As the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys and the Men of League Foundation extend their formal partnership for another two years, we sat down with Men of League ambassador and former Cowboy Ray Thompson to talk lessons, love and life after league.
Ray, tell us about what you've been doing since your retirement from NRL.
Life has changed a lot since I retired at the end of 2017. I've gone back to school, in a couple of ways! I've always been interested in wellbeing and in 2018 I had the chance to join the Cowboys community team in a full-time role at the beginning of our partnership with The Resilience Project. As Community Engagement Programs Officer, I work closely with our schools involved in the program to support them in building resilient school communities. One day I might be in the office, the next on the road, the next presenting to a Year 6 class - there's lots of variety and it's very rewarding. I'm also studying sociology at uni.
You're a family man now - tell us about the Thompson Team
I'm very blessed to be husband to Sabrina and dad to Ivy, Pia and Eli. We work together as a team – you have to with three kids! Currently I'm "Soccer Dad" to Ivy on the weekends. My workmates think I'm next in line as junior soccer coach but I'm a league man all the way... plus I take my hat off to volunteer coaches as there's lots of time and energy invested in coaching a junior team.
You keep in good touch with NRL with a commentary role - tell us about it.
I'm happy to be back in 2021 as a member of the Cowboys Call Team on Triple M Townsville, along with Wayde Chiesa and Wayne 'Nicho' Nicholson. We have a great time calling the games but it can be a challenge if your team's on a rough trot. I love it because it's another way I get to be involved in the greatest game of all.
You've also started working with the NRL Wellbeing team on player transitions – what's your role there?
I just started working with NRL Wellbeing a few weeks ago – I'm helping to support players through various transitions during their football careers. These transitions can include gaps between contracts, moving overseas, playing state league or retirement. It's about listening, understanding their goals and needs and then either providing advice or directing them to the right services and support.
What does your role as Men of League Foundation ambassador involve?
I was really pleased to be invited to become a Men of League ambassador for both the Cowboys and the rugby league community overall. I'm a point of contact for current and former players who are interested in their services or may need support. I'm also happy to help get the message out on what Men of League offer and how people can support them through membership, donations, fundraising or corporate sponsorship.
What lessons can you take from the classroom to your role with the Men of League Foundation?
We all need resilience and support, regardless of where we are in life. As a professional rugby league player, I needed it most when I was injured, particularly in making the decision to retire. Rugby league is rewarding but can be brutal in the way that your career can be cut short earlier than you may have been ready for. I got involved with Men of League in 2019 to support the rugby league community that has given me so much. When I was playing, I thought Men of League was mainly focused on players but it has a really wide scope and helps people in need across the game.
What have you learned from your ambassador role?
It has really reinforced to me what a great network we have in the rugby league community and how Men of League supports everyone, whether you're a player or former player, referee, family member, club volunteer or work in club administration. It's also inspiring to see how we all pull together to support someone who's doing it tough. It's important for people to know that they're not alone.
The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys and the Men of League Foundation’s partnership is 14-years strong, and builds on the common goals of providing support, building connection and serving the rugby league community.
The partnership between the Cowboys and the Men of League Foundation provides a platform for support, resources and referrals between the organisations for the North Queensland rugby league family.
About Men of League Foundation
Men of League Foundation is a charity that provides companionship, assistance and services to ex-players, officials, administrative staff and supporters of the rugby league community.
The organisation spends an average of 6,000 hours per year making over 2,000 visits to the ill and socially isolated and have provided over $5 million in medical and financial support.
For more information and to find out how you can support their important work, visit menofleague.com.