Before each match, gentle Canberra giant Sia Soliola receives a text from a mate with the name of a child, which he then scrawls on his wrist.
While it’s a display that has gone unnoticed by most fans all year, Soliola is quietly contributing to a cause close to his heart and setting an upstanding example when the NRL needs it most.
Last month Cronulla prop Andrew Fifita drew condemnation after it was discovered he had been writing “FKL” on his wrist strapping all year – a message in support of one-punch killer Kieran Loveridge.
It’s also two years since then-Wests Tigers junior forward Matthew Lodge was discovered to have played a State of Origin under-20s game with a four-letter expletive printed on his arm.
While the NRL is not looking into banning players scribbling messages on their arms, it left many shaking their heads.
However, for every Lodge and Fifita in the game, there is someone like Soliola using his power and profile to spread a positive message and bring a sliver of light to the lives of those who need it most.
The names of the children written on his wrist come from the Foundation of Angelman Syndrome Therapeutics (FAST).
Angelman Syndrome is a rare neurological disorder which results in intellectual impairment, affects motor skills and speech.
After each game, he shares a picture of the child, to whom he has dedicated his performance that day, via his Instagram account, helping to spread awareness.
Soliola first became involved in the cause during his stint with St Helens in the English Super League, and carried on upon his return to Australia with the Raiders last year.
“You can only imagine the struggles that they deal with,” Soliola said.
“They deal with sleepless nights, you just have to keep monitoring the kids the whole time.
“It’s pretty hard going. When you speak to the families, you can tell it’s a lot of work. You can only empathise.
“You can sometimes have hard moments in footy, but when you see what they go through it puts things into perspective. It’s pretty humbling.”
For his work with the FAST, Soliola has been nominated for the Ken Stephens Medal, the NRL’s community service award.
Soliola is reluctant to comment on his fellow players using their wrist strapping to spread undesirable messages but says he’ll continue to be a force for good as long as he can.
“It’s like anything. It’s like social media – a lot of people use it for good but some people can put a negative spin on it,” Soliola said.
“If it has to be banned, so be it. But in the meantime, a lot of people who my intentions.
“But whatever the other guys do, I can’t control that.”