Cancer battle awareness hits hard - Sharks mates mourn another loss

 ALL the Cronulla Sharks players sat quietly as they listened to Tracey Bevan talk fondly about her lost friend, Jane McGrath, and told them how she inspired a foundation to fund breast care nurses in Australia before she died.

Only one player was missing from the group.

Bevan went on to explain the seriousness of detecting early signs of breast cancer, and then she and other McGrath Foundation members went into detail.

One of the Sharks’ new corporate partners and charities, the foundation spokeswoman knew the players and officials had wives, partners, mothers, sisters, friends and fans.

They left nothing out.

Less than an hour after finishing training, still carrying ice wraps for injuries sustained in Sunday’s exciting but bruising extra time win over Newcastle, players were being warned what could kill their loved ones.

And what could save them.

Big prop Ben Ross, a husband and new dad, proudly displayed a new pink jersey that all the players will wear for next week’s Harvey Norman Women in League round, where Sharks players will be joined by the Dragons, Cowboys, Panthers, Bulldogs and Warriors in club activities and game-day celebrations.

It will be a celebration of women, their loved ones and their fans.

Sharks players were then split up into small groups to contest a ‘‘bust the myth’’ questionnaire. It brought some levity to a serious subject; some knew more than others.

But some players also knew exactly why one of their own, winger Nathan Stapleton, couldn’t be with them.

Why he had not been available for their first win in five games last Sunday, and why he won’t be there for the Sharks-Wests Tigers match tomorrow night at Allianz Stadium.

Son of a battling country family from the small NSW country town of Deepwater whose parents worked odd station-hand jobs to support their three sons, Stapleton stayed with Marie Withers when he came to the Sharks five years ago as a promising 17-year-old.

‘‘He religiously sent back money to his mother to buy her a washing machine, a stove  — even when he wasn’t playing, recovering from three knee reconstructions,’’ said Mrs Withers, his house-mother.

‘‘She’d come to watch him, only after she’d saved enough money.’’

One of those women in league, and one of the Sharks’ strongest fans, Debbie Stapleton died from cancer at Armidale Hospital on Tuesday afternoon — about the same time the players were listening to the McGrath Foundation’s talk.

Nathan and his family were beside her.

Sharks players will wear black armbands - in memory of Debbie Stapleton — for the West Tigers clash tomorrow night.

SHARKS VS WESTS TIGERS

Tough forward Mark Taufua has been added to the Sharks squad following the knee injury which has sidelined captain Paul Gallen for the 7.30pm clash tomorrow night with the Wests Tigers at Allianz Stadium.

Former New Zealand Warriors under-20s star, Sosaia Feki, will replace Nathan Stapleton again on the wing, as Sharks stars such as Todd Carney, Luke Lewis, Michael Gordon, Wade Graham and Andrew Fifita aim for back-to-back wins — and to impress State of Origin selectors.

SHARKS

1 Michael Gordon, 2 Sosaia Feki, 3 Ben Pomeroy, 4 Jonathan Wright, 5 Beau Ryan, 6 Todd Carney, 7 Jeff Robson, 8 Andrew Fifita, 9 John Morris, 10 Ben Ross, 11 Luke Lewis, 12 Wade Graham, 13 Chris Heighington. Interchange: 14 Isaac De Gois, 15 Sam Tagataese, 16 Jayson Bukuya, 17 Anthony Tupou, 18 Mark Taufua.

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