Young Parramatta fan Marli has struggled with his confidence for as long as his family can remember. But ever since a four-hour trip to meet Eels Co-Captain Clint Gutherson and CEO Jim Sarantinos, Marli has been brimming with joy as a changed boy.
The opportunity to meet his heroes and participate in the coin toss for an NRL match has proven transformative for Marli, who now has a new lease on life.
“It’s been truly life-changing for him,” said Marli’s father, Matt.
“He went back to school proud as punch. It was the first day back (from school holidays), which he has ordinarily needed a day or two to get back into. This alone was a huge step!”
A staunch Eels supporter all the way from Taree on NSW’s mid-north coast, Marli had been desperate to share with the Club his love for the Blue & Gold.
With the help of his teacher’s aide, Carl Muxlow of Taree West Public School, Marli sent a video message to Jim Sarantinos, who was quick to respond. The Eels CEO quickly got back to Marli with a video message of his own, with the help of Eels stars Ryan Matterson and Waqa Blake.
The shoutout from his heroes left Marli in awe, but what came next was a dream come true.
The Eels organised Marli a special matchday experience for the Round 20 clash with the Gold Coast Titans. Eels staff member Courtney Neilson took him on an all-access tour of CommBank Stadium, taking him onto the sideline and into the tunnels, where he met his idol, Clint Gutherson.
Marli was given the all-important task of performing the pre-match coin toss for Gutherson, Titans captain Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and referee Chris Butler. The Eels won the toss, to Marli’s delight.
The football match that followed was the cherry on top of a special night. The Eels won a 25-24 thriller, with Gutherson scoring an outrageous try and Mitchell Moses kicking a match-winning field goal right in front of Marli.
After having his football signed by Parramatta players in their victory lap, Marli travelled back to Taree with a newfound confidence.
“As parents, we try hard to help him experience new things to learn life skills,” said his father Matt.
“We greatly appreciate Jim and the Club for how they’ve helped him with such support – he talks about it all the time.
“It is a really great story and life-changing for our boy.”