After a spectacular round of representative matches, the rugby league community moves their focus towards something other than league.

Brain cancer was responsible for over a thousand deaths in 2021. It can be a devastating diagnosis, with only around 20% of those diagnosed surviving 5 years.

After being diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013, former Newcastle Knights player Mark Hughes has dedicated his life towards fighting it. He established the Mark Hughes Foundation, which has raised money towards brain cancer research.

For the past six years, the NRL has supported these initiatives with the annual Beanie for Brain Cancer Round, helping to raise awareness.

The 2022 edition of Beanie for Brain Cancer Round was launched today at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

“Every year everyone in the game gets behind this cause with passion,” commented NRL chief executive officer Andrew Abdo.

People gather to launch Beanie for Brain Cancer round, and begin the Big Three Trek. Image: Jessika Ross

“Mark Hughes played rugby league with great spirit, but it has been his spirit in fighting and beating brain cancer and then setting up the Mark Hughes Foundation to help save lives that is inspiring.

“It’s what sport is all about – when you see the community get behind the fight against brain cancer and the Mark Hughes Foundation – $15 million raised and over eight hundred thousand beanies sold.

“The sight of the thousands of supporters at games wearing the Mark Hughes Foundation beanies has become a tradition and is symbolic of everyone’s support for the fight against brain cancer.

The foundation also announced a $25 million investment towards a brain cancer research centre at the University of Newcastle. This funding will come as a joint project between the Mark Hughes Foundation and the University.

Andrew Abdo leads the Big Three Trek on their first leg. Image: Jessika Ross

“This is a game-changing step for brain cancer research in Australia and something we have been working towards since 2014. More progress is urgently needed to improve the outlook for brain cancer patients, who are often in the prime of their lives, like myself, and their families,” commented Mark Hughes

“To every single person that has supported MHF and bought a beanie over the last eight years, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart. We are giving hope to so many, including myself.”

The final part of today’s event was the launch of the Big Three Trek – a fundraising hike from Sydney to Newcastle to raise money for the Mark Hughes Foundation. Setting off today, the 45 main trekkers were joined by around 100 others to walk from the Sydney Cricket Ground to the Sydney Opera House.

The NSW Swifts showed out in support of the Mark Hughes Foundation. Image: Jessika Ross

Tomorrow the group will begin the long walk north, aiming to arrive in Newcastle on Friday night. This will be the third time that the group has done this walk, and second to raise money for the Mark Hughes Foundation.

Today’s walk included rugby league stars like Brad Fittler, players from the NRLW and many league fans. The NSW Swifts netball team also came to show their support.

The beanies will be sold through the entire round to raise money for the foundation, as well as at IGA and Lowes.