Canberra Raiders forward Sia Soliola has announced his retirement after 17 seasons playing professional rugby league in the NRL and English Super League.
He will be remembered as a tough, hard-running player, who emigrated from the backline well before he arrived in the ACT, in 2015, where he went on to play 137 games for the Raiders.
However, it’s his contribution off the field in the Canberra community that will possibly leave a greater lasting impact.
I can speak about this part of Sia’s contribution to Canberra from firsthand experience.
He approached me a few years ago enquiring about my role with the Early Morning Centre (EMC).
EMC provides meals and other services for homeless and disadvantaged people in Canberra. You might have noticed it if you are driving along Northbourne Avenue. It’s at the front of Pilgrim House.
Behind the glass wall that fronts Northbourne Avenue is a hive of activity, with the focus early in the day on providing breakfast for needy Canberrans.
I have been an EMC patron for a number of years and Sia wanted to know if he could help out at the centre as a volunteer.
I remember asking him a couple of questions around the subject of volunteering and it became clear from his responses that this was something he really wanted to do.
So Sia became a volunteer, cooking toast, washing up, serving tea, coffee and meals, and sweeping floors every Monday morning.
Often this occurred the day or night after he played an NRL game for the Raiders.
To EMC’s guests, staff and volunteers, he was just pitching in like everybody else.
Sometimes guests gave him a gentle ribbing relating to what might have happened on the football field during the weekend, but always with good humour.
Sia would organise tickets to Raiders home games for the homeless and disadvantaged – not just for one game, but for the entire season.
There was one occasion when he fronted up to EMC on a Monday having played the day before. He served breakfast and swept floors and then headed across to the Raiders’ headquarters to help out with a junior training session.
Sia has been omnipresent at more community charity fundraising events than it is possible to calculate.
In 2018, he was approached by a distraught single mother in Gungahlin. Thieves had stolen items from her car overnight, including new toys for her children.
Sia drove her around the suburb in search of the stolen items that might have been discarded. They found castoff paper from the theft on the road, but not much else so Sia gave her money to buy presents for her children.
On other occasions he could be seen packing meals for people in need, shaving his hair for charity, or writing a message on his wrist for games identifying somebody who was doing it tough.
In 2019, he won the NRL’s Ken Stephen Medal for his work in the community. It was announced at the NRL grand final in Sydney, much to the delight of the Raiders fans who were present.
In announcing his retirement on the Raiders’ website, he spoke about the influence of his late mother, Fialelei.
“I have to pay tribute to my late mother who passed away this year,” said Sia. “And with her being gone, and as a family as a whole, reflecting on her time made me really think about why I do the things I do.
“It’s really been a tribute to her and how she operated within our family. It’s no surprise that I followed in her footsteps and I contribute a lot of how I do things in my life to her.
“She’s always been the type to bring everybody in together and connecting people and getting an understanding of what we’re all about. She always wanted to see the bigger picture and so do I, thanks to her.”
Many people in the Canberra community would be saying, “Thank you, Sia, for everything you have done so far.”
The good news is he will remain with the Raiders in a role looking after player welfare.