National Rugby League (NRL) Cronulla Sharks player and proud Gamilaraay man Will Kennedy spoke to Aboriginal Hostels Limited (AHL) recently about his time at Kirinari Hostel in Sydney as a teenager.
As a young and promising regional rugby league player, it was a conversation and recommendation from his cousin, who had already moved to AHL’s Kirinari Hostel from Walgett in New South Wales to attend school, that encouraged Will to head to Sydney to pursue his NRL dreams.
A determined 16-year-old Will made the big decision to move from his small country hometown of Bathurst, New South Wales, where he grew up, to Kirinari Hostel in Sylvania Heights.
Today, as a star fullback in the Cronulla Sharks NRL team, Will is more than happy to express how his stay at Kirinari Hostel – a place to stay for First Nations boys attending high school – not only became a ‘home away from home’ but also provided him with the opportunity to kickstart his NRL career.
Will is thankful for the support he received from AHL employees when he arrived at Kirinari at the end of Year 10, saying that everyone made him feel welcome.
‘From the cleaners to the kitchen staff and the Hostel Parents, they helped all of us kids out,’ Will said.
Will has kept in touch with several of his fellow Kirinari residents, who he felt were more like his brothers – a novelty, coming from a family with 4 sisters.
Will spoke about the close friendships he formed and how much he loved coming home after school to play footy and basketball in the yard, which helped keep any homesickness at bay.
‘We were able talk to each other, because we are all going through the same thing basically, so I think it was good we had a talk to each other and we all stuck close to each other,’ Will said.
Being at Kirinari enabled Will to access his rugby league training and pave his way towards getting picked up by the Sharks, culminating in making his NRL debut in 2019.
Will said, 'It helped heaps - I think if I didn't move, I wouldn't be down the pathway that I was, I would be just playing footy back home in Bathurst, so Kirinari really helped me because it gave me that place to stay and it felt like home as well. I felt comfortable staying there just to pursue my dream into NRL.'
While his key focus was on launching his footy career and attending training, Will said that Kirinari staff supported and encouraged the students to keep up their education.
‘They supported my education. So, to play footy, we had to do our homework,’ Will said.
While footy was Will’s passion, other Kirinari residents took different pathways.
‘I think that hostels like these give you opportunities to go down the pathway that you want to choose, so mine was footy. I moved here to Sydney for NRL so that was my opportunity that they gave me and yeah it is not just for footy, it is for education or whatever job you want to take on,’ Will said.
Will’s best NRL season to date in the NRL was in 2021, where he received a nomination for Dally M Fullback of the Year and the Sharks’ prestigious Porter-Gallen medal.
In 2022 he achieved a life-long dream when he gained a coveted spot in the Indigenous All-Stars team.
Will’s story is a very real example of how, with the right opportunities and support, anything is possible.
AHL’s secondary education hostels provide the highest level of care and protection, the best possible educational journey, as well as quality meals and accommodation for First Nations young people.
Kirinari Hostel is in Sylvania Heights in Sydney and provides affordable accommodation for First Nations young men in high school.