REAL NRL: Coalfields rivals unite to honour lost miners

GOOD CAUSE: Cessnock’s Al Lantry and Kurri’s Justin Peterkin hold up the fundraising jersey. THE Kurri Kurri Bulldogs and Cessnock Goannas are intrinsically linked to the coal industry. Many of their fans, sponsors and players rely heavily on the black rock and the money it generates.

So when Austar’s Paxton mine collapsed on April 15 and killed Jamie Mitchell, 49, and Phillip Grant, 35, it cut to the core of both clubs.

On Saturday the Bulldogs and Goannas will set aside their intense rivalry to launch a combined jersey to raise money to support the Mitchell and Grant families.

Two half-Kurri, half-Cessnock jerseys have been created. One will be signed by first-grade players from both sides and auctioned after Saturday’s game at Kurri.

The other, signed by coalfields sons and Knights legends Mark Hughes, Andrew and Matthew Johns and St George great Eddie Lumsden, will be raffled.

The deaths of Mitchell and Grant have been particularly emotional for Kurri prop Justin Peterkin.

The man they call ‘‘Bump’’ worked in the same crew as Mitchell and Grant.

‘‘It is quite close to home,’’ Peterkin said.

‘‘I’d swapped shifts to play football on the Thursday night against Maitland, so I was actually on night shift and I was on the surface when the calls were coming in.’’

Three-quarters of the Kurri and Cessnock first-grade squads on Saturday work in the mining industry.

Cessnock president David Woodbury also works at Austar and has been personally affected by the tragedy.

‘‘When you’re on different crews you don’t have a lot to do with them, but I’ve known Jamie for over 20 years,’’ Woodbury said. ‘‘He played junior footy at Cessnock and was a keen supporter and would come and have a beer and follow the players.’’

The usually spiteful rivalry between the clubs has been replaced by a spirit of co-operation this week.

‘‘David Woodbury from Cessnock has been excellent in the support he’s thrown behind it,’’ Peterkin said.

‘‘Obviously I know [Cessnock coach Steve Kidd] Kiddie personally and he’s been right behind it as well.’’

Woodbury said he hoped to continue the fund-raising effort when Cessnock Sportsground host the second derby on June 28.

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