Divine intervention for South Grafton Rebels
"DO YOU know what the word Bible stands for?"
I raise my eyebrows at Hughie Stanley as I search for an intelligent answer. He offers this explanation: "Basic. Instructions. Before. Leaving. Earth." It sounds logical enough to me.
It was about eight months ago that he says he found God.
"I was at work one day and a landscaping crew come up from the Gold Coast and there was this one bloke, " Stanley said. "It's like he was alight, like he was alive. I was thinking this fella's got to be on some drugs or something. He was always happy, always says hello, always nice to people.
"About two or three weeks passed and he just walked up to me one day and said 'bro, do you believe in God?'."
From that day forth Stanley hasn't looked back. Around the same time he and his daughter learnt to read from the same books.
"I'm glad he saved me when he did to be honest because I don't know where I would be without him (God)."
At just 24, he has a wealth of rugby league experience, including a taste of NRL with Sydney Roosters, and also a wealth of life experience - some would say too much.
But he maintains his dark days helped carve the man he is today.
"I used to go to church as a kid with my mum and her mum and her sisters," he said. "Then pretty much the world stepped in and I went my way. I was doing bad things and I was following other people.
"God's changed me in a whole different way in how I see people, see life and help people."
"I try to make church at 10.30am in Maclean. If I don't make it then, I'll try to get back for the night service at six.
"It says in the Bible if you put God and his Kingdom first, everything else will follow."
Stanley admits he cops the odd light-hearted ribbing from teammates about his choice to follow Jesus.
But for those willing to believe, he is a role model and an inspiration.
"The boys here welcome me with open arms. Sometimes the lads have a laugh about it if me and Ian (Leota) are having a yarn about him (God).
"Sometimes the boys will sit down and listen and that's fine, and sometimes we get a bit of stick, but it's all right because it's all fun and games anyway."
His return in 2015, again under the leadership of Dallas Waters, has coincided with immediate success for South Grafton.
So is divine intervention at work for Rebels in 2015?
"I think so. I think it's on its way. You can see the commnuity. I know there's that 'Grafton over on that side of the bridge and this is South Grafton' stuff. But I just think that what we're doing here as players and mates is actually touching people in the community.
"We're training hard and pushing each other at training. I believe you play how you train pretty much."
And has finding God changed Stanley - who is currently serving a four-match ban for a dangerous tackle - as a footballer?
"I play pretty much the same I think. I try to respect my opposition as much as I can though. You can't underestimate someone and you can't judge them."
I was instantly intrigued by Hughie Stanley when I first met him for an interview at preseason training in February.
As an athletic, Indigenous man it wasn't his appearance that set him apart at the rugby league club. It wasn't his stutter either. Underneath all of that was an aura of peace an honesty. Someone who had escaped the bright lights of NRL fame and fortune to focus on building a meaningful life.
Family is number one for the young father.
"I thank God he sent my wife my way because she's been amazing for me.
"She's changed a lot about me. My vocabulary, always being on time and things like that, and just the way I present myself as well...
"He's good, man."