Nathan Cleary makes a promise to footy players in the Ukraine as Panthers superstar reveals his little-known tie to the war-torn country
- NRL documentary highlights Ukraine's under-14s side
- Cleary sent a message of support to the film crew
- I have made a huge promise to the young players to inspire them
Penrith Panthers superstar Nathan Cleary has revealed his Ukrainian heritage and sent a moving message of support to young players in the war-torn country.
In a huge show of support, the New South Wales and Australian halfback inspired the Kyiv Rhinos under-14s by promising to one day play for Ukraine on the representative stage.
A Channel 9 documentary crew has traveled to Ukraine to speak to members of the Rhinos, who train under the constant specter of the threat of violence from neighboring Russia, for the documentary Forged in fire.
Coach Yevhen Zubritskiy barks instructions at his players and speaks no English, but said through an interpreter that training young aspiring players is “my life.”
Coach Zubritskiy unveils a Maroons State of Origin jersey under his winter gear and says he is an honorary Queenslander because 'they never give up'.
“Since the state allowed us to have this program, I've been a part of it because it's important to these kids,” he said.
“This is not just a distraction, they live for this sport.”
President of the Ukrainian Rugby League Federation Artur Martyrosia with Cleary and a Ukrainian jersey
Coach Yevhen Zubritskiy and the players of Kiev Rhinos under 14 during a training session
The Ukrainian league is led by former player and soldier Artur Martyrosian.
The president of the Ukrainian Rugby League Federation revealed there were several NRL players with Ukrainian blood.
“Players like Nathan Cleary and Hudson Young,” he said.
And the documentary crew came prepared with a video message from the three-time NRL champion halfback to the young Kiev players.
“Hey guys, just wanted to send a quick note of support,” he said.
'I am very proud of my Ukrainian heritage and often ask my grandmother questions about it.
“I know it's been a really tough time there lately, but it's really cool to see the game continuing to grow.
'I have always been a big supporter of that. I will help where I can.'
Cleary will be a long-time Panthers, NSW and Australia stalwart but hopes to one day represent Ukraine in a representative match
Ukrainian soldiers walk through the destroyed city of Avdiivka in Ukraine on December 7
What happened next stunned the players, as Cleary vowed to one day try to play for his ancestral nation.
“I also hope to wear that Ukrainian shirt for a match one day,” he said.
“But until then, keep working hard, it's great to see and I'll continue my support from here.”
It was a huge gesture from the best player in the world that clearly moved the young players who lived in constant fear of another air raid or ground troops storming into the capital.
Martyrosian was full of gratitude for the Panthers champion for delivering a message to his biggest fans on the other side of the world.
'In a big sense. “Soul to soul, heart to heart, mind to mind,” he said.
The documentary Forged in Fire airs on Nine on Sunday, December 10 at 9pm