YOU DON’T have to ask country boy and South Sydney star Matt King twice about getting his hands dirty at the coalface of the community.
The 32-year-old Casino-born centre knows precisely what it means for aspiring youngsters to rub shoulders with their heroes - as many kids in Griffith did this week when the NRL Community Carnival hit town.
PICTURE GALLERY: South Sydney Rabbitohs visit the Riverina
“It was a while ago now for me but I went through exactly what they’re going through now,” he said.
“Very rarely do you get NRL players to the bush and so for me to do it, it means the world to me.
“Growing up in the country I just know how much the kids love it and how important it is.
“It’s really part of the job now. We’ve got a responsibility as footy players to be the best role models and we try hard to be just that.”
Rabbitohs quartet Matt King, Shaune Corrigan, Michael Crocker and Rhys Wesser visited dozens of schools as part of the annual NRL Community Carnival, receiving a rockstar welcome at every one.
“The kids were that well behaved, I must admit,” King said.
“I might be a bit biased as a country boy but country kids are so much more well behaved than the kids in the city.
“There’s something real special about country kids.”
King managed 20 games in his first season back in Australia last year since returning from English side Warrington, but it ended on a bad note with a broken arm in the qualifying final against Melbourne Storm.
While a round one return was previously considered a certainty, the veteran said the injury was still “giving him grief.”
“It’s slowly, slowly at the moment,” he said.
“It’s not healing as quickly as we would have liked. It’s just taking a bit longer. Round one is the goal but whether we get there or not, I’m not too sure. We’ve still got five weeks up our sleeves until then.”
Not that the Rabbitohs don’t have ample replacements lined up for King if he can’t make the season opener against rivals Sydney Roosters on March 7.
Beau Champion has returned to Souths after an injury-riddled stint on the Gold Coast.
“From Beau’s point of view, he’s come home,” King said.
“He’s looking forward to the season, I spoke to him the other day and he said he’s real excited about being home. It’s a different place from when he left with Michael McGuire taking over.
“He’s a great player and I’ve got no doubt with Michael in charge we’re in for a good season.”
Add in another new signing in former Bronco Ben Te’o, who replaces Titans-bound Dave Taylor, and there’s no doubt in King’s mind that the Rabbitohs can go one better in 2013.
“You’re always looking to improve and for us, looking at last year, if we want to improve, it’s a grand final,” he said.
“Training is just that much further ahead this year. Last year Mick had to stop us every five or 10 minutes to say ‘don’t do that, do this’.
“But now everyone knows exactly what he wants and training’s running very smooth. It’s a good place to be at the moment.”