Rugby League

Canberra Raiders star Joel Edwards shows his scars to inspire little mate

Three days after open-heart surgery, four-year-old Lincoln Hicks was lying in Sydney's Westmead Children's Hospital refusing to let anyone see the scar in the centre of his chest.

Then Canberra Raiders forward Joel Edwards popped in for a surprise visit, took off his beanie and pointed to the zipper left by a gash that had needed 10 stitches.

Cessnock boy, Lincoln Hicks, who had open-heart surgery in April 2014.
Cessnock boy, Lincoln Hicks, who had open-heart surgery in April 2014. 

"Mate, chicks dig scars," he told Lincoln with a wink, handing over a Raiders teddy bear and a novelty balloon in the shape of Lightning McQueen.

That was early May. Incredibly, the helium-filled balloon is still floating above Lincoln's bedpost. More importantly Lincoln's spirits are still soaring, reports his mum Kate.

"Lincoln's a pretty self-conscious kid, he doesn't like a fuss made about him, so he was quite conscious of his scar and he didn't want to show anyone," Kate said.

"Once Joel showed him his scar, Lincoln lifted up his shirt immediately and ever since then he's been quite proud of it. Now it's a bit of a cool thing because not everyone has one. We call it his battle scar, because if you go through a bit of a battle, it makes you tougher."

Edwards has had his NRL battles, but none that he would ever make a fuss about. A contractual dispute with his junior club the Newcastle Knights forced him to pick up and start again at the Raiders last year. But he's adapted so well, he renewed his contract in advance until the end of 2017 

Some might have questioned whether Edwards was a little soft in the head early this season, too, given the concussions the rugged Raiders back-rower endured. Turns out the tough 26-year-old from Cessnock was just a big softie at heart.

Raiders forward Joel Edwards.
Raiders forward Joel Edwards. Photo: Melissa Adams

Edwards was this week nominated for the Ken Stephen Medal, won by Raiders skipper Terry Campese last year and awarded to the NRL player making the most outstanding contribution to their community.

Edwards isn't the type to give much away in a media interview. But he gives plenty. Owners of sports memorabilia store, Jerseys Megastore, joke he needs a tab, given the amount of Raiders stuff he buys for charitable causes.

"It's a small price to pay ... it's my little thing to give to someone that can benefit them ... and hopefully change their lives," Edwards said.

"Doing what we do is a privilege, not a right. With our profile, if we can help or do something for the community, it's worthwhile.

"Coming from Cessnock, it's a community where everyone knows each other. If there's someone down, you go and help them. It's a place that's got a real soul."

Like a lot of Raiders players, Edwards works with Menslink, a mentoring program for young Canberra people to guard against depression. He's also Canberra's ambassador for Ronald McDonald House, a respite for families with sick children.

It was after meeting Lincoln, on a bye weekend in May, that Edwards decided to contribute more.

"You think sometimes it doesn't make much of a difference, but then you hear stories about how it's helped," Edwards said. "Hopefully I can inspire or help someone less fortunate than me or just needs that helping hand."

Lincoln was born with the hole in his heart, the hole enlarging to 7mm by the time he needed surgery. Now five, he starts school next year and has so much energy he might even have a crack with Edwards' junior club, the Cessnock Goannas.

"I've got two boys and they don't particularly follow football, but when they see Joel on the TV they think it's the greatest," Kate Hicks said.

"Lincoln used to be a really tired boy, he'd flake out and be asleep on the lounge at four in the afternoon. We notice a huge difference now.

"Before the doctor did the surgery he told Lincoln, 'we're going to give you a V8 engine so you can go heaps faster'. Now he's got his V8, he thinks he's invincible apparently."