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Christmas dinner for young Roosters living far from home

The Sydney Roosters understand the importance of cultural connection and family support to provide the environment for our athletes to flourish.

Our home stay system is led by Mark and Amelia Horo, as well as Gavin and Belinda Lester.

The system is overseen by Roosters Wellbeing and Education Manager Damon Spooner.

Special thanks must also be given to our former house parents Ayesha Parker and Leon Kem, who held an important role in our home stay system for many years.

It is within this system that several of our current top 30 NRL players first developed their off-field skills, including Joseph Manu, Latrell Mitchell, Asu Kepaoa, Fletcher Baker, and Sitili Tupouniua.

A group of young Sydney Roosters SG Ball (Under 18s) and Jersey Flegg (Under 20s) players relocated from their hometowns in regional New South Wales, Queensland, and New Zealand to join the Sydney Roosters and chase their rugby league dream again this year.

It’s a big move for many of these young players, often to a much bigger city in Sydney than from where they would call home.

To assist bring a little bit of home and early Christmas cheer to Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, Damon Spooner, as well as Mark and Amelia Horo hosted an early family Christmas Dinner for these young relocating Roosters.

Damon explains the Christmas dinner was organised as: “A way for the players living away from home to enjoy each other’s company.

"It helps bond our young players together from different cultural backgrounds.

"We will never replace their Mums or Dads, but we try hard to create a comfortable, yet challenging environment for them to grow off the field or another home away from home."

It is within this home stay environment that the young athletes learn the life skills needed to set themselves up for future success.

All SG Ball and Jersey Flegg players must work or study to be eligible to play, so those players not currently in high school, are either working, studying, or looking to start their first role after school.

This Christmas Dinner also tasked the boys with learning some cooking skills and to take over the kitchen, luckily with the help of Damon, who is also a qualified chef.

The young athletes had the opportunity to learn basic food hygiene, knife safety skills, reading and understanding a planned menu, building a prep list, understanding cooking times, and most importantly, teamwork skills to cook a delicious early Christmas dinner to be shared by all.

Damon was certainly impressed by the effort of these young men rating the final dinner as a “Michelin Star Effort”.

Of course, the question of the night was who was the most impressive athlete-chef?

“The best cooks would go to Tuku Hau-Tapuha for his glazed maple ham and his Christmas trifle was outstanding, and I’d say Naufahu Whyte roast pork with crackling was close behind.

"All the boys were outstanding and did themselves and families back home very proud."

If that type of menu keeps up, it won’t be long before other staff members and the senior squad look to score themselves an invite to the home stay Christmas dinner.

Soon these young athletes will return home again to celebrate Christmas with their families and loved ones, perhaps taking some of the skills they have already learnt here at the Roosters to their own Christmas celebrations.

But it won’t be long before they travel again to this big city to look to chase their rugby league dreams in 2020!

* If you or your business would has an apprenticeship, trainee-ship, or casual work opportunity for one of these young Roosters, please contact Narelle Hess, Career Coach & Psychologist at