This story was first written for and published by NRL.com.
In my heart of hearts I always believed Josh Reynolds would be a one club man.
I thought he would go down in history with players like Nathan Hindmarsh, Petero Civoniceva, Darren Lockyer, Ben Creagh and Danny Buderus as only having worn the colours of one NRL club.
But this Sunday afternoon, in front of what I hope will be a full house, Josh will play his final game at his spiritual home of Belmore Oval before leaving the Canterbury Bulldogs at the end of the year to join the Wests Tigers.
It’s funny – during his time at the Bulldogs Josh has always been a player that has divided opinion. He is either a player you love or a player you dislike.
For those of you that dislike Josh, I imagine it is because he is a player that can be accused of having ‘white line fever’. We’ve all seen his brain snaps on the field and he’s certainly had moments which you could certainly characterise as ‘bad sportsmanship’.
While it’s true that he’s had these moments I’m of the strong belief that these ‘brain snaps’ happen because Josh is a player that plays with passion. He is a player that wears his heart on his sleeve. No matter how well he performs, you can always be sure that he will put in maximum effort for his teammates and his club.
Josh manages to fit into that extraordinary category of player that can be a bit ‘grubby’ on the field, but a pleasure to deal with off it. Another player that fits this mould is Michael Ennis.
If you had asked me a couple of years ago what I thought of Josh, I probably would have fallen into the category of fan that didn’t particularly appreciate his antics on the field.
But I would like to share the story about Josh that changed my mind.
I first met him about four years ago.
I used to work at an organisation which championed a ‘buddy program’, where people in our office would write letters to students at a school in Western Sydney for the year. This program was about giving students positive, professional role models and encouraged literacy and creativity through the power of the lost art of letter writing.
At the end of the year we would invite these students to our workplace for a ‘Christmas Party’ where they got to meet their ‘big buddies’, celebrate the completion of the program and just have a good time.
Each year at this party we had a special guest that would speak to the students. Sports people were always very popular because they are recognisable and get the students very excited and keep them engaged.
Our special guest that particular year was Josh.
Josh spoke about his passion for the community he lived in. He spoke about how much he loved playing football and encouraged the students to dream big and pursue what they were passionate about.
When he finished speaking he stayed at the function until well past its estimated finish time. He stood there and posed for photographs, signed autographs and spoke to every single student in line to meet him that day. No request was too much and no child left without getting exactly what they wanted.
It was heart-warming.
Since then, I’ve openly been a fan of Josh and I’m certainly not his only fan.
Last year, I asked CEO Raelene Castle which Canterbury Bulldogs player she gets the most positive feedback about from people in the community. Without hesitation she said Josh Reynolds.
Raelene went on to describe Josh as a player with tremendous commitment to the Belmore area where he grew up. She described a Josh that spends his weekends attending children’s birthday parties and doing community work without telling anyone – just because he wants to give back and make a difference.
He’s a player that genuinely cares about other people.
Remember when he waited outside Robbie Farah’s house after knocking him out during a Bulldogs v Tigers game last year? Robbie was taken to hospital as a precaution following a heavy knock and Josh was there waiting to make sure he was ok when he returned home.
Have you seen the recent photo of Josh sitting on the sideline after having injured his hamstring, being embraced by Sean White, the Bulldogs game day assistant whose family has been involved in the club for 50 years?
Josh Reynolds is Canterbury and I have to be honest, I still don’t understand why they are letting him go.
This Sunday is going to be an emotional day for the Bulldogs family.
I have noticed many of the players putting out calls to action on their social media encouraging the community to get to Belmore to farewell Josh and sharing their favourite memories with him.
He is clearly a player much loved and respected not just by his teammates, but also his fans.
It still doesn’t seem real to me that next year Josh will be wearing different colours but I have my fingers crossed for a Bulldogs win on Sunday, so that Josh gets the send-off he deserves.
While the Bulldogs might be losing a special part of their family at the end of the year, the Wests Tigers are about to welcome a very talented player into theirs – one that is talented on the field, but whose on-field talent doesn’t compare to the compassion and passion to his new community that Josh will show.
Players like Josh make me proud to be involved in rugby league – our game is all the better for his involvement in it.
So if you are a Bulldogs fan, make sure you head to Belmore on Sunday to give Josh the send-off he deserves.
And if you are a Tigers fan, get excited about 2018.