IN their heydey, they were some of the best rugby players on the planet.
Names such as Andy Farrell, Jason Robinson, Martin Offiah and Paul Sculthorpe can certainly be placed into the game’s legend category.
Their playing days may well be behind them but one special little boy has brought them all together again.
A team of rugby league royalty jetted out to the Middle East on Sunday to take part in the annual Dubai 7s tournament, raising money and awareness for Joining Jack.
The side will be captained by Andy Johnson, who set up the charity to generate funds for research into Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a devastating muscle-wasting illness which his five-year-old son Jack was diagnosed with two years ago.
Once again, the rugby league community has rallied round Joining Jack’s latest flagship event, making Manchester Airport’s Radisson Blu Hotel an autograph hunter’s paradise.
Slowly, the group assembled in the function room to wait for their flight. First was Andy, wife Alex with Jack and his little brother James, closely followed by Steve Hampson, Gary Connolly, Chris Joynt and Mick Cassidy.
Next through the door were Sculthorpe, Denis Betts, Steve Blakeley and Sean Long before Dubai 7s debutant Farrell rolled in with his suitcase. The amount of silverware owned by these men is probably worth more than all of Wigan’s jewellers put together.
This is without the likes of Offiah, Jason Robinson and Simon Haughton, who flew out separately.
“We’ve got some great names representing the charity again,” said Sculthorpe.
“The great thing about our game is that respect, the way we do support our own and you only have to look around this room today to see the ex-players that are showing their support. It’s a great cause, we’re 18 months down the line with Joining Jack. It’s heart-breaking what Andy and Alex have to go through but if we can do our bit to help, that’s why we’re here.”
Andy will captain the side but the biggest influence will surely be the newly appointed team manager.
Little Jack couldn’t be more excited about his “holiday” to Dubai. Running around the room, playing with little brother James, it’s so easy to forget how ill he is.
But the nature of this remarkable little boy means that smiles, hugs and laughter are the only things on the agenda this week.
“I’m the boss,” he says, pointing at his team manager badge before telling the likes of Connolly, Cassidy and joint team manager Uncle Matt that the team will win.
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