGregor and Sam Bremner for the trip.
Seeing how happy the Fijian people are with so little had a huge impact on 24-year-old McGregor, who also took joy in showing local children that women can play rugby league professionally.
"They asked the question and they were a little surprised that we played too," she said.
"Their girls play too and we asked them which teams and stuff but it's mostly just muck around footy in the backyard. They thought it was pretty cool that me and Sammy played as well.
"The whole experience, I've never done anything like that before so it was so cool to experience it."
As women's rugby league booms, McGregor and Bremner continue to inspire a new generation of young girls to pursue a rugby league career - which was a major attraction for the two to take the trip.
"A few of them, male and female, were saying that they want to come to Australia [to play rugby league] or come to Sydney and work as doctors or teachers and pilots. They didn't want us to leave and it goes both ways."
More than the impact on the locals, Bremner said she has been constantly reflecting on her own life since returning from the trip last Friday.
The 26-year-old Dragons fullback said she doesn't consider herself materialistic, but an interaction with a school student made her question it.
After getting paint on a pair of shoes, Bremner gave them to a young girl who didn't have any. The young girl then said "what are you going to wear?", and Bremner explained she had roughly 20 pairs of shoes at home. The child laughed and asked why, because you only have two feet.
"I thought, wow. That's so true, I don't need this stuff," she said.
"One thing that struck me was how honest and trustworthy they all were.
"The NRL players had a lot of new gear to hand out and none of the kids fought over it. They made sure everyone got something.
"We're very individualistic over here, but over there they are very much for the community. I came back with a grateful heart."
Bremner said spending time with the NRL players and discussing their nightly topics gave everyone a chance to appreciate their differences and also their shared experiences with rugby league.
But overall, they realised there is more to life than the game they all love.
"As a rugby league player sometimes you can feel alone because you sacrifice a lot and you wonder what it would be like to have another life," she said.
"It made me realise that the world is a lot bigger than us. I love my footy and I would do anything to keep playing but there's a whole big world out there."
Content duo Johnny Tuivasa-Sheck and Jobe Toa documented the trip on social media, which caused a flurry of activity and interest online.
Newton said the response was so overwhelming, he is planning more 'exciting things' to be announced in the new year.